Almost Every Company Is A Software Company

from the customization dept

I noted last summer that the New York Times launched a new blog called Open about the use of open source technologies at the paper. On Tuesday the blog had a post about a new Perl profiler that they developed in-house and are releasing to the world. I'm not in the market for a Perl profiler, but I thought it was striking that the New York Times, a firm that a decade ago was totally clueless about the web, is now producing non-trivial free software projects. What I think this illustrates is that the common conception that software is something that comes in a box you buy at Best Buy is rather misguided. An enormous number of programmers are employed in organizations we don't think of as software firms, developing custom applications for the internal use of their employers. In a sense, every company of non-trivial size is a software company.

In fact, I'm composing this post in a custom CMS developed specifically for the Techdirt Insight Community. And this, I think, is one of the things that makes software patents so dangerous. A firm doesn't have to worry that its fleet of company cars infringe patents; that's generally the responsibility of the car manufacturers. In a healthy patent system, companies should only have to worry about patents in their own line of business. But when a company "manufactures" a software product for internal use, they suddenly have to worry about whether their internal software might be violating some patents. Indeed, the End Software Patents project has pointed out that companies as diverse as the Green Bay Packers, Kraft Foods, and Ford Motors have been hit by software patent lawsuits in recent years. The reality is that software isn't just an industry, it's becoming a fundamental tool for manipulating information about the world. Policies that implicitly assume that only a few companies in Silicon Valley and Seattle are "software companies" are going to cause major problems.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
    identicon
    PerroPerdido, Mar 7th, 2008 @ 8:49am

    Technoogies

    Would 'technoogies' be considered cyber-bullying? =D

     

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    identicon
    mobiGeek, Mar 7th, 2008 @ 9:00am

    Always been known in the corporate world

    The vast majority of software development is done as in-house projects, either by internal IT groups or hired consultants. I'm always amazed when I talk to ISV programmers who think that shelf-ware is the norm.

     

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    identicon
    Network Admin, Mar 7th, 2008 @ 10:10am

    SaaS

    We have an in house CRM that we are thinking about marketing.

     

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    identicon
    Sheree, Mar 7th, 2008 @ 11:02am

    Also, why should each company have to re-invent the wheel, just because they're scared of lawsuits? If I write software that is useful internally, it stands to reason that (a) someone else might find it useful, so I should give it away, and that (b) someone else has independently developed the same software! Why should I be mad, or sue over that? Great minds, and all that.

     

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    identicon
    Daniel Mittleman, Mar 7th, 2008 @ 12:30pm

    open source patent infringment?

    Please tell me something I am clueless about.

    What if I/we develop some open source software and put it out either in public domain or GPL. Then someone comes around and says, "we have a patent that your software infringes upon." Let's say the overlap is fairly obvious and extensive.

    What happens next? I/we have no revenue stream from this software. We may be a fairly distributed international community of developers. There may be lots of copies out there, and those copies may be developing mutant spawn.

    Does the patent holder have any rights here? Does the patent holder have any legitimate financial claims against a community of open source developers?

    And what is the practical outcome? Can software source that has been replicated out on many servers be recalled? Can varients of this software be stopped? How is this toothpaste retubed?

    Perhaps this has already happened in more or more cases I don't know about; perhaps this is a situation waiting to happen.

     

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      Mike (profile), Mar 7th, 2008 @ 12:40pm

      Re: open source patent infringment?

      What if I/we develop some open source software and put it out either in public domain or GPL. Then someone comes around and says, "we have a patent that your software infringes upon." Let's say the overlap is fairly obvious and extensive.

      What happens next? I/we have no revenue stream from this software. We may be a fairly distributed international community of developers. There may be lots of copies out there, and those copies may be developing mutant spawn.

      Does the patent holder have any rights here? Does the patent holder have any legitimate financial claims against a community of open source developers?


      In that case, the patent holder could go after the developers, but will more likely go after anyone using the open source software in a commercial manner (see what SCO did to DaimlerChrysler as an example).


      And what is the practical outcome? Can software source that has been replicated out on many servers be recalled? Can varients of this software be stopped? How is this toothpaste retubed?


      It is difficult to retube (and perhaps pointless), but patent holders will try and will threaten to sue anyone who uses the infringing software, creating a liability that will likely scare off many companies from using it.

       

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    identicon
    Mr Big Content, Mar 7th, 2008 @ 10:42pm

    Thieving Swine

    See, there you go with your business-hostile Commie ideas again. Don't you realize that patents are valuable, precisely because of the payments we can extract from unwitt^H^H^H^H^H^Hlicensees like you? So the more such patents we can take out, the more wealth we get out of the economy, and the more we can HELP KEEP AMERICA GREAT!!!

    This idea that software patents, or patents of any sort, could stifle innovation, is just crazy talk. After all, the number of patents is an absolutely key measure of the innovation in an economy, so the more patents we have, it self-evidently follows that the more innovative our economy must be. ANYBODY WHO DISAGREES IS IPSO FACTO COMMUNIST!!! End of story.

     

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    orcad, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:50am

    Bill Gates a communist?

    @Mr Big Content

    "This idea that software patents, or patents of any sort, could stifle innovation, is just crazy talk"

    Bill Gates, 1991:

    "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today."

     

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    Adam Kaplan, Mar 12th, 2008 @ 8:54am

    Thanks

    Thank you for taking the time to write about the New York Times Open Initiatives (specifically my latest project). We read every story we can find about our projects and pass it up the "ladder". Post like this one help us help you by justifying the hefty cost - in time, money and risk - that opening up internal projects presents. We stress using open source tools here, and there is a feeling that we owe it to the community to give back a little.

    Recent community response has all but guaranteed that other developers here will have the companies support if they want to contribute code back to the community.

    Thanks again!

     

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    identicon
    eidos, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 7:12pm

    New talk from Bill Gates

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008 ,"Software, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Giving Back", Bill Gates spoke at The University of Texas at Austin on Wednesday, Feb. 20. Gates visit was part of a five-campus university tour in which he emphasized the importance of digital innovation in driving the global economy and addressing societal issues and the benefits afforded careers based in math and science I think Microsoft will develop more freeware, like groupshot, than provide more open source software.

     

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