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Red Hat Says U.S. Patent System Is Broken

Red Hat said that the patent system in the U.S. is currently a "hindrance to open source." There are many out there though that do agree with Red Hat. But the problem won’t stop simply because a software company requests so. According to Red Hat:

"Developers face the risk that the original code they have written in good faith could be deemed to infringe an existing software patent. It’s impossible to rule out this possibility, because there are now more than 200,000 software patents, and those patents cannot be efficiently searched. Software patents are difficult to interpret, even for experts in computer science and software engineering."

There are ambiguous areas in the patent game. For example, one could patent a method for doing something, but the patent may not go through because it’s based on a device that’s under a different patent altogether. In other more problematic areas, mountains of patents are being submitted for the most mundane things.

Red Hat believes that the current status of the patent system is the cause for the plethora of lawsuits and cases that run into the millions of dollars. One good example of this is the case between Research in Motion (RIM) and NTP. With push-email, NTP filed a patent against RIM indicating that RIM and its Blackberry devices infringed on patents. NTP was criticized for keeping its patent on the back burner for a number of years without any activity, just to wait until RIM was successful, and then sue. In the end, RIM ended up paying NTP over $613-million USD to settle the case. Later in the year, NTP brought Palm to court for similar allegations.

Capitalism at its finest. Clearly, there are always advantages and disadvantages in any system.

"Given the litigation risk, some open source companies, including Red Hat, acquire patents for the sole purpose of asserting them defensively in the even they are faced with a future lawsuit," said Red Hat. "We believe that although the patent system was created to foster innovation, it’s simply not an engine for innovation for open source."

Red Hat, one of the main propagators of the Linux operating system has been at the forefront on intellectual property. The company said it will follow this case through, hope to drum up more industry support and maybe see something be changed.

"We urge in our brief that [the Federal Circuit] take account of the perverse effects of the patent system on open source and narrow the standard for patentability," concluded Red Hat.