Stopping Patent Madness

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-10-05 Print this article Print

The Public Patent Foundation front page says it all: "Wrongly issued patents and unsound patent policy harm the public: by making things more expensive, if not impossible to afford; by preventing scientists from advancing technology; by unfairly prejudicing small businesses; and by restraining civil liberties and individual freedoms."

Sounds too grand? Think again. The big patent cases ask for tens of millions to more than a billion dollars in damages. Who ends up paying the bills? The people who buy and use software.

Even when companies win, we—the users and developers—end up paying the bills because top-level patent law is expensive and takes years. Eolas is still fighting Microsoft over basic browser technology found in IE.

Think that doesnt matter to open-source developers? Think again. If upheld, the Eolas patent also can be used against Mozilla or Firefox. No one is safe from patent abuse.

Read more here about the Eolas browser case. Heck, even when companies dont fight, we, as IT buyers, end up spending more because our software providers send the additional cost to us.

The only winners in the patent war are the firms that use them against other companies and the lawyers they employ.

So, what can you do? Well, if youre in a position of authority, you can discourage your company from taking out stupid patents.

For example, am I the only one who finds it ironic that Sun president Jonathan Schwartz talked in his blog last Thursday about how he supports software patents and then, on the very next day, Kodak socked it to him?

Its not just Sun, though. Microsoft has won—and lost—hundreds of millions of dollars in patent lawsuits.

Isnt it time to stop the patent madness?

I think so. You can help by supporting the Public Patent Foundation. You also can write to your representatives in Congress and encourage them to reform patent law in general and, in specific, to take software IP (intellectual property) issues out of patents and into copyright, where it belongs. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

Check out eWEEK.coms Linux & Open Source Center at for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Be sure to add our Linux news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel