Friday, July 29, 2011

Today's spurious software patent is...

Sadly, on any random day, we could probably pick a case like this. Today it appears to be Spotify's turn to face a lawsuit for "infringement" of a spurious patent that should never have been granted in the first place.

The abstract of the patent begins:

"In order to distribute music information from a central memory device (2) via a communications network (4) to a terminal (6), this information is organized in a digital music information object."

As you can probably guess from this opening line, and sadly like so many other "software" patents, the rest is pure flannel: a very broad overview of the blindingly obvious steps that one would take in designing an application, but without having actually invented any non-obvious implementational details. Pretty much every line of the patent leaves you coming away thinking "Sure, that's obviously true, but what's your actual invention?". It's another example of how the patent system urgently needs to be reformed with at least:

- patent examination which goes beyond the intelligence of a chimpanzee on hallucinogenics (or as a next best thing, to paraphrase Donald Knuth slightly: if you would expect a 1st year software engineering student to be able to solve a problem as a homework assignment, you shouldn't be able to patent the solution as an "invention");
- severe punishment for companies that attempt to file spurious patents;
- more severe punishment for false claims of infringement (such measures do already exist to discourage large companies from bullying small developers, but they clearly don't go far enough).

There's also an interesting article in this week's Pod Delusion on the subject of patent trolls, looking at another recent case of patent abuse (Lodsys-Apple).

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