Live By The Software Patent, Die By The Software Patent

from the your-choice... dept

Following the story from last week about Sun President Jonathan Schwartz’s bizarre attempt to patent the somewhat obvious idea of per-employee pricing, Schwartz felt the need to write up a long, though misguided, article defending the concept of software patents. His basic argument is that (a) software patents are necessary because they represent much of Sun’s value and (b) software deserves the same “protections” as other products. He claims he’ll never change his mind on these points. Thus, it’s a bit ironic, that the very next day, a judge in Rochester (home of, yes, Eastman Kodak) found that Sun had violated a software patent held by Kodak, which they had bought from Wang. The patents in question cover the basic interaction between different programs, and the claim was that Sun’s Java violated those patents. Over at Groklaw, the case and the concept of software patents is picked apart thoroughly, along with the hope that Sun will fight it to show how bad software patents are for everyone. Based on Schwartz’s comments the day before, however, that seems unlikely. What’s odd about Schwartz’s original statements, though, are the fact that he can’t see how he’s already destroyed his own arguments in the past. The first thing he misses, is that even if patents represent so much of Sun’s value, that value is quickly fading. Patent protections give a false sense of monopoly to companies, so they miss out on the real innovation in the marketplace. Meanwhile, Schwartz has already talked about the importance of commoditization, but seems to have taken the wrong lesson from his own argument. Rather than realizing that markets based on commoditized inputs (including software) become much larger, he’s suddenly back to working on ways to slow down the process. While he may think he’s protecting Sun’s business, he’s only showing them how to fall farther behind by not innovating (and, perhaps, by paying an extra billion dollars to Kodak for that misguided belief).

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