US software patents hit record high

US Patent and Trademark Office made a new record for the number of software patents awarded in a single year. The agency has issued 893 new patents yesterday, pushing the total to 30,232  in this year.

if this is the trend for registration, more than 40,000 software patents will be issued more in this year, according to the Public Patent Foundation. The previous record was set in 2004.

Software patents are considered a growing problem for the high-tech industry. In a highly publicised court battle, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion was forced to pay $612.5m to settle a dispute with patent holding company NTP.

The patent at the centre of the battle is likely to be invalidated in the future because of prior art, which essentially means that somebody invented the technology before the patent filer.

The threat from software patents primarily affects small software vendors and open source projects.

Larger vendors typically have patent portfolios that they can use to file counterclaims in case of a patent attack, and also tend to have cross-licensing agreements with their peers as an additional defence mechanism.

Several major technology vendors have pledged not to enforce their patents against open source projects. IBM, for instance, essentially donated 500 patents to open source projects last year.

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court overthrew a prior judgement that required a judge to issue an automatic injunction if he found that a patent was being infringed.

Critics had charged that the system provided patent filers with an unfair advantage because they could effectively threaten to shut down the opposing party’s business.

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