n South African Computer Journal - The word-processing patent - a sceptical view from a person having ordinary skill in the art : guest research contribution




The most fundamental and far-reaching of changes we have seen in the field of software in the past few years, have not been technical, but rather changes in the normative assumptions surrounding the ownership of so called "intellectual property". A symptom of these changes has been an increase in the practice of patenting claims for software inventions. This paper provides a case study of one such patent which has been granted by the South African patent office. I argue that the patent itself is probably invalid on a number of grounds, not least of which being the exclusion of computer programs as patentable subject matter under the South African Patent Act. The paper outlines how a an under-resourced local patent office together with an under-developed national policy and legislation, is proving incapable of defending the national public interest in the face of determined international pressure and considerable private interests.

A brief overview is provided of the international "intellectual property" environment which forms the backdrop to this strange arrival in our local patent office. I go on to argue that this particular patent, if it were to be enforced, could have a number of negative consequences which far outweigh any value it may have to our local economy and well-being.


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