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Threats of Software Patents

Jerome Pansanel , Filippo Rusconi  (27 February 2006)

Patents. A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by a patent office (EPO in Europe or USPTO in the USA, for example). The rights conferred by the patent are to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the country where the patent has been granted. The life term of a patent is generally of 20 years.

Software Patents. A software patent is a patent intended to prevent others from using some programming technique.

Stereotyped Dangers. Software patents try to patent an idea, which patent law is meant to forbid. This means that software patents:
- give the holder the right to restrict your ideas if your ideas too closely resemble theirs;
- can apply to any piece of scientific knowledge that is algorithmic in nature.

Concrete Dangers. Software patents:
- establish monopolies on abstract ideas.
- prevent innovation by allowing grants without implementation (Source Code) and thereby preventing such research.
- prevent competitive markets by giving large players absolute control over the marketspace. - prevent disclosure of ideas, the original motivation for the introduction of patents.
- prevent interoperability, increasing your dependence on a single vendor.
- transversally spread their negative effects in all areas of economy.
- prevent software development by forcing companies to buy the work of the patent management institution rather than investing this money into developement

Present State. Software patents are valid in U.S.A. and Japan. There is considerable pressure by lobbyists and companies having vested interests in filing patents to enlarge the geographic area where software patents are enforceable (Europe, for example). In addition to the previous points, grant patent for software in Europe will lead to reduce European competitiveness, as the main part of patents are not owned by european companies. A great many of these patents actually protect trivial algorithmic methods.

Threats for Chemistry. Here are some examples of software patents related to chemistry:
- European Patent 1627927. Methods, systems and computer program products for determining the biological effect and/or activity of drugs, chemical substances and/or pharmaceutical compositions based on their effect on the methylation status of the DNA
- European Patent 1588767. Chemical arrays and methods of producing the same
- World Patent WO002005001743A1. Fast assignment of partial atomic charges
- US Patent 5,249,137. Computer-aided chemical illustration system
- US Patent 5,200,910. Method for modelling the electron density of a crystal
- US Patent 4,811,217. Method of storing and searching chemical structure data
- US Patent 6,192,103. Fitting of X-ray scattering data using evolutionary algorithms
- US Patent 5,884,230. Method and system for protein modeling
- US Patent 5,557,535. Method and system for protein modeling
- US Patent 4,378,218. Protein Molecule Model
- US Patent 6,996,550. Methods and apparatus for preparing high-dimensional combinatorial experiments
- US Patent 6,990,238. Data processing, analysis, and visualization system for use with disparate data types
- ...

Resources. The following links redirect you to websites that bring a lot of interesting data about software patents:
- Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure
- What you can do
- Software Patent and Crystallography
- Scientists protest EU software patents
- Letter to the Patent Office from Professor Donald Knuth

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