A steady stream of Patents have been coming from U.S. Patent Office over last few years, which have left folks in software industry frustrated and outraged.
With Patents that were issued to Amazon, Alta Vista and more recently McAfee getting extensive headline coverage, many have asked themselves what is afoot over at U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. How can such universal software concepts such as "One-Click Purchasing", "Search Engines" and now, "Auto-Downloading of Software / Software as a Service (SaaS)" become items that are allowed to be Patented by companies?
Most Patent experts do not take these "junk Patents" seriously knowing full well that they will be overturned by courts and other processes set up to police system.
Amazon is set to test their patent in September of 2001 against BarnesandNoble. During an injuction hearing, judge stated that if BarnesandNoble simply instituted a two-click system then he had nothing that could be said about their use of this purchase system.
Alta Vista's Search Patents will fall because creator of Archie has proof that his system was in fact "prior art". Given that Archie provided first search engine, what does that tell us about management at Alta Vista who tried to claim that they invented search technologies? More important to this discussion, what does this tell us about our Patent System that allows Alta Vista to get a patent on search technology in first place?
McAfee now boldly claims that "what it really holds is a Patent on future of Internet." If there were half a chance this Patent could survive test of time, then they would be right in their assessment. Again, question comes down to how, even after two-and-a-half years of investigation, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office could make determination that McAfee invented these concepts and were worthy of receiving a Patent for such?
What makes this current system so frustrating is that processes that have been considered common knowledge for years are earning patents on a regular basis. With broad range of definition being granted with modern Patents, all areas of software development are being negatively influenced.
Dozens of software developers have already spoke up to ZD-Net / eWeek / Talkback concerning story about McAfee patent. Here are a few of their comments:
( http://www.zdnet.com/eweek/stories/general/0,11011,2802506,00.html )
Allen Vander Meulen, an Independent Consultant from West Chester, PA said:
A patent on "Auto Update"????? Ridiculous!!! I was writing code to do auto-updates for PC software across LAN's and via modems in late 1980's and early 90's. (Of course, there was no internet component or any need for authentication at that time!)
Al Pareigis, a Software Professional from Oak Brook stated:
The patent is nuts!
The fundamental concept of check and download upgrades auto- magically has been a cornerstone of software distribution. Heck, last one I wrote was in mid 90's. It was using OS2 clients with Rexx routines to do that for a 911 center.
Sprucing up concept with words like 'web', 'browser' and 'server' does not change fundamental concept. It is a common practice and knowledge to profession.
Mauri Presser, a Computer Specialist from Virginia stated:
This reminds me of conflict between Microsoft and Apple in case of Trashcan vs. Recycle Bin. Both icons (folders) serve same purpose. The "Auto Update" feature in any software serves same purpose, to automate process. Just like batch files in command line days, or script files, or for that matter, any software. I remember entering commands on a Sperry Univac computer sold to US Navy called AN/UYK-20, that did not have a keyboard. During troubleshooting, instructions and data were entered by using a 16 switch maintenance panel. The operating system and parameters could also be loaded by magnetic tape or paper tape. The point is, these means of program and data entry just automated process. Does anyone have a patent on "concept" of automation? Or is it only method that gets patent?