Saturday, July 02, 2005

IBM Doesn't Lose Lawsuits...

In the realm of Intellectual Property (IP), IBM plays to win. Lawsuits are something they don't typically lose.

For the last couple of years, SCO has been trying to claim that IBM "gave" patented code bits to the Linux community illegally.

I've been half following the proceedings for some time, and it seems like every time SCO makes a move to further delay things, IBM counters the move rather smartly. The most recent ruling from the judge appears to put a closure on the "Discovery" phase of the cycle, and sets a trial date for sometime in early 2007.

Ever since this lawsuit came on the scene, it has been the focal point of a lot of really bad jokes (and I'd hate to be SCO's lawyers). The lawsuit itself is important in one key point - its very existence speaks volumes to the ineffectiveness of the current patent and copyright structures when software is brought into the mix.

Hopefully, out of the resultant mess, we will find the lawmakers in both Canada and the United States re-examining the IP domain as a whole with respect to the software world. Right now, we have a significant legal limbo state where a developer can be accused of infringement - even though they have legitimately derived their solution from basic principles. There are enormous problems with applying both patent and copyright laws to software. Patents are too strong a tool, potentially hamstringing future evolution in technology, and copyrights are too weak, providing no adequate means to deal with blatant rip-offs.

In some respects the "look-and-feel" lawsuits of the late '80s were the first clue that something was amiss. Today, multi-million dollar lawsuits are the norm, and patents are being granted on things so fundamental that a programmer theoretically would have to license every line of code written for an application from the respective patent-holders.

I think that a couple of things need to happen here:

1) The software world needs to outline what would be "common knowledge" in fairly broad terms.

2) The copyright and patent systems need to be overhauled for a "soft-patent" model which provides a degree of protection for innovation, but does not grant an absolute exclusivity on a technology to the holder. We need a model that, like software itself, is more elastic than the industrial-era notions of copyright and patent.


Anonymous said...

Hold on! I put in for patents on the For-while loops a while ago, and am STILL waiting for my royalties... I tried for "end" but it was already taken.

Anonymous said...

Part of SCO's problem is that they successfully sued Microsoft, who'll do anything to avoid a suit going to court. They probably thought that IBM would also be a pushover.

Silly SCO... The last time IBM settled out of court it was after 10 years of dragging the suit through the court system. Perhaps they should have done some research first.

My question is this though, why is Microsoft so leary of court. Is it's licencing structure so weak that it's scared a court case will cause the whole house to fall? Is the biggest anti-piracy promoter itself a IP thief? It would be interesting to find out.