Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Deja vu: short terms for business method patents?

Back in 2000, Jeff Bezos, Amazon's chairman, acknowledged that the terms under which business method patents were granted might be unreasonable and might stifle others from building upon the patented innovations. Bezos called for the federal government to limit patents for software and Internet business models to three to five years and to require a period for public comment on patent applications in those areas before they are granted. Fast forward to 2006, and one John Carroll is repeating the same argument. Ironically, this becomes an argument for the disclosure feature of patents. Whatever is in the patent is documented, so when someone six years later dredges up the same idea, one can sue him. Re-inventing the wheel is boring.

from John Carroll, Patent Madness demands shorter patents:

That's why I still think the best compromise from a patent standpont is much shorter patent protection periods. I proposed five years for software patents in a previous post, which to my mind is an upper limit. Business process patents, however, really shouldn't be longer than two years. That's enough time for a company with an innovative business model (as Netflix clearly has) to create a stable business before facing the full press of larger competitors (like Blockbuster) angling to enter their market.

Twenty years is madness, and clearly not the intent of patent law.


Business process patents are the most egregious example. Amazon has a patent on its "one-click" purchasing process that, at 20 years, is almost an eternity from a software standpoint. Add to that list Netflix patents "on the concept of the automatic queue, which customers add to from the company's library and then receive movies in a customizable order of preference," or covers the method that allows Netflix subscribers to "keep the DVDs for an unlimited amount of time, and "to obtain new DVDs without incurring additional charges and to prioritize and reprioritize their own personal dynamic queue–of DVDs to be rented."


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