EFF warns 'Patent Busting Project' in danger

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's successful "Patent Busting Project" may itself be busted if language in legislation before the Senate is not changed, the group says.

From the EFF's blog: "Today EFF submitted a letter to Senators Leahy and Specter calling their attention to a portion of the Draft Judiciary Committee Report of the Patent Reform Act of 2007 which has the potential to kill EFF's Patent Busting Project."

The explanation is full of language only a lawyer could love - you've got your "ex partes" and "inter partes" - but if I'm reading it correctly it all boils down to this: This "reform" as it stands will protect frivolous patents from the EFF and similar watchdogs by limiting to one year after a patent's granting the time in which it could be challenged by anyone other than those suffering direct financial harm. (You can be sure the change was no accident.)

Launched in 2004, the EFF project challenges patents because doing so is in the public's best interests, not necessarily its own.

EFF says: "The public has a right to defend itself against patents that should never have been granted, and organizations like EFF exist to assist in this process. Reexamination proceedings are essential for us to continue this work."

Aside from the offending fine print, EFF says it otherwise supports the reform legislation.

I've put a call in to Leahy's press office and was told they'd get back to me with any reaction. (I cannot call Specter's office because I wouldn't want to distract the senator or his staff from policing NFL rules interpretation.)

The "Patent Busting Project" has already notched a string of impressive victories.

Last year, the project succeeded in convincing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to revoke a patent held by Clear Channel Communications that covered a system for recording and distributing live musical performances.

In December, it was the distance-learning site Test.com wilting under the patent-busting heat, as the PTO rejected all 16 claims upon which its patent rests.

Additional examples here.

Everyone complains about frivolous patents. EFF is doing something about them. It would be a shame if that effort were to fall victim to "help" from Washington.

(Update: Heard back at 4 p.m. from Leahy's press secretary, who writes that she would attempt to "speak to the chairman about this" -- the chairman meaning Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It's just before 5 a.m. Wednesday now and there's been no additional word. ... I'm told Specter and staff were pulling an all-nighter to find out who stole the strawberries.)

(Update 2: Chatter about this over at Slashdot.) 

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