Essay on Limiting the Extent of Patents on Information Technologies

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Limiting the Extent of Patents on Information Technologies

Abstract: In recent years, patent laws have been extended beyond physical inventions to cover techniques and methods employed by software developers. Yet at certain point, processes are abstracted beyond the level specific implementations and must be considered to be ideas, to which patents do not apply. Certain companies in the field of information technology, however, seem intent on pushing the extent of their patents beyond reasonable limits, effectively staking claims on ideas rather than implementations. This paper concentrates on how CMGI/Alta Vista may be taking advantage of this area of the patent system. I first detail the nature of this abuse, and then
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Yet there are steps that may be taken to prevent such abuse in future, while retaining the protection of intellectual property, which is the goal of the patent system.

CMGI - parent company to Alta Vista - is resting its case on a series of 38 patents, and 30 pending patents, which collectively cover the right to "index a distributed set of databases"ii such as the World Wide Web. Under patent laws, Alta Vista argues, any search engine on the web or on an intranet may be held in violation if it indexes web sites so that it may search them. Although this may seem unusually broad for a patent, it is not the first time a patent has been enforced on a technology that has become a fundamental concept to developers. TechSearch has filed suit against several companies based on a patent that effectively covers any type of web serveriii, while British Telecom is involved with a suit against Prodigy over its patent on hyperlinksiv. We cannot discount this as an isolated case, considering it a legal fluke; in reality, such situations are continuously arising.

Alta Vista was legally granted patents for its web-searching technologies, because the current interpretation of patent law supports such broad patents. Yet the question arises whether it is in the spirit of the law to allow these companies to exclude any other developers from producing independently developed technologies that have similar functionality through different

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