The number of patent disputes that are going on is constantly on the increase. When patent wars are not being waged between companies, trolls are busy hovering up incredibly vague patents which they can later cash in when another firm produces hardware or software that infringes upon ideas that have already been claimed. It is a complete minefield, and Microsoft, in conjunction with Hewlett Packard and Adobe, are calling for changes to be made so that patents need to be better focused, and laws better applied.
Writing on the Microsoft on the Issues blog, Horacio Gutiérrez -- who has the rather unwieldy title of Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel in charge of the Microsoft worldwide intellectual property group -- explains that technology related patents are starting to get out of control. He cites the Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank case in which he claims that the notion of performing "an otherwise unpatentable idea on a general-purpose computer" does not make the idea patentable.
This seems like a reasonable assertion. The case in question concerns escrow transactions and whether Alice Corp's method should be patentable. Gutiérrez argues that there is nothing more than a regular business transaction taking place, and the fact that it is done using a computer should in no way change the way it is seen. In short it should not be possible to patent a means of making transactions via computer simply because computers are involved.
Of course, if a unique method of performing or securing a transaction was developed, this should be patentable, but here Gutiérrez points out that Alice Corp's patent do not "do not advance the state of technology, nor do they allow computers to execute the steps of a business transaction faster, more efficiently or more reliably than they could before."
Microsoft has itself been on the receiving end of lawsuits based on patents it describes as "vague". Hewlett Packard, Adobe and Microsoft are calling for things to change so that patents are less all-encompassing, less broad, and more focused. The three companies believe that this will help to drive innovation as well as introducing a new level of efficiency into the intellectual property system.
What do you think? Are patent laws out of control and too vague? Or should companies be free to patent ideas, methods and designs that are very broad in their nature?
Microsoft on the Issues