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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Software Patents : Microsoft Stupid Says John Dvorak

John C. Dvorak writes,
Microsoft will learn that software patents are going to ruin the company
. Excerpts with edits and comments added:

The three ways to protect intellectual invention are copyright, patents, and secrecy. In some environments secrecy—usually in the form of trade secrets—is the most secure and least troublesome like coke’s formula.If patented, they'd be public knowledge, the patents would have expired by now, and the methods would have been copied.Software code was traditionally kept secret by complex scrambling that made the process of disassembly difficult,if not impossible. Once code is patented, you don't have to disassemble the code; you merely have to look it up in a database.It is a mistaken belief that software patents actually protect large vendors. In today's environment, patent litigation firms join forces with patent collectors looking for a quick buck, and experts pore over the most obscure patents to find justification for suing companies with deep pockets over infringement. The damages awarded can be enormous.
More and more patent holders appear to be targeting Microsoft over one thing or another- these may go international in ways that Microsoft never anticipated. Another problem for Microsoft will be public scrutiny of its code. Microsoft will be inundated with patent lawsuits and time after time will have to appear in court and show its code, which it has spent decades hiding and scrambling. The worse part will be that every line will be scrutinized not only by the plaintiff but by other potential plaintiffs who will see something and say, "Hey, I invented that algorithm!" And more suits will be filed.
John writes,"fighting these suits, Microsoft will come to understand that the image it has cultivated will not be a benefit in court. I've been involved in patent suits and can tell you that judges and juries can be clueless and easily influenced by emotion. Microsoft's longstanding reputation as a company that steals other people's ideas puts it in the worst possible position in a litigious environment. I don't think Microsoft understands this. In any borderline situation, Microsoft will lose".
So while Microsoft thinks that software patents are a good idea because it hopes it can stop the open-source folks by suing some small fry, it has unintentionally made itself a huge target. Everything the company does will be scrutinized by millions of eyeballs looking to score. This may be the stupidest thing the company has ever done to itself. While I am not a patent expert, I think what John writes appears a likely possibility making things difficult for Microsoft. While I do not think that it may be easy to prove that Microsoft may have violated any patents( Microsoft could have taken good amount of defensive and documentation measures), the act of defending potential suits like the one that John is mentioning may drain Microsoft's energy.

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