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RE: Patent law

From: mark sottilaro [mailto:zerocrossing2001@yahoo.com] 
> Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a patent a
> protection of an idea's implementation and not an
> idea?  

Yes, that was the original intent of the patent system.  The problem
is that there is now widespread abuse of the system, especially in
software, to patent concepts or ideas rather than implementations
or processes.  Hell, back in the internet glory days people were
even patenting *business models*, like the concept of an online
auction for plane tickets which someone thought they should
"own" for the next 30 years.

A great number of these patents are invalid because the inventions
would be "obvious to practitioners in the field" or there is "prior
art" that someone has already come up with that invention.  But this
doesn't matter because in order to prove either of these you have to
enter into a very costly legal battle.  Individuals and small companies
generally just give up and make annoying changes or go out of business.

This is a very important issue not only for software developers, but
for consumers that want choices.  If you want some background, a good
general introduction is James Gleick's article originally published in
the New York Times Magazine:


For more of a scientific perspective, Jeffrey Ullman has an excellent
paper here: