A senior lawyer at Microsoft is calling for the creation of a global patent system to make it easier and faster for corporations to enforce their intellectual property rights around the world.
In a blog posting on Tuesday, Microsoft's Deputy General Counsel Horacio Gutierrez said that a backlog of patent applications internationally was needed to tackle the 3.5 million pending patent applications around the world — including around 750,000 in the US.
"In today’s world of universal connectivity, global business and collaborative innovation, it is time for a world patent that is derived from a single patent application, examined and prosecuted by a single examining authority and litigated before a single judicial body," said Guiterrez. "A harmonized, global patent system would resolve many of the criticisms leveled at national patent systems over unmanageable backlogs and interminable pendency periods."
Guiterrez went on to praise efforts to harmonise international patent systems through projects such ad the Patent Prosecution Highway and the "IP5" partnership but said more needed to be done to allow corporations to protect their intellectual property.
"By facing the challenges, realizing a vision, overcoming political barriers, and removing procedural obstacles we can build a global patent system that will promote innovation, enrich public knowledge, encourage competition and drive economic growth and employment," he added. "The time is now — the solutions are in reach."
Microsoft's calls to speed up the issuing of patents come shortly after the company was prosecuted in Texas for patent infringement concerning its Word application. In August, US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued a permanent injunction that "prohibits Microsoft from selling or importing to the United States any Microsoft Word products that have the capability of opening .XML, .DOCX or DOCM files (XML files) containing custom XML", according to a statement released by attorneys for the plantiff, i4i.
Commenting on Microsoft's appeal of the ruling late last month. i4i chairman Loudon Owen told ZDNet UK's sister site, CNET News.com, that the software giant's attitude was "extraordinary". "It captures the hostile attitude of Microsoft toward inventors who dare to enforce patents against them," Owen said. "It is also blatantly derogatory about the court system."
Microsoft's stance on stronger software patents has attracted opposition from the open source community and other anti-patent campaigners.
The founder of the GNU Linux project Richard Stallman, recently warned against the use of Mono software tools as they exposed users to potential patent violation accusations from Microsoft. In an article published by the Free Software Foundation, Stallman said that "only fools would ignore" the threat poised by Microsoft's patents.
The UK Pirate Party, which was registered by the electoral commission last month, is also opposed to the current patent system — especially in the area of healthcare — and has put reform of the process at the centre of its campaign for the next election. "Monopolies maintained by companies producing life-saving drugs mean people are dying, as they can't afford [treatment]," the party's leader Andrew Robinson told ZDNet UK last month.
Microsoft's backing for greater cooperation on the issue has the backing of other organisations. The World Intellectual Property Organisation is planning to hold a conference on global enforcement of intellectual property rights in Geneva on the 17th and 18th of September. "IP systems need to keep pace with globalizing trends in innovation and business practices," the organisation said in a statement. "The symposium offers stakeholders an opportunity to explore how existing highly diverse national and regional IP infrastructures can be developed to support the dynamics of innovation which is increasingly transnational and borderless."
FSF Europe and the UK Pirate Party were approached for comment but did not reply in time for this story