Apple-Motorola Judge Questions Need for Software Patents

Late last month, federal judge Richard Posner threw out one of the major U.S. cases in the ongoing patent battle between Apple and Motorola, and Reuters today publishes an interesting interview with Posner in which he discusses his view that patents have become too widely used and suggests that there may not be a need for software patents at all.

Noting his belief that software and other industries do not require the same level of patent protection as industries like pharmaceuticals where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to develop a single protected product, Posner indicates individual software advances require much less economic investment and much of the benefit is gained simply by being first to market.

"It's not clear that we really need patents in most industries," he said.

Also, devices like smartphones have thousands of component features, and they all receive legal protection.

"You just have this proliferation of patents," Posner said. "It's a problem."

In Posner's ruling last month, he noted that Apple's patent on smooth operation of streaming video was in no way a monopoly on all streaming video and that barring an entire product over a single feature would be harmful to consumers. Posner also ruled against Motorola in its efforts to ban the iPhone over standards-essential patents that were to be licensed under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

iphone slide to unlock
Apple is of course involved in intellectual property disputes with a number of companies, with the cases including both software patents and design rights. Just this week, a ban on U.S. sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy Nexus went into effect as Apple won preliminary injunctions, but the company also experienced setbacks in its battle with HTC in recent days. In those cases, both the U.S. International Trade Commission and a UK court ruled in HTC's favor, with the UK judge ruling that several of Apple's patents including one covering the "slide-to-unlock" feature are invalid in that country.

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Top Rated Comments

highlnd Avatar
157 months ago
for those thinking

deregulate software sure...

patents are evil only big pharma can have them

no one dies if software messes up

unless your software is running;

trafficlights
bank transfers
airplane autopilots
missile defense systems
lazer satellites
drones flying over the usa
machines that go Ping!

I think you are confusing patents with safety regulations.
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
iRCL Avatar
157 months ago
Agree 100%
Score: 33 Votes (Like | Disagree)
The Mercurian Avatar
157 months ago
At last someone speaking some sense.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
semitry Avatar
157 months ago

If we do away with Intellectual Property Patents i think we can agree that the motivation for innovation will be greatly hindered.

Not with software patents. Can you imagine the innovation that would have been lost if quicksort or merg sort was patented? Or if Oracle was able to patent 'rangeCheck'?
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
sishaw Avatar
157 months ago
Is it just me or is this judge straying into Judicial Activism with this kind of pontificating?

I mean the question at hand was not "Are intellectual patents a good idea in this industry or not?", but more like "Is this particular patent being infringed upon?".

If we do away with Intellectual Property Patents i think we can agree that the motivation for innovation will be greatly hindered.

There are a lot of people that think software code would be adequately protected by some sort of copyright rather than patent.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
NachoGrande Avatar
157 months ago
They are killing progression in most software markets. The worst part is most people don't even know a patent exists until after they spend millions on development only to have it blocked in the end.

I can understand broad software ideas, but to put a patent on a sliding button, multi-touch etc.. is just too far reaching and only large companies can afford the patent attorneys.


They are not used for good in the software industry they are only used to harm.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)