Friday, October 31, 2008

Knowledge Commons welcomes judgment in the Bilski case

Knowledge Commons welcomes the judgment in the Bilski case. A recent
book by Boston University professors, James Bessen & Michael J. Meurer
titled, "Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats, and Lawyers Put
Innovators at Risk," has shown that business method patents are seven
times more likely to be litigated as compared to other patents,
because it is difficult to determine the boundaries of abstract
patents categories like business method and software patents.

India has fortunately escaped the litigation riddled path followed by
America. Section 3(k) of The Indian Patent Act says that, "A
mathematical or business method or a computer programme per se or
algorithms are not patentable." This clearly indicates that Indian
lawmakers do not intend abstract ideas to be patentable. However, in
practice, several software and business method patents have been
granted and these will need to be weeded out to prevent future
litigation. Overall this judgment indicates that the pendulum is now
swinging to the other end after the permissive granting of software
patents that followed the State Street ruling in 1998.

Overall this is a good decision for the software industry and
consumers because it will reduce the risk of litigation that hangs
over users and developers of software.

Venkatesh Hariharan
Knowledge Commons

Update: Harsimran Singh of The Economic Times has written a report on the Bilski case. The Mumbai edition of ET has carried the report on Page 5. The report does not seem to be online yet. It quotes Som Mittal, President of NASSCOM as saying that, "The ideas and frameworks for business processes should not be patentable but the content written within those frameworks should be allowed to be copyrighted." This is a welcome statement from NASSCOM because copyright protection allows for independent invention.

In other words, if you write a piece of software and are sued for infringement in a court of law, under copyright law you can claim that you wrote that software independently without copying the other party's code. However, under patent law, "independent invention" cannot be used as a defence. We therefore believe that copyright is sufficient to protect software, whereas software patents will prevent independent invention, increase the risk of litigation and therefore hurt the IT industry.