The news has been dominated by patents lately. They've become a big issue (finally) and are receiving a lot of attention from various industries and governments. The U.S. patent system, for instance, received an overhaul after President Obama signed the America Invents Act, which is the first major change to the U.S. patent system in half a century.
Intel, one of the largest patent holders in information technology, also came out earlier this month and told colleges and universities whose research and development it funds that it expects their results to be open source and patent-free.
Both of these are big changes in the patent system of the United States and Canada (Intel funds R&D at some Canadian universities). Both are big news and both are mostly good news for the IT and related industries.
=== The U.S. Patent Overhaul
The bill signed by Obama changes how the patent challenging system works and modernizes the U.S. patent system to become more in line with most patent systems in the rest of the world. The first change is to upgrade how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is funded and staffed, increasing both.
The biggest change, is the next one, which changes how the patent system in the U.S. works: it makes it a 'first to file' system rather than a 'first to invent' system. What this means is that the first person to file a patent on something gets the patent, rather than the first person to invent something. In most cases, this is the same person, but sometimes it's not. What it does is allow something to be patented even if the person who invented it never files for a patent. This could cause a lot of problems, obviously, but the patent challenge system would allow for those who invented something or who specifically have publicly said that they do not want their invention patented, to have recourse. Regardless, it's the way most patent systems worldwide operate.
Finally, the last change affects the financial industry specifically. Finance-related business methods can be challenged within 9 months of patent and by third parties who may not have a vested interest (competing patent). This is to keep relatively common finance schemes from being patented and then enforced, shutting down operations at many finance businesses. This has been occurring often in some investment and trades markets for the past few years.
One other change is to how fees are collected and used. Currently, USPTO fees are set by the Treasury Department, which collects some of those fees. With the new system, the USPTO sets the fees and keeps them as part of its budget, easing the burden on the taxpayer and potentially increasing the PTO's revenue.
=== Intel's Announcement
The announcement from Intel came at about the same time. Intel has told the colleges and universities that it works with that if they want to receive or continue to receive funding from them for IT projects and research grants, they will have to agree to not patent anything they discover or invent. Everything must be open source.
Four universities have agreed to the terms and signed on, hosting Intel Science and Technology Centers on their campuses. These are funded at a rate of about $2.5 million per year by Intel. These centers conduct research in various areas related to Intel's peripheral businesses (specifically cloud and embedded computing).
While the universities get the funding and Intel (presumably) gets first crack at anything found, nothing will be patented by either the university or Intel, leaving all findings open source.
That's important and, I believe, conducive to fast-paced, smart innovation.