Wednesday, April 13, 2005

IBM continues its good work with software patents

(NY Times link, remember to use Bugmenot). IBM is opening up its intellectual property. Yes, this is similar to the much publicised legally binding promise of non-enforcement issued last January, but it goes further, and it provides a serious philosophical shift about how companies should use their intellectual property. IBM is prepared to rethink the way in which it does business by making sure that basic technologies and standards are kept open, so that the entire industry can innovate at a faster rate.

I think that industries are finally realising that they cannot continue as they have been. The rise of the patent troll has generated understanding in big corporations that there is something rotten in the patent system, but it must be said that they are complaining and blaming firms for using the system as it exists. We have been told time and time again that innovation will only take place if there is an incentive to innovate, namely a patent monopoly right. However, it is becoming clear that innovation takes place in different ways, even when people share or give away some of their intellectual property. If this is the case, then the traditional justifications for intellectual property must be wrong, and we need to revise the whole premise that stronger protection is needed across the board.

This is highly inflammatory stuff in some circles. I am subscribed to a patent news list, and the writer is almost foaming at the mouth at the prospect of software patent reform in the United States, calling IBM hypocrites because they have profited from the filing of patents. That they may be, but they may still be right. Patent lawyers (and patent trolls) are the ones who are set to lose the most from treform of he current environment of software patenting in the United States, and Europe should take notice.

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