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First-to-file or first-to-invent

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All the world's patent systems are now first-to-file. The first-to-invent system was previously used in Canada, the Philippines, and the USA.

The difference has very little impact on how software patents are used.

[edit] Does first-to-file amplify the problems of software patents?

A patent is only granted to the the first person to come up with the patentable idea. First-to-file refers to systems where the date of the patent application is used to determine who was "first" to come up with the idea. In industries where research and development are expensive, it can be assumed that whoever comes up with the idea will try to patent it. However, in software, where developers can come up with many patentable ideas without realising it, or will often decide that a patent application isn't worth the effort, the first-to-file system results in a much larger number of patents being granted to people who were not the first to come up with the idea.

This leads to invalid patents being granted. These can be fought in court but the costs can be astronomical, so a lot of developers obey the invalid patent and restrict their own work.

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