Stop the Software Patent Madness Now

Opinion: Software patents are nasty, brutish and anything but short. For the sake of the United States' technological development, they must be stopped.

When I was a kid, one of my jobs was to pick the ticks off our hound dog, George.

It was an ugly job, but someone had to do it.

As I survey the software patent landscape, Im reminded of those fat, blood-sucking ticks once again.

Eolas has won a major victory in its seemingly endless fight against Microsoft. Im no friend of Microsoft, but I am a friend of anyone that fights against stupid patents.

Eolas, which is really just former University of California researcher Michael Doyle, Web patent claims, have been opposed by none other than the creator of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee.

Maybe its just me, but I think Berners-Lee might have a clue about whats what in the Web.

Then, theres Scientigo, the little company that claims two of its patents cover a big part of XML (Extensible Markup Language).

Give me a break.

Ive been working with interoperability, which is the name of the XML game, since the 1980s, and theres nothing in those patents that I havent seen time and again.

Now, in MIT Technology Review, Scientigo claims that its not XML per se, its that XMLs schema and namespace applications conflict with its patents on "neutral form."

Oh please. You say "neutral form," I say "DTD" (Document Type Definitions). Whats the real difference?

I defy you to read the patents and find anything that hasnt already been clearly foreshadowed with SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), XMLs most direct ancestor, and its DTDs.

Heck, for that matter, if you go way the heck back, I can see it developing in the 1970s!

Dont buy that? Check it out, guys. Direct from 1973, its Design Considerations for Integrated Text Processing Systems.

Or, take, the war between RIM and NTP. Right now, NTP has the upper hand. Its quite possible that NTP is going to ask for an injunction that will put every, last BlackBerry in the United States out of service.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about NTPs battle against RIM.

Thats pretty good, dont you think, since the USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) has rejected all of NTPs patent claims.

No, its still not over.

Weve got years more of appeals ahead of us. Unless, of course, NTP can squeeze more than the $450-million dollars RIM was willing to pay just to make this case disappear.

But, it seems that wasnt enough for NTP, so talks broke off between the companies in June.

I could go on and on, but heres the point.

Its not really these particular companies at fault. Theyre just taking advantage of a broken system.

Software patents are bad for everyone. Theyre bad for Microsoft. Theyre bad for open-source. Theyre bad for you. Theyre bad for me. Theyre bad for everyone except patent holders with aggressive lawyers and deep pockets.

The Europeans had the right idea. The European Parliament overwhelmingly rejected U.S. style patents.

If we are to avoid seeing our inventive and innovative technology falling behind the Europeans and everyone else thats not locked in by an archaic and fatally flawed patent system, we have to get rid of software patents now.

Please, lets get rid of them now.

Ziff Davis Internet Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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