IT Confidential: Distinctions: Patents, Spyware, Spam's Cost

To Patent Or Not To Patent. One of the most polarizing issues in open-source software development is that of patents.

John Soat, Contributor

February 25, 2005

3 Min Read

To Patent Or Not To Patent. One of the most polarizing issues in open-source software development is that of patents. Open-source advocates see patents as antithetical to the open-source movement, and as potential weapons to be used against open-source technology. The corporate world sees patents as one way to recoup investments in research and development. So it was a little surprising at the recent LinuxWorld user conference when one open-source advocate advocated patents. "To refuse to patent software is a bit naive," Martin Fink, Hewlett-Packard's VP and general manager of Linux, said during his keynote speech. Fink also chairs the Open Source Development Lab's intellectual-property subcommittee. "Refusing to patent your ideas leaves you unprotected," he said.

It's A Good-News-Bad-News Thing. Phishers have turned their sights on smaller financial-services companies. At the same time, the number of phishing E-mail messages, and Web sites supporting those attacks, has increased significantly this year. That's according to a report last week from the Anti-Phishing Working Group, a consortium of vendors, users, and law-enforcement organizations. In January, the group reported receiving 12,845 unique phishing E-mail messages, a 42% increase over December; the number of Web sites supporting those attacks rose 47% to 2,560, from 1,740 in the previous month. Making smaller financial-services companies the target of phishing attacks "could mean the counterphishing systems that big banks have deployed are effective and the phishers are moving onto softer targets," the group's chairman, David Jevans, said in a statement.

At Least Someone's Benefiting. Global revenue from anti-spam technology--both software and hosted services--will grow at a compound annual rate of 42% through 2008, according to research firm IDC, and will reach $1.7 billion. In 2003, anti-spam spending was only $300 million, IDC said. IDC's prognostication comes on the heels of a report from Ferris Research that the business cost for spam, including software, management time, and lost user productivity, will hit $50 billion this year (see story, "Spam Could Cost Businesses Worldwide $50 Billion").

I Call It Spyware, You Call It ... Microsoft agreed to apologize and pay a Dutch portal last week for flagging it as a purveyor of malicious content. The directory site objected to being classified as a "browser hijacker" in the test version of Microsoft AntiSpyware, which the company released in early January. After being threatened with legal action, Microsoft agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to's parent company. Microsoft posted an apology (in Dutch) on its Dutch and Belgian sites that support the AntiSpyware application. It's the latest in a rash of problems anti-spyware vendors have faced around identifying sites that promote spyware.

Clarification: Tony Scott, newly ensconced as CIO at the Walt Disney Co., wrote to clear up a point in last week's column. "I did not develop OnStar. To be fair, that was well in the works before I got to GM. My predecessor (Dennis Walsh) had been involved with the creation" of OnStar.

What's the difference between spyware and adware? Is it like the difference between hamburger and Salisbury steak? If you have a better analogy, or an industry tip, send it to [email protected] or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about patents or the cost of spam, meet me at the Listening Post:

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

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