I'm currently developing a Content Management System designed to manage video media. I have taken a look online and seen that there have been (US) patents filed for content management systems in the past which seemed to be highly vague in description which I guess allows them encompass any types of content.
Many have mentioned about prior art being around and I did not specifically find a patent in my own searching which appeared to be granted and as I understand it a patent would fall through if prior art can be demonstrated.
Subsequently I have found some others have filed more specific patents for Content Management Systems which more tightly define the content they would be managing.
Am I right in thinking that a patent for a more specific definition of something more vague and for which prior art work could be demonstrated that the more specific version would unlikely stand up?
I'm based in the UK as is my own startup but I plan to sell in the US so wanted to be sure if I might be at risk or not? I know of about 8 other suppliers of 'similar' CMS solutions and I do not believe my interface / functionality will be identical in nature to these existing ones and neither have I heard of any lawsuits being filed but I am just wondering where I might stand.
I also realise that this is something probably best bought up with a lawyer but I'm hoping someone might be able to point me at something which essentially means these patents are void.
not a lawyer Software patents in the US are pretty messy right now. Too many vague ones are being granted, as you point out, which leaves most cases being settled out of court; because the courts and juries have not the expertise to weigh in and settled disputes.
I've been part of a few patent suits with my previous company, though the cases were CPG design patents, not software. In every case we settled because we were small and they were large and they could bury us in costs. What is worth noting is that in every case we made large chunks of money prior to each suit and were never asked for damages - rather we were given notice to cease all sales. And in each case, we simply modified our design enough to skirt their patents, re-tooled and brought the products right back to market.
How relevant that is to your CMS system, I don't know. It's easy to sue someone, which is why the large guys do it. Even if their suit has little merit, it can be painful to fight. The flip is that once you see their suit and figure out exactly what their claim is vs. your product, you can often change your design just enough to skirt their suit and move on.
Also not a lawyer Software patents are a blight on the industry. The "protection" of the thing done (rather than the method of doing it) is a morally bankrupt practice. Compare the following:
Though the courts have yet to wade through all of this (getting law to catch up to technology is always a painfully slow process), I believe that we are headed toward the eventual end of all software patents in the US. Meanwhile, while large companies can wall off such practices in their legal departments (where even those who don't believe in such patents file them for the protection of MAD -- Mutually Assured Destruction -- against those who do), small companies are already finding that the best devs will pass them by due to software patent issues.
Meanwhile, for all that trouble, what do you get? A legal requirement to sue every infringer. If you "fail to enforce" your patent rights at any time, you lose the patent. Litigation is expensive, have fun.
Additionally, no closed-source CMS system is currently gaining market share in any big way. If you want to be successful outside of some small niche, you are going to have to open source at some point, and there is no open source license that is compatible with the enforcement of software patents (though open source is not only compatible with, but relies on, strong copyright protection).
This is a strategic decision that to defend requires an appropriate amount of funds for an attorney. So before going down the path of patenting make sure it makes sense in light of the overall costs. I do believe though there is a pro tem patent where you document the patent and then send it showing that the idea was created by such and such date based on the postal date.
So seek legal councel but put the decions in light of your cash and how your cash can be used for other activities for the business.