The US patent and trademark office (USPTO) has set a new record for the total number of software patents that have been awarded in a single year.
The agency on issued 893 new patents, making for a total of 30,232 software patents so far this year. The number breaks the previous record that was set in 2004. At the current pace a total of more than 40,000 software patents will be issued this year in the US, noted the Public Patent Foundation.
Software patents are considered a growing problem for the high tech industry.
In a highly publicised court battle, Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) was forced to pay $612.5 million to settle a dispute with patent holding company NTP. The patent at the centre of the battle however is likely to get invalidated in the future because of prior art, which essentially means that somebody invented the technology in a patent before the patent filer did.
The threat from software patents primarily affects small software vendors and open source project. Larger vendors typically have created patent portfolios that they can use to file counterclaims in case of a patent attack. They also tend to have cross licensing agreements with their peers as an additional defence mechanism.
Several major technology vendors have pledged not to enforce their patents against open source projects. IBM for instance last year essentially donated 500 patents to open source projects.
Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court also overthrew a prior judgement that required a judge to issue an automatic injunction if he found that a patent was being infringed. The automatic injunction provision was considered one of the main issues in the US patent system.
Critics had charged that the system provided patent filers with an unfair advantage because they effectively could threaten to shut down the opposing party's business.
Software patents set new record
By Tom Sanders on Sep 20, 2006 10:50AM