We have written here and here on Small Business Trends about the U. S. Patent Office granting overly broad patents for software and information technology products.
Eolas Technologies is the poster child of these ill-conceived patent grants. Eolas was granted a patent for a commonly used software plug-in feature in web browsers.
Recently, the U.S. Patent Office granted the request of the World Wide Web Consortium to reconsider the patent grant. The grounds: the patent is based upon technology already being used in browsers before Eolas Technologies claimed to have invented it.
This is just the beginning of another round of legal maneuvers. Sorting it all out could take a few more years. But given the fact that the Patent Office has conducted only 151 such re-examination requests out of the last 4 million patents, many are optimistic that this signals the Patent Office has come to its senses. And that would be a good thing for small businesses.
Overly broad patents hurt businesses of all sizes, especially small businesses. Overly broad patents increase the costs of doing business and impede online commerce. Small businesses are forced into added expense when they (a) have to change technologies upon discovering that a technology is subject to a patent, or (b) are forced to pay royalties -- even if they and millions of others have been using the technology for years.