Just when I can't find a topic to produce a column, and the only thing that
comes to mind is record-size
exotic fish, up pops something that should allow
me to keep my job for at least another few months.
From a story
on PC World,
the World Wide Web Consortium announced a formal policy ensuring
that key Web technologies, even if patented,
would be made available on a royalty-free basis.
During the last couple of months,
some companies had been jostling for patents that included e-commerce, domain
name servers and boiling water. Of
course, by gaining a patent for boiling water, this meant that every time someone
tried to make hot chocolate or oatmeal, that person would have to pay a fee
to the company that owned the patent.
This might seem ridiculous, but in the
Web development world, this is not far from the truth. Any company can
use tools available to build complex systems
that already have been built. I've been constructing Internet applications
for fewer than three years, and I've worked on projects dealing with mass mailing,
calendars, shopping carts, sports fantasy leagues, news, to name a few. And
I don't know nearly as much about some of these things as people who have been
programming their entire lives.
Last year, a company called Pangea
Intellectual Properties sued various sites for infringing on its e-commerce
spread quickly to other corporations
that patenting Web-based products could be worth more than the actual products
themselves. In the US
Patent database, I performed a simple search on 'Internet,'
and I received 32,547 hits. I glanced through some of the patents on the front
page, and the first word that came to mind to describe these was useless. How
can you patent a data
transmitting and receiving system? There's also a patent
for a Web
user interface session and sharing of session environment information.
I've set up numerous Web sites that utilize this technology. Fortunately, I
haven't been sued, but even if I were, the only thing I'd have to give would
be pictures of large exotic fish.
From what I've seen, the guys in the patent
office don't necessarily understand Web technologies. That's why anyone can
basically walk in, prove they have
invented something and be awarded a patent. Then lawyers can spend countless
hours explaining to other companies who developed similar systems that their
clients already built them, and therefore, they have the right to sue.
this in simpler terms, from simpler times, take a look at the invention
of barbed wire. Both Joseph Glidden and Jacob Haish claimed to have invented
barbed wire. Both men saw an exhibit at the county fair showing a new type
of fence, and both came away with the thought of making it better. Glidden
applied for a patent for his creation known as "The Winner," but
Haish was awarded a patent first for his "S-Barb." Strangely enough,
both lived in Dekalb, Ill., which is known by all as a hot bed for barbed wire
production. What ensued was a three-year legal battle, producing more than
570 barbed wire patents. Glidden won the battle because he applied first.
difference between these two is that in the barbed wire example, the products
were similar and not improvements on each other. With Web development and
database integration, improvements are made hourly, due to customer preference,
economical reasons, etc. It's almost as if these developments are more or
less ideas and not necessarily actual inventions.
And everyone knows you can't
patent an idea.
So, I'm hoping that the W3C will be able to keep its clout
and withhold erroneous patents from making such an impact within the Web
Most crucial technologies that we use via the Internet (TCP/IP, HTML,
all royalty free, and if they weren't, people probably wouldn't be using
them as much as they do.
But then again, it's feasible new patents could
be issued. I'm currently constructing a new type of barbed wire that allows
fisherman to enclose large exotic fish.
Oh, I meant to mention
earlier that I invented the Back button in your Web browser. It's time
to hit that right now.