The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has long been at the forefront of fighting software patent abuse with its Patent Busting Project, is promising to launch a new initiative called "Patent Fail: In Defense of Innovation."
What will that entail?
We don't know. A blog post today by EFF staff attorney Julie Samuels introducing the effort, and a separate page offering a more detailed explanation of its necessity, provide almost nothing in terms of specifics. (Updated: A bit more below.)
The blog post by Samuels summarizes the well-known litany of complaints about the current software patent system, and concludes: "EFF is committed to defending innovation and fixing the problems with software patents in the long-term. That's why we'll soon be launching our new campaign around software patents, Patent Fail: In Defense of Innovation. Stay tuned."
The "Patent Fail" page offers little more than additional tease:
Below, we explain these problems in more detail, and why we believe it's time to start over. Patents are supposed to help encourage the development and sharing of new technologies. In the coming months, we will be rolling out a set of new tools and techniques that we believe can help shift the patent system in the right direction.
EFF has always stood up for the freedom to tinker and the right to innovate. It's time the patent system did the same. That's why EFF is launching a new campaign around patents-Patent Fail: In Defense of Innovation. Check back here for updates.
That one phrase - "new tools and techniques" - is about as concrete as the announcement gets ... which is to say not very concrete.
One thing the EFF does make clear is that advocating for the abolishment of software patents is not likely to be part of this new project:
Given all of these problems, it's not surprising that many of today's inventors are choosing to opt-out of the patent system. Software developers have led the way: indeed, many in the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement argue forcefully that software patents should be abolished. FOSS developers are creating new software (and often giving it away for free) without trying to slap on legal protections for their work or stop others from using it and innovating on top of it.
While compelling, there are risks to this strong approach. Every piece of software released to the world without legal protections may leave open a door for someone else to attempt to patent the same technology (and may leave its creators more open to legal threats without a patent to wield defensively). Such a scenario may result in years wasted in litigation and the existence of a patent used as a sword to scare away further innovators.
I've asked for additional details.
In the meantime, I guess we'll have to stay tuned.
(Update: Just got a bit more from Samuels via email: "The project has three components: educating individuals about the problems with the current patent system, providing individuals with resources to deal with patent issues, and then exploring what the system should be in the long-term. Today we rolled out the first component. One of our next publications will be a resource toolkit for individuals sued by patent trolls.
"We've noticed that more and more people are upset about the negative effects of software patents, and we want to start a conversation with people who might not practice in front of the patent office, but are affected by patents everyday. We're really looking forward to the new campaign.")
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