Oracle patents refer to Oracle Corporation's policy of opposing patents in the software business. The company's position is that current copyright laws and trade secret protections do a much better job to protect software development than patent laws. While patent laws are appropriate in other industries, allowing inventors to benefit from their work, the fast pace and creative use of previously-known methods make them hard to apply in the software development industry.

Oracle's Patent Policy

Although it opposes the use of patents in the software industry, Oracle needed to adopt a defensive strategy and use patents to strategically cross-license with other companies when creating new software.

The use of patents is perfectly understandable in other industries as they offer the inventor 17-year exclusivity rights to their inventions and therefore protect all the capital, hard work, and long hours that were put in a particular project. Without patent laws, anyone else would be able to freely profit from that work. However, the software industry has some unique characteristics that make patents hard to apply and inefficient. As opposed to mechanical and engineering inventions, a piece of software is usually a complex combination of concepts and ideas and is not decisively pushed forward by the development of a new technique.

The American software industry has benefitted from the lack of patent laws and has grown into a multi-billion dollar market. The many uses of the created software also helped push forward countless other domains and businesses. For those reasons, any change in the system that would divert time and resources from software development to obtaining and enforcing patents would have a negative impact on the software companies and on U.S. industry as a whole.

Oracle's first patent application was submitted back in 1991, not because it needed a particular piece of software to be protected against patent infringement, but because other companies could take advantage of patent laws to gain a competitive edge. The company still believes cross-licensing is a better and cheaper solution for companies to protect their software products. The time and resources spent on patent protection could be used by businesses to further enhance their products.

The rights of software developers are well represented by copyright laws, as well as a concentrated effort to protect company secrets. These solutions are more precise and less expensive than patent protection.

Oracle's Recommendations on Applying Patent Law

Although the company's position is firmly against patents for software development, if the patent laws continue to be enforced, changes are recommended by the company for the well-being of the software industry. They recommend that:

  • If patent law extends to the software industry, it should, first of all, be consistent throughout the entire world.
  • The period of protection should be much lower than it is now, and rules should be in place to prevent so-called patent flooding specifically aimed at limiting the competition from innovating.
  • Software patents should be thoroughly classified while taking account of the fast-paced and innovative nature of the industry. Due to the software market's fast pace, any patent file should be reviewed in less than six months, as a longer time would make the patent useless and obsolete.
  • Patent filings should be analyzed by skilled examiners who are able to understand the nature of software development. For a piece of software to be patented, a committee should clearly and unambiguously determine that the patented software is indeed new and unique. The professionals who have the job of analyzing patent requests should also receive higher wages, that being the only way in which the necessary qualified personnel can be attracted.

How can a Patent be Defendable?

It's not enough for a patent to be filed; the case for that patent must also be strong enough to hold up in a court of law. The main criteria for a patent to be defendable are its novelty and non-obviousness. In other words, the patented invention must indeed be a new idea, something that has not been done before in that way or form. It must also not be something that, albeit new, is too vague and ambiguous to be attributed to a single inventor. These criteria are essential when considering filing a patent.

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