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Re: IBM patents, IBM has an interesting, and quite unique strategy regarding IP. About 20-25% of IBM patents are software patents, and IBM uses this patent portfolio to protect open source projects, especially Linux (http://www.linuxplanet.com/linuxplanet/opinions/7034/1). Also, IBM historically abandons a large portion of its issued patents (http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2012/03/ibms-patent-abandonm...), and the abandoned patents become prior art, protecting everybody.

That's a valid point. I still don't understand why there is no (afaik) "general public patent" mechanism of some kind : a procedure to make someone claim a patent on behalf of general public.

This would certainly stops patent trolls, and avoid making people suspicious when you claim "protective patents" as you describe.

What you're describing is known as "prior art": simply publish your idea anywhere public, and it automatically becomes invalid for patenting. You don't even need to implement anything.

This is how it should work, but unfortunately it seems that the patent examination process does not work that well: Often trivial patents or patents with prior art are granted anyway, and one then has to risk going to court to invalidate the patent, which is highly undesirable for e.g. a private person developing free software in their spare time. Hopefully, in the US this will improve with the new patent reform.

Personally I believe that we should simply abolish software patents: Innovation in the software world seems to thrive without a patent process too, and in fact the patent process seems to be a major hurdle for small players to enter an existing market here.

Is there a well know central place for this? I once considered starting a web site for this sole purpose - to let people publish their ideas to establish prior art - but I don't have time to manage yet another web.

Yep, I'm aware of the prior art rule, except :

a) it's about things that should have been actually used, where a patent is about concepts

b) scope of the idea is not clearly defined and so could be argued with, when a real patent definition for general public use would prohibit that.

And that's excatly the point for IBM to issue protective patents, I think.

As I understand it, patents apply to applied inventions, not to concepts. In other words, to patent an idea, you need a working model. A patent is a time-limited legal monopoly on making the application, granted in exchange for disclosure of what the application does and how it works.

I've seen numerous patents for concepts with no working models and not just software patents. They do explain how such a device would work and many do seem reasonable, but they often will not have a built and working example.

Prior art in itself does not provide a defensive punch. But, if a company X decides to go about suing everybody using Linux and databases, because it competes with X's business, a large patent portfolio will act as a big stick for defense against X, and other possible Xs considering the same tactic.

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