Surprise attack to get rid of software patents in the US
There is a case coming up in the US Supreme Court, where Microsoft and AT&T are arguing whether a software patent granted in the US can also regulate how some software can be sold abroad. The case itself borders on ridiculous for an engineer to understand, but there seems to be no limits on what lawyers for big companies can come up with. Of course we don't want to care in Europe whether the US patent system allows something or not, just as we don't care about any other US laws either in our independent nations.
Anyway, now the case is in the Supreme Court. And in the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition the Supreme Court is not so much about deciding individual cases, it also serves a legislative purpose in setting precedents. For instance, in the US the Congress never ruled on whether software can be patented or not, software patents where just approved by courts establishing precedents.
The Software Freedom Law Center has now joined this party (because of this precedent setting function, also third parties can submit their opinions with the court) and is arguing that actually the Supreme Court never approved software patents, only lower courts did. (The SFLC is basically an organized form of the lawyers who have worked for years with the Free Software Foundation.) And they argue quite convincingly that the lower courts did those decicions against earlier rulings by the Supreme Court.
This case will be interesting to follow (LWN and Groklaw are certainly good places to go to). If the SFLC can even bring to discussion the argument that software patents where never really approved as legal in the US, it will also impact the discussion over here in Europe. After all, the main argument for the patent lobby here has always been that we should harmonise with the US.