Posted on | October 13, 2007 | 1 Comment
The latest lawsuits against Red Hat and Novell for patent violations really have me thinking.
The thoughts that I’m the most ‘stuck on’ surround the logistics of getting rid of software patents as a matter of law. Even if Congress wanted to do it, could they? Many, many, many software patents exist. Lets just call these things “Fire Ants”.
Companies in Seattle, broadly staffed by former Microsoft employees have already gained significant backing and have acquired thousands of existing software patents. We’ll call these companies “ant hills”, where the thousands of fire ants live. There are lots of ant hills in Texas as well.
Now, back to my original thought, could Congress ‘fix’ things with new legislation? I’m not so sure. What would happen to the existing patents, would they be nullified, un-enforceable? Given that each patent costs $10K to obtain (not counting legal fees), that’s a pretty big price to pay over ‘eminent domain’. Congress would have to purchase these patents and re-deed them to the public. I don’t see that as being very likely. Enough software patents already exist to drag this new form of lawsuit abuse out for a very long time.
Because of the misnomer known as “Intellectual Property” (which would remain, even if software patents were abolished), these patents have to be treated as property. I just don’t see “IP” being abolished too, not in this day and age. This means, patents have value which has not yet really happened, as it could be argued that the patents will be worth significantly more than current value in the near or distant future. Virtual value, wow what a concept, didn’t Enron crumble over something similar?
I think that companies like Red Hat might soon find themselves covered by fire ants. First one, then two.. then a few more, all coming from many different ant hills. I’m sure that at some point the centralized nature of the harassment will become so obvious that it can not be ignored, but at what cost to the free software community?
I’m really sad to see it come to this. Many people are now calling this the start of “SCO II”, I’m inclined to agree. What a mess.