Tech Patent Process Needs Overhaul
The patent office needs a new approach to tech applications.When the business process patent burst upon the scene in the late 1990s with Amazon.coms infamous one-click-shopping patent, many wondered how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would go. Were beginning to find out. IBM recently won a patent on a process for paying software developers. The patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,658,642) outlines a way to employ and payor not payprogrammers working on a project. The "not pay" is key, as the patent describes how to take advantage of open-source software in a development program. Most of the procedures described in the patent sound a lot like normal open-source development processes. Also making patent news recently was Microsoft, which applied for patents in Europe and New Zealand that would cover access to the XML format used by Word 2003. When these applications came to light, the XML community protested. Microsoft had been generating much good will in that quarter for its increased support for open XML standards. The applications, however, brought forth the notorious Microsoft practice of "embrace and extend," so deftly used with Java.
There is cause for alarm. In "Microsoft Watch," an article by Mary Jo Foley quoted Microsoft spokesman Mark Martin defending the patent applications and their effect on Microsofts support of open XML standards. Martin said, "While the XML standard itself is royalty-free, nothing precludes a company from seeking patent protection for a specific software implementation that incorporates elements of XML."