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I am originally from Canada, and I live in Asia, but, like a lot of software developers, software code I develop on the web is hosted and used within the United States.

Like many, I've heard lots of news recently about patent problems, but most of the focus in stories is about patent trolls and frivolous lawsuits in the United States. However, recently I noticed that Apple won their claims against Samsung in the US, but lost their case in Japan.

I am working on a couple of apps that will hopefully be made available on iPhone, Android, and on the web. And I'm a little nervous that certain aspects of my code might be a target for patent trolls.

But I have no idea of the extent of US patents, or if those patents are global, or what's going on. If a patent is global, how can a company like Apple defend their patents in one country but not in another? If a developer like me lives outside the US but a service I operate has code existing on servers in the US, can I be sued?

I hope my question is specific enough, but essentially I'm trying to work out how the (broken, in my opinion) US patent system impacts development in a global world, where code moves in and out of US borders as a matter of course.

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A patent only apply in the countries where it's been filed, but it's common to file a patent in many countries, see Wikipedia or my summary here. Each country's patent office makes its own decision regarding patentability. Note that software patents aren't a US specialty, they exist in Canada, Japan and most other countries. –  Gilles Sep 21 '12 at 19:57

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If a patent is global, how can a company like Apple defend their patents in one country but not in another?

Currently, there are no global patents. Apple defends its patents in countries where those patents are granted.

If a developer like me lives outside the US but a service I operate has code existing on servers in the US, can I be sued?

In terms of copyright if your code (on the US servers) infringes some other code that is protected in the US, then you can be sued. As for software patents, a software patent is not the code as such, it is on how the whole method of computation that goes about on a microprocessor or in other words, the process of - the algorithm being worked out in the CPU. An example software patent is this.

How the US patent system impacts development in a global world, where code moves in and out of US borders as a matter of course.

As such, it does not impact (I will abstain from speculating on any bureaucratic issues). One important thing about patents is - they are enforceable only in the country where they are granted. MNCs obtain patents in individual countries. Having said that, I should also point to the unitary patent system being developed in the EU. More about that here. In my opinion it will be very interesting to see how this goes about.

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