Patent trolls, tread carefully in 2014

After 2013's seemingly never-ending litany of patent troll misdeeds, a turning point may be in store for 2014

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Friends of the court weigh in

Software patents have been getting a free pass for years, riding the assumption that patents promote research and innovation. Finally, in 2013, these ideas were seriously questioned in court, both in the United States and in Europe. Notably, the Alice vs. CLS Bank suit reopened the case law concerning whether software shall be considered as an abstract idea (and thus not patentable) or as a valid topic for patents.

Given the current trend in the case, it seems more plausible than ever that software patents will be as severely restricted in the United States as they are in many parts of Europe. Of course, more reform is needed, but other cases coming to the Supreme Court could provide impetus. Just last week saw key cases granted a hearing by the Supreme Court, and on Monday, the same court denied further recourse against the crusading Newegg for a pernicious patent troll. In addition, the New York Attorney General struck a blow against the scanner patent troll. Fortunately for us all, there are plenty of champions of software freedom willing to become friends of the court in cases like these.

Overall, 2013 was a surprisingly positive year for open source and software freedom with regard to patents. Realizing the harm that can arise from applying industrial-era patents to a post-industrial Internet, both courts and legislators are finally rising to the challenge. 2014 could be a crucial year for the meshed society.

[Thanks to my colleague Alexandra Combes, who contributed valuable input to this story.]

This article, "Patent trolls, tread carefully in 2014," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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