Software patents in thirty seconds

What is a software patent?

A patent is a piece of paper that tells you what you can't make or sell. A software patent tells you what software you can't write, sell, or use. Software patents are a subclass of "service patents", pieces of paper that tell you what services you can't provide.

Are software patents valid in Europe?

No patent is valid until it goes to litigation. The European Patent Office grants patents that are not valid in your country until they have been tested in court. Most courts interpret the European Patent Convention, which explicitly excludes patents on software.

What are software patents good for?

Some investors like firms that hold software patents. Some firms like to use them to blackmail customers and competitors. The patent industry likes them because they generate a lot of profits. Patent officials think software patents will give them more power and influence.

What damage do software patents do?

  • They make it impossible to safely define new standards, whether proprietary, commercial, de-facto, or open. A single patent holder can hijack an entire standards-based industry.
  • They make it dangerous to develop new software products. A single patent holder can blackmail a successful software product company.
  • They inflate the patent industry. Software patents are part of a vicious circle where patent officials make patents easier to get and litigate, which makes the patent industry stronger.
  • They distort the market. Software patents give undue power to monopolists and non-product firms, and handicap small-to-medium firms.
  • They corrupt the political system. The high value of software patents means policy makers are being influenced by wealthy special interests, not the common good.

How can I defend my firm from software patents?

  • Patent insurance is impossible to get and would not help.
  • Patent 'deals' and swaps do not help, because any product you make can infringe on multiple, unknown patents.
  • Owning your own patents does not help, they just make you more likely to be sued.

The best way to defend your firm from software patents is to work with us to stop Europe from adopting a US-style system. The FFII has been successfully resisting software patents in Europe for six years.

What do I do if I get sued for patent infringement?

Most likely the software patent holder is bluffing. But you need to go to court to test that. You can spend up to half-a-million Euro to argue a patent, and that does not count damages if you lose.

It's much better to oppose software patents before they are granted, and to work with us to stop lawsuits becoming a common part of business in Europe.

Why is the EPO doing this?

The EPO makes money from patents. Almost all patent applications today contain a "program claim", meaning they are software patents. The root problem is that the EPO has too much influence and has stopped working in the public interest. Software patents are great for the EPO, so it wants them.

How is ESOMA fighting software patents?

ESOMA works closely with the FFII, monitoring patent initiatives like EPLA, defining sane pro-market policies, and lobbying for these policies.

ESOMA gives you a platform for fighting back against software patents.