The Internet has been amazingly quiet about IBM’s litigation against Amazon. It feels to me like maybe the biggest Internet story of, well, maybe, ever. I haven’t gone and read the IBM patents yet, because reading patents always depresses me. If the titles mean anything (not always a sure bet), this might mean that IBM has finally managed to figure out how to set up that Internet Tollbooth that we’ve always been afraid of. If you’re interested in “Presenting Applications in an Interactive Service”, “Storing Data in an Interactive Network”, “Presenting Advertising in an Interactive Service”, “Adjusting Hypertext Links with Weighted User Goals and Activities”, or “Ordering Items Using an Electronic Catalogue”, apparently IBM thinks you need to pay them for the right to do any of those things. If the courts agree with them, it’s time for me to find a new line of work. [Update: David Berlind is the first journalist to get off the mark and start spelling out the implications. The Internet as we know it could be over.]


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From: Ian Bicking (Oct 24 2006, at 11:22)

Well, I'm always unclear of whether the patent is the union or intersection of its claims (I don't think there's any general rule). If it's the intersection then the more vague concepts you can pile on the better for the public (the vagueness is still bad, of course, but the quantity is better). If it's the union, then all the worse.


From: Greg Reimer (Oct 24 2006, at 11:34)

Goodness. Next thing, they'll have a patent for things like, "doing stuff with computers." Come on, America, fix your patent system!


From: Mark Nottingham (Oct 24 2006, at 12:42)


The good news is that this is happening in public, which will encourage debate -- and hopefully outrage -- about the broken-ness of the patent system.

The bad news is that this isn't by any means unique, and it'll just encourage other companies to think "well, they're doing it, why can't I?"

They've got plenty more, too; e.g.,

What a mess. The way things work effectively limits competition to those few mega-players who can ante up a patent portfolio to cross-license. The only way to avoid it is to be too small to be worth prosecuting.


From: Jason R Briggs (Oct 24 2006, at 12:46)

I wonder how long till the Great Eye of Sauron... I mean Groklaw... which has been aiming in the direction of sco, turns to point back at IBM.


From: Bob Aman (Oct 24 2006, at 17:07)

And all that effort not to be the Big Bad Blue. What a shame. I don't suppose this might be a case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing?


From: Paul Downey (Oct 25 2006, at 06:07)

As someone who works for a company who tried something similar a while back (a patent on the hyperlink? yay!) my deepest sympathy goes out to all those IBM'ers blessed with common-sense who must be shivering with embarrassment as we type, and will be for some time to come.


From: Asbjørn Ulsberg (Oct 26 2006, at 00:23)

What astonishes me is that for US software patents, the level of production authenticity is so incredibly low. I mean, you can basically just write down any idea you have, file a patent, and it will be acknowledged and accepted. You don't have to show for any working system incorporating the idea, any drawings of the system, not anything. Can you express it in text, it can be patented. So, as already mentioned, "Do stuff with computers" can (in theory) be patented. It's both scary and rediculous.


From: Dan J (Oct 26 2006, at 09:10)

Judging patents based on their titles is not a good idea. Patent attorneys (who write the actual patent application) must come up with a very broad title so that it's harder for those accused of violating the patent to claim that they didn't know about it. That is, any company with a legal team is capable of doing a basic patent search around the terms and concepts in the software they are publishing; if your title and search keywords are extremely precise, it will be easier for opposing attorneys to claim that they missed it.

The fines/awards for unknowingly violating a patent are only 1/3 of that for knowingly violating one, so this is significant to anyone incurring the cost of filing a patent.

So, it may turn out that the patents *are* ridiculous, but don't judge a book by its cover (or title).


From: Stephen (Oct 27 2006, at 20:49)

I didn't read the patent, but I noticed the article linked to quoted the abstract, which is a pretty sloppy way to discuss a patent.

A patent is defined by the claims, each of which has multiple elements. If an implementation does not reproduce all the elements of at least one claim, is is not infringing. You don't get 90 percent of your royalty if 9 of your 10 claims are present in somebody's implementation: you get nothing. To the untrained reader, a patent can look ominous, but be completely impotent.

This is a particularly pitfal, since most claims reference previous claims, so you need to read and chain all the elements of numerous claims together to even know what a particular claim is ... claiming.

In addition to this, there are some common English words that are frequently used in patents that have different meanings in that context than in normal English.


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