The Latest In Patent AbsurdityThe Latest In Patent Absurdity
In one week, Red Hat's asked the Supreme Court to <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/policy/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=220300788" target="_blank">do away with software patents</a>, while Eolas <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/software/hosted/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=220301244" target="_blank">prepares to sue</a> just about everyone on the planet with "fully interactive embedded applications" on their websites. I hate that it's become harder to tel
October 6, 2009
In one week, Red Hat's asked the Supreme Court to do away with software patents, while Eolas prepares to sue just about everyone on the planet with "fully interactive embedded applications" on their websites. I hate that it's become harder to tell who has the most legitimate grievances.
If nothing else has become clear in the past couple of years, it's that one doesn't need to be a software radical of the Richard Stallman stripe to dislike software patents. The amount of protection they grant seems to have become inversely proportional to their capacity to be abused. They're not just two-edged swords; they're razor-edged boomerangs.
Small wonder Red Hat has taken the "Bilski" interpretation that only things that have a "concrete and tangible" implementation should be patentable. They don't want to get their own head sliced off, either now or ten years down the line, when they could easily be twice the size they are now and that much juicier a target. I don't blame them at all for thinking this way. The worst part of the system as it stands is that it makes the trolls and the legitimately aggrieved look too much alike. The system's so easily exploited by the unscrupulous that it's no wonder every software-patent suit is seen with instant suspicion by the technorati. Eolas may well have a valid case, although the fact they're casting their net as broadly as they are is a warning flag to me. But the end result is clear: whether or not you have a legit gripe, you just wind up looking like someone grabbing for the low-hanging fruit. It's a form of guilt by association, which means those who do have a legitimate grievance may be that much less likely to bother with the law at all lest they be branded with a scarlet T (for Troll). The devil's-advocate side of me thinks the Red Hat interpretation of what's patentable could lead to all kinds of potential fun and games in a few decades, when it may well be possible to create self-assembling "concrete and tangible" implementations of things out of nano-parts. But that bridge can crossed -- or burned -- when we get to it. InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Sun's future under Oracle. Download the report here (registration required). Follow me and the rest of InformationWeek on Twitter.
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