The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office continues to amaze with the range of
software technologies that it is willing to patent. Here are a couple of
- Interwoven has been awarded patent
#6,505,212 for a "system and method for website development."
What the patent really covers, though, is a revision control
system; the management of web site content is just one possible use
suggested in the patent abstract. This patent covers content
management systems like Zope quite clearly; revision control systems
like CVS could also be threatened, however. (See also: Interwoven's
press release on the patent).
- Amazon, meanwhile, was just given patent
#6,525,747, which covers online discussion systems. This patent
would appear to cover just about any site which allows the posting of
comments. It might be limited somewhat, however, by its reference to
"items offered for sale" as the starting point for discussions.
There is no doubt that copious amounts of prior art can be found for both
of these patents. Your editor first used a revision control system -
accessed with punch cards - over twenty years ago. Web sites allowing
discussions existed before Amazon hit the net, and certainly before 1999,
when the patent was filed.
But prior art does not help address the real problem: the patent office is
allowing companies to try to fence off little bits of the intellectual
landscape without regard to originality or any pretense of promoting any
sort of progress. Increasingly, it is impossible to write any sort of
nontrivial program that does not infringe upon somebody's patent. The only
saving grace is the fact that most of these patents are never enforced.
Otherwise, software development would grind to a halt - at least, in those
countries which allow software patents.
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