Are Companies Scanning Open Source Commit Logs And Patenting What They Find?

from the prior-art? dept

It's funny how often we hear patent system supporters tell us that if you haven't actually gotten a patent for your invention, it's perfectly reasonable for someone else to go and patent it instead. The idea of presenting an idea for the public domain or for open source purposes seems foreign to them. Recently, I've seen two examples of questionable patent applications that appeared to take content that was put out publicly, and tried to turn them into patents. The first, found via Dave Farber's IP list is a patent which an open source developer suggests almost identically matches code that he committed to an open source project. The guy who wrote that post has since backed down a bit on his original claims that the patent was clearly "copied" from his open source commits, but still notes that the patent application in question is ridiculous.

Then there's a similar story, found via Slashdot of a guy who coded an open source library for Windows in 2001 (inspired by a Bruce Perens project from 12 years earlier) and just discovered that IBM appears to have patented the same technology -- even mentioning this guy's own blog post in the references section.

Whether or not these two patents are examples of various companies trying to patent open source technologies as they're being developed, it does highlight yet another problem with the patent system as it is set up today. Even if there does appear to be clear prior art, it's not as if the Patent Office seems willing, capable or interested in actually understanding how these patents are simply copying what's already being done elsewhere.

Filed Under: open source, patents, software


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2010 @ 3:02am

    Re: USPTO is looking at prior art

    "They ultimately granted the patent after IBM narrowed their claims such that it was an "improvement" on the open-source tech."

    This basically looks like an attempt to patent anything that hasn't been already patented or anything that has no prior art.

    The assumption the USPTO seems to be making is that, if it hasn't already been patent and there is no prior art, it's patent worthy. I find such an assumption to be dubious at best. The goal of the USPTO shouldn't be to grant as many patents as it can, it should be to promote the progress.

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