News.com's Declan McCullagh has the disturbing details on the Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-TX) patent reform proposal that's under consideration by Congress (the Patent Reform Act of 2005). Among the controversial changes to existing patent law is a provision that assures that when a patent is awarded, it gets awarded to the first person to submit the paperwork to the patent office (not necessarily the inventor who hasn't filed an application yet). Today, if you can prove that you were the inventor of something (by way of dated documents), that proof supercedes the timing of a patent application.
Patents have become a hot button in the sometimes stressful discussion that takes place between advocates of open source software and those of proprietary software. Intellectual property rights (IPR) have become a major obstacle to the widespread deployment of certain technologies. For example, IPR is what's standing in the way the Apache Software Foundation's deployment of some all-important WS-Security protocols in its open source offerings. I'm not sure what the solution is anymore. One thing I do know -- as I wrote in a recent bit of satire -- on their current course, patents will suck all that's interesting out of our world.