The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has issued a list of the ten patents it considers most dangerous to the continuing freedom of use of the Internet and related software.

The non-profit consumer organisation is including these patents under its Patent-Busting project which began late last week. The EFF claims that these patents represent the worst cases where patents that have been issued are clearly too broad, ignore the existence of prior art or are so obvious as to be too trivial for patenting.

They include:

  • A method for administering tests over the Internet
  • A system and method for playing games on a network
  • A method and apparatus for implementing a computer network/Internet telephone system (VOIP)
  • An audio and video receiving and transmission system
  • A system for generating, distributing, storing and performing musical work files

"What makes these patents among the worst of the bunch is that their owners are threatening and filing suits against small businesses, individuals and non-profits, not to mention the threats to free expression and innovation that each of them pose," the EFF said.

"Target number one is Acacia," a statement by the organisation states, "a company that has litigated relentlessly against small businesses to enforce patents that it claims cover a broad array of technologies used to send and receive streaming media online." The other companies named are also barely heard of outside their patent enforcement efforts - Acceris, ClearChannel and, with the exception of Nintendo.

The EFF says the harm these patents cause the public is "profound", as with the rise of the Internet, patents do not just target rival companies, but the "vast number of small business, non-profit, and individual users - each of whom has adopted and built upon these resources as part of their daily interaction with computers and the online world."

And so, the EFF is going to focus all its efforts, including lawyers and computer experts on researching and collecting prior art - evidence that the technology existed before the company in question put in a patent application on it. Once it feels it has gathered enough information it will then submit a petition to the US Patent and Trademark Office asking it to re-examine the case.

"If the USPTO finds the prior art compelling, it will formally revoke the patent and release the idea back into the public domain, where it belongs," explained the EFF. The top ten can be found here.