It’s just started to hit the wire, but the news is IBM has sued Amazon over infringing patents. I haven’t had any luck tracking down the claims IBM submitted to a court in Texas yesterday, but it appears they cited 5 patents. These patents are said to involve “Amazon’s entire business” and cover ad targeting, storing data, and ordering from an electronic catalog. The patents were filed in the 1980′s though early 1990′s.
When I get the text of the lawsuit, and the patents involved, I’ll do a detailed breakdown of the case. Right now however I can only comment on the issues this will present. The biggest issue bar far is the “Software Patent” – many of the things patented under a software patent are merely computers doing a job that was once done without a computer. One patent said to be in the lawsuit is IBM’s “Placing an order on an electronic catalog” – which is nothing new if you take away the work “electronic.” A patent is supposed to be non-obvious to someone who works in the field of the patent, and I’m willing to bet most software patents do not meet that test.
There is also the issue of the purpose of a patent. A patent is to allow an inventor the time to recoup his investment in developing a working version of his idea and get it to market. Now I’m not for patents in general, but lets look at a drug patent. It can take years to tens of years to get a drug though all the testing required by federal laws so it can be sold to the public, and that cost adds up. Looking at software, it takes a moment to have the idea and a week to code it (most of the time in software development is spent on issues not related to the core logic of the program, the part under patent). If we are talking about something that will fit into a website, like Amazon’s “One-Click” patent, it can even be deployed within a month. So there isn’t much investment of inventor time even if we excuse the non-obvious requirement.
IBM suing Amazon is also a breakdown of these tow companies stand on patents. In the past, IBM has applied for patents most for defensive purposes – to use when they were sued over a patent. Amazon started out along evil lines, but since then Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has helped gain support for patent reform legislation. Now that IBM has launched a full scale invasion, claiming Amazon owes royalties on every dollar earned, I expect gloves to come off and a counter suit from Amazon because I’m sure Amazon can find a few patents it holds to use against IBM. And then we play Global Thermonuclear War (IBM would do so well at chess too).
Personally? I say let the nukes fly. A full scale war would scare any technology company into supporting patent reform, and maybe, just maybe, dropping the whole idea.
Article appears on KnoxViews
Update: Ars has posted an article citing the exact patents involved.