Everyone, take a deep breath: it seems we’ve had a moment of sanity in the patent wars. Last week, a jury invalidated the dangerous Eolas patents, which their owner claimed covered, well, essentially the whole Internet. The patents were originally granted for an invention that helped doctors to view images of embryos over the early Web. A few years later, smelling quick cash, their owner insisted that they had a veto right on any mechanism used to embed an object in a web document. Really? The patents were obvious—now in 2012, and back in 1994, when the first one was filed. Thankfully, a jury realized that and did what should have happened years ago: it invalidated these dangerous patents.
That's the good news. The bad news: it came after the patents already caused plenty of damage. Companies large and small have taken licenses from Eolas rather than pay millions to fight in court. Many, such as Tim Berners-Lee (who testified during trial), warned about the dangers of the Eolas patents:
The existence of the patent and associated licensing demands compels many developers of Web browsers, Web pages, and many other important components of the Web to deviate from the fundamental technical standards that enable the Web to function as a coherent system.
We couldn't agree more, but let's go a step further. What the Eolas patents make clear is that the system isn’t working. We’ve been saying it for years, yet both Congress and the courts have failed to fix the problem. In the now infamous Bilski case, the Supreme Court gave the green light to business method patents, and, consequently, to software patents. But the patent system, which is largely a one-size-fits-all program, simply stops making sense when we start to talk about software.
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