Third time's the charm this time. After two aborted attempts to write this column,
I finally was able to put pen to paper (all right, fingers to keyboard). I've been
really busy patenting the two through 10 click methods of buying on the Internet.
I'll shortly be asking for a royalty for every time someone clicks twice, etc.
Seriously, I think we have a major problem with the patent process. In the
past, software has been copyrighted. No one was allowed to reverse-engineer the code, and because vendors controlled distribution, no one who hadn't paid for it could use the software. This is pure baloney, of course. People copied disks, and all
sorts of draconian measures have been introduced to prevent piracy ever had to
use a dongle? I have.
The thing is, with a copyright you're protecting a product. With a patent you're
protecting an idea. Makes sense when the idea is a proprietary business process.
It makes less sense when the process is something that's commonly executed by millions
of people every second, using thousands of different products. In reality, if anyone
should own the patent on clicking, it should be Xerox.
The problem here is that Internet businesses aren't protecting a proprietary business process. Realistically, there are only so many ways to sell things to people on the Internet, and clicking to purchase is surely one of them. The software that provides Internet access (the browser, followed by the operating system) requires a clicking paradigm. Whether it's one click or 10 or a hundred, to complete a transaction on the Internet you need to click the mouse.
What businesses are doing is engaging in preemptive strikes aimed squarely at eliminating competition in their market segments. This is a legalistic business attempt to create a virtual monopoly in the marketplace by removing the ability to compete from potential competitors. It's an attempt to co-opt the browser technology and effectively make it a proprietary tool.
It's also a sales tool. We all know that the flood of Internet start-ups has only increased in recent months. What was once a wide-open field is now a crowded superhighway. And the early adopters are looking to keep all the SUVs for themselves and limit newcomers to bicycles. Achieving success at this tactic can ratchet up venture capitalization and up the ever-important IPO price of the start-up's stock. From a business perspective, companies will pursue patents on things because it makes business sense to do so.
But speaking from a consumer standpoint, as one who the law is ultimately supposed to serve, I don't think this is in the common man's best interest. We've seen the government look at breaking up the perceived monopolies of our time, including AT&T and Microsoft. Now these mini-monopolies are cropping up, hoping to catch the Patent Office off guard and get a patent that will allow them to achieve a leg up on their competition. I know that competition drives excellence and reduces costs to consumers. I know that collusion and monopolies can result in 100% or greater price increases I feel it each time I gas up my car.
So we really need a change in the patent process. But in my opinion we need to stop granting patents for Internet processes, not reduce the duration of the protection. In the meantime, I'm working on patenting the idea of patenting Internet processes. Then I'll be able to collect from everyone.
. . .
If you'd like to talk about this, or any other absurdities, meet me at JavaOne. JDJ is once again a media sponsor for this year's event. Be sure to stop by and see the SYS-CON team and let us know how we're doing.
Sean Rhody is editor-in-chief of Java Developer's Journal. He is also a respected industry expert and a consultant
with a leading Internet services company.