Open source developers and users will gain little or nothing from a patent reform law introduced to US Congress last week.
The Patent Reform Act of 2007 (PDF) proposes a series of changes to current rules, allowing for a review period after a patent has been awarded.
The proposed legislation also bans 'forum shopping', where a patent owner files a legal claim in a region known for ruling in favour of patent owners.
Lastly, the legislation proposes to limit the damages that can be awarded for patent infringement.
Mark Webbink, general counsel for open source software vendor Red Hat, welcomed the changes.
In a statement to vnunet.com Webbink expressed hope that the effort would prove effective in changing patent rules, and that the legislation would benefit proprietary and open source software equally.
Patents are considered a potential threat to open source users and developers, as the lack of a corporate owner of most open source software puts the liability with the end user and the developer who designed the original code.
Furthermore, the patent system has a much larger problem than the ones addressed in the reform.
Critics charge that many patents awarded today are overly broad or fail to take notice of 'prior art', a legal term indicating that somebody else invented a product before the patent applicant.
The legal group provides legal assistance to open source groups, and has actively fought patents which it considered invalid.
"To our clients, the open source developers, this reform does not really go to the root of the problem. It is still too easy to get a patent on software out of the US Patent Office that is too broad," added Fontana.
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