Wednesday, October 26, 2005

XML patents threaten core Web technology

Scientigo, a small company in North Carolina thinks it owns XML (a fundamental internet technology for data representation and exchange that underlies most of the websites you know and love) and wants to start extracting royalties from XML's users.

What is the core of their claim? -- The idea that data can be self-defining. That's it. World-changing, no?

This isn't the first XML patent scare. Several months ago, a company called Commerce One went bankrupt and sold off all assets, including patents they had obtained while working with the W3C to standardize XML. It was feared at the time that a patent troll would obtain the portfolio and start doing a massive shake-down, much like Scientigo has planned. Bidding was frenzied, with Novell eventually defeating Intellectual Ventures LLC (Intellectual Ventures is considered by many to be one of the biggest patent trolls) at a price of $15.5 million dollars. Novell subsequently pledged to use the patents only defensively, saying that the money spent was simply a fee for continuing to do business using XML and open source software. In other words, a $15.5 million gift to the Internet ecosystem that has come to rely so heavily on this technology.

The irony? Scientigo's CEO says that Novell's acquisition of these patents is what inspired him to move in this direction. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months.



Update: The Open Invention Network has been formed, with the Commerce One patents as a starting point.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Jeffrey Tisdel said...

I'm all for what you call "patent trolls." If a company like Intellectual Ventures buys up a bunch of patents that have been sitting around and demands that those using the ideas in those patents pony up, what's the problem with that?

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Tom said...

Jeff --

The problem with that is mainly a problem of patent quality. For example, do you think that highlighting a number in a text document deserves patent protection? Guess what, Microsoft has a patent on that. Do you think that the idea of having a video game character experience "insanity" deserves patent protection? Nintendo has a patent on that.

As long as patents like these are granted -- even if they are held defensively and not licensed -- the possibility exists that they might someday be used abusively. The Commerce One patents are a good example of that. Commerce One specifically gave up licensing rights for those patents when they submitted them for standardization. Now, Commerce One is gone and someone else could have obtained their patents and started the shakedown.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous MBB said...

Some of the problems with that are:

A) They did NOT devellop the technology themselves. Patent is ment to protect the inventor/investor, not the vultures that exploit the inventors.

B) The software (and additional patents) was devellopped for a client (W3C); if the consumer isn;t allowed to use the product, what's the point of accepting them as client?
(afer sell, the users shouldn't pay patentrights as well, just as you don;t ahve to pay patent rights for buying a wasmachine.)

C) the only reason XML became popular (and could be worth something) is because it was ment to be free; without that guarantee it would never have been accepted as standard.

Demanding money afterwards is equal to providing false information during the sale, and unfair competition towards the other protocols (that were not elected as standard because they DID ask money) with the purpose of gaining a monopoly position.

D) As showed, this action has blackmailed $15.5 millon from Novell, that should have been used to devellop new software (or rewarded shareholders).
Hereby it goes *AGAINST* the purpose of patent laws; which is to increase invention budgets.

Jeffrey Tisdel said...
I'm all for what you call "patent trolls." If a company like Intellectual Ventures buys up a bunch of patents that have been sitting around and demands that those using the ideas in those patents pony up, what's the problem with that?

2:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home