A patent is a twenty-year long government-granted monopoly over the use of an idea. It's a right to exclude others from using the idea; not a right to use the idea. In software, these monopolies cause many problems. Ideas must meet certain criteria in order for a patent to be given.
To abolish software patents, a country can do either or both of the following:
A Software patent is a patent on an idea that can be implemented in software on a computer.
Put another way, it's a patent that can be infringed by writing or distributing software.
For one attempt to describe this in a way suitable for legislation, see the EU 2005 proposed amendments.
To abolish software patents, we need to get software explicitly excluded from patentable subject matter.
Examples of what are NOT software patents
A patent on improving the braking of a car by configuring the car to use "anti-lock braking" would not be a software patent. It might be possible to add this functionality to a car purely through changing the software of the car, but the idea is still not a software patent: it requires a car.
Examples of software patents
This includes patents on algorithms, file formats, and communication protocols. In a broad sense, it can include game patents, business methods, and network services.
Probably the clearest examples of software patents are patents on algorithms such as:
What is a patent?
Each patent is a list of ideas that you can't use. A lawyer describes the idea in a patent application and the patent office decides if it meets their three or four criteria. If the application is approved then it is illegal for anyone in that country to use that idea without the permission of the patent holder.
If the idea is a new way to manufacture cars or pharmaceuticals, this isn't a big problem because it only affects big companies with large financial and legal resources which allow them to do research to avoid infringements, to defend against accusations of infringements, and to pay the patent holder if needs be.
If the idea is a new way to use a personal computer or a new way to make a website, then these patents create big social problems because the affected people usually don't have the financial and legal resources to deal with patent infringements.
- (See also: Why software is different)
Business method patents are not necessarily software based, but I don't know of any patent that's been granted on a business method without a computer being included in the application.
Related pages on ESP Wiki
- How to read patents
- Costs of patenting
- Example software patents
- Old history of patents
- How other domains are excluded from patentability
- European Patent Office grants software patents