For a long time a major gripe of the open source community at large has been the ease with which software vendors can receive patents for technology or concepts that are obviously well established as prior art or so fundamental they don’t qualify for a patent. (For example: “I want to represent a spatial data in XML”.)
It looks like this situation may be starting to change for the better.
On June 15, 2007 the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) opened the patent examination process to online public participation for the first time. This allows members of the public to review and discuss posted patent applications, to research and locate prior art references, and to supply at least a portion of this information to the USPTO.
The goal of the program is to improve the quality of issued patents.
I believe this program, if properly supported, can be a vital tool in fixing the patent problem that exists in the United States, and can be a crucial component of ensuring healthy open source software development. I encourage all members of the open source geospaitial community to participate in reviewing relevant patent applications. I will be making a personal effort to do this, and to encourage the participation of OSGeo members in this process.
What is the only flaw that I can see with the current Peer-To-Patent system? The “inventor” must agree to have his application reviewed by the public. However, I think this problem will be minimized over time, as people will begin to treat patents that weren’t exposed to this type of public scrutiny with more suspicion.
The Sunburned Surveyor
Related New York Law School Website
United States Patent Office