Patent application strikes at digital archiving

Someone called Henry Gladney has filed a US patent application which could be used to troll digital archiving operations in an attempt to force them to pay money for what they’ve been doing all along. The patent is more readable than many I’ve seen, and it’s simply a composite of existing standard practices such as schema-based XML, digital authentication, public key authentication, and globally unique identifiers. The application openly states that its PIP (Preservation Information Package) “is also an Archival Information Package as described within the forthcoming ISO OAIS standard.”

I won’t say this is unpatentable; all kinds of absurd software patents have been granted. As far as I’m concerned, software patents are inherently absurd; every piece of software is a new invention, each one builds on techniques used in previously written software, and the pace at which this happens makes a patent’s lifetime of fourteen to twenty years an eternity. If the first person to use any software technique were consistently deemed to own it and others were required to get permission to reuse it, we’d never have ventured outside the caves of assembly language. That’s not the view Congress takes, though.

Patent law does say, though, that you can’t patent something that’s already been done; the term is “prior art.” I can’t see anything in the application that’s new beyond the specific implementation. If it’s only that implementation which is patented, then archivists can and will simply use a different structure and not have to pay patent fees. If the application is granted and is used to get money out of anyone who creates archiving packages, there will be some nasty legal battles ahead, further demonstrating how counterproductive the software patent system is.

Update: There’s discussion on LinkedIn. Registration is required to comment, but not to just read.

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