When there is a patent on a software feature such as a video format, pinch-to-zoom, or nested menus, no other software developer can implement that feature for 20 years without permission from the patent holder and agreeing to all their conditions. Today there are tens of thousands of software patents. This affects all computer users in at least three ways:
- Software patents block standards, leading to incompatibility. If you can't view a video, if a document doesn't look right on your computer, or if two software packages don't work well together, it's often because a patent prohibits the software developer from making that feature work correctly.
- Software patents block individuals from taking part in the development and distribution of software. This may not seem relevant to most people but it's the same as the freedom to write a book. Most people will never write a book, but some people will and society as a whole benefits from the what is made by the few people who do write books or develop software.
- Software patents create legal and financial risks that most companies can't afford. The result is monopolies or only two or three companies being active in a given domain. Software users are left with very little choice, and because the patent-owning software companies know that the users are locked in, there is little incentive to respond to complaints from the users.
What ESP is doing
The End Software Patents (ESP) campaign has three focusses:
- Wiki: With more than 600 articles, the ESP wiki (en.swpat.org) is the info resource for campaigns against software patents worldwide. It's a public wiki and you're very welcome to edit it.
- Activism: When government bodies hold consultations, they generally only inform the patent industries about these consultations. If we don't get involved then governments will think that no one objects to software patents. ESP regularly searches for new and ongoing consultations, and then contacts local software groups and helps them get involved. If you know of a consultation anywhere in the world, contact us!
- To join in or start a local campaign, join our mailing lists or ask for a list to be made for your region
- ESP has already been active on procedures in the USA, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Israel, and Canada as well as the international ACTA treaty proposal.
- Articles: Lastly, we publish articles from time to time on http://news.swpat.org
- Help build the en.swpat.org wiki
- Join our ESP mailing list
- Donate to ESP - we keep our costs low, so your financial support goes a long way
Navigating the wiki
Looking for a specific topic? Try the search page!
Other good starting points include:
From the news.swpat.org RSS feed:
- What’s wrong with the EU unitary patent?
- Good “End Software Patents” video – not by us
- Stallman: completely shielding software instead of exempting it
- Software patents coming to EU via unitary patent
- The solution to Posner’s patent problem
- Brazilian patent office software patent consultation
- “Software patents don’t scale” - by Timothy B. Lee and Christina Mulligan
- New ESP Australia video plus committee hearing recording
- EU legal advisors: owning software ideas detrimental to progress
- Study calculates economic harm from patent trolls
- ESP Australia presentation recording
- Petition This American Life to use Ogg Vorbis
- EU: A presentation about the unitary patent (unitary-patent.eu)
- Europe’s “unitary patent” could mean unlimited software patents (Guardian)
- More problems than just trolls
- Speaking of software patents (-> Rob Tiller)
- When Patents Attack: Intellectual Ventures and the war over software patents (-> NPR)
- MPEG LA’s attack on VP8 video highlights need for software patent abolition
- USA: Patent Reform is not enough, software patents must be abolished
- Canadian appeal court says 1-click patentable
- When is reading out loud patentable?
- ESP responds to USPTO consultation
- Dan Ravicher’s Bilski Rundown (transcript)
- USPTO interim guidelines request for comment - as text
- USPTO’s 101 Method Eligibility Quick Reference Sheet - as text
- Australian petition needs signatures against swpats
- Bilski's patent application – the published parts
- Bilski decision, as text
- Bilski's out!
- Late-comers guide: What is Bilski anyway?
- No Bilski; last possible date: Monday 28th
- New Zealand software patent victory crumbling
- Still no Bilski; next dates: 24th, 28th
- German court ruling X ZR 27/07, upholding MS FAT patent, as text
- Again, no Bilski. Only June 21 and 28 remain
- Yet again, no Bilski
- Patent Absurdity mailed to 200 policy setters
- CSIRO wifi: a hardware or a software patent?
- Again, no Bilski
- Which policy setters should see Patent Absurdity?
- German court ruling, upholding Siemens patent, as text
- Still no Bilski
- EPO rules own software patents review inadmissible
- EPO publishes internal review of software patenting
- MPEG-LA's patents exhausted by camera sale?
- Who’ll write the Bilski opinion?
- ACTA official text, re: software patents
- Patent Absurdity – or Bilski, the movie
- Australia: legislation still coming
- When to expect Bilski
- Which ways could Bilski go?
- New Zealand govt against software patents!
- Full ACTA draft leaked – text version
- Transcript: Andrew Tridgell on Patent Defence
- Interview: Brad Feld
- EU, USA, Japan pushing for patents in ACTA!
- Israel: last three days of software patent consultation
- German January 2010 ruling, as text
- Letter to Israeli Patent Office, from Hamakor
- Page orientation patents, the USPTO, and you
- Australia: time for action
- ESP launching public mailing lists
- Israel: one month to end software patents
- Summarising the problem
- Analogy: road blocks and toll booths
- Consultation responses in Australia
- Australia: change coming, opportunities already missed
- Bilski: the next steps
- Education and software patents
- Three rulings based on Bilski
- Israel in danger of software patents
- Bilski's hearing and software patents
Why this matters
Every company is in the software business, which means that every company has software liability. We estimate costs of $11.2 billion a year due to software patent suits (see our 2008 State of Softpatents report), and not just by Microsoft and IBM—The Green Bay Packers, Kraft Foods, and Ford Motor are facing software patent infringement lawsuits for their use of the standard software necessary for running a modern business.
Software innovation happens without government intervention. Virtually all of the technologies you use now were developed before software was widely viewed as patentable. The Web, email, your word processor and spreadsheet program, instant messaging, or even more technical features like the psychoacoustic encoding and Huffman compression underlying the MP3 standard—all of it was originally developed by enthusiastic programmers, many of whom have formed successful business around such software, none of whom asked the government for a monopoly. So if software authors have a proven track-record of innovation without patents, why force them to use patents? What is the gain from billions of dollars in patent litigation?
Change is happening now. The 2008 ruling of the appeals court of the US Federal Circuit on the case in re Bilski narrowed the scope of what is patentable. Some experts even question if software patents are still valid at all in the US. ESP, under the direction of Ben Klemens, played a key role in this case. See our resources for lawyers page for details.
This site is an overview of how courts self-expanded their jurisdiction to include software despite the protests of practitioners such as Bill Gates or Adobe Microsystems, of the economic damage done, how the story is evolving today, and how your company can help to restore the software market to a world run by innovators, not judges.