Friday, March 31, 2006

Back from the land of the Flu Zombies

Sorry I haven't had the chance to update the blog in quite a while. I ended up getting a bad case of the flu and was pretty much out of commission.

Anyways, I'm back with a sad story that really highlights what's wrong with the patent system in America today. Long story short, a company named Eolas received a patent back in 1998 that describes a way that a Web browser can use external applications. They claim that the way Microsoft's Internet Explorer uses plug-ins violates their patent. The courts agree.

Of course, now Eolas wants to receive nice big fat "licensing fees" from cash cow Microsoft so they may continue to use "Eolas's technology." Of course, this "technology" they want to license is nothing more than the actual idea that an external program can be seamless embedded into a web page. It's understandable that Microsoft doesn't want to pay. What they're doing instead is a shame.

Microsoft has realized that as long as the content is not automatically activated, the Eolas patent does not apply. So - they're breaking IE. The latest update to IE will make it such that you have to click on or otherwise select the embedded content for it to activate. Eolas is calling this move "a sham"; and while I hate to agree with them, they're right.

We really need to look at the patent system as it's applied to software and make some hard decisions about what we want to allow to be patentable and what we don't. Besides this case, consider the recent Blackberry scare and the infamous Amazon "One-click Shopping" patent to see how trivial some of this stuff is. Patents are supposed to promote the advancement of science and technology for the greater good. Breaking IE is definitely not that.

3 Comments:

At April 01, 2006 9:03 AM, Blogger Matt said...

I don't have a problem with them breaking IE. All the better for us if everyone moves over to Mozilla.

 
At April 05, 2006 3:24 PM, Blogger Mike Knapp said...

Here's an update with more madness: Netflix just finally got a patent approved on how they do business and turned right around and sued Blockbuster for doing business the same way.

 
At April 10, 2006 5:19 PM, Blogger Mike Knapp said...

This is a really great essay on patents that really got me thinking. It's written very much from a business perspective (vs. an open-source perspective) but gives it geniune thought.

It almost boils down to a business version of Mutually Assured Desctruction:
* Big companies amass patents to scare off other big companies. Big companies don't sue other big companies because they likely would be counter-sued.
* Big companies don't sue small companies, because they're not worth it. If they're worth anything, it's generally better to just buy them.
* Small companies can't afford to sue big companies.
* Patent trolls are the only disruption: the despots of the software industry. They have amassed money and patents specifically to take advantage of the situation.

Of course, there are exceptions. Most of those, however, are the results of patents that the patent office never should have granted in the first place.

This essay doesn't really address whether software patents are good or not, but it is an interesting persective. He points out the advantage that the forced openness of the patent process provides. However, open-source advocates would argue their system is not only more open, but better. But definitely worth a read.

 

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