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Playing the patent game

weekly roundup I was reminded of the sad realities of the software business when the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) said it was going to scale back some technical work, and focus on legal issues instead.The OSDL will cut a third of its staff--nine employees in administrative and technical roles will lose their rice bowls.

weekly roundup I was reminded of the sad realities of the software business when the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) said it was going to scale back some technical work, and focus on legal issues instead.

The OSDL will cut a third of its staff--nine employees in administrative and technical roles will lose their rice bowls. The layoffs will let the group engage lawyers who'll provide legal services for members.

In the light of ongoing legal tussles over patents in the software industry, it's hardly surprising that open source software vendors are increasingly focused on litigation work. You'll never know when someone can dig into the abyss of his patent arsenal to launch an assault against your business.

No doubt, the OSDL will continue to focus on narrower engineering efforts. Still, the move reflects the state of the patent regime, which is arguably shifting toward self-serving motives rather than to advance innovation for the betterment of society.

Software isn't the only victim. Countries have long been beholden by multinational drug makers, whose pills and vaccines have become too expensive for much of the developing world. Brazil, for one, has vowed to break drug patents to curb diseases like Aids.

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not against software patents. I do think they have a role in fostering innovation. It's just the ease and speed at which software patents have been granted--especially in the U.S.--that I find disturbing.

According to a European Union document on the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive, the U.S. has broadened, over the years, its practice and granted patents for any application that makes a "useful, concrete and tangible contribution". This means the mere use of a computer renders all manner of software, including non-technical applications like accountancy software, patentable.

The good news is, patent reforms are already underway in the U.S. And I'm looking forward to a system that rewards real innovators, not patent trolls.

In other news this week, find out if fingerprint authentication is really as secure as it seems, why cellphone users in Malaysia have reason to cheer this festive season, and how smaller manufacturers are treating IT security