I got a fun bit of patent news today. In a widely-reported news story, Novell and Red Hat have prevailed in a patent case, alleging patent infringement brought by IP Innovation LLC, a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corporation and Technology Licensing Corporation. Groklaw has analysis.
As I’ve said before, I’m not opposed to protecting intellectual property. People should be able to profit by their own ideas. However, technical patents, especially software patents, have developed a great deal of complexity. I think it’s easily arguable that the current system for awarding patents has a number of weaknesses and that patents are awarded that don’t necessarily have merit. Unfortunately, it seems the only way to challenge a patent is in court, which is an expensive course of action that only the biggest players can afford to do well.
This situation is a real challenge for the open-source world, where ideas are freely contributed and distributed. It’s made more complex by the fact that there are people working on projects that have to deal with just about every technology in existence. I really don’t have an answer, or even a solid question about this. I can see little experimental attack on the Open Source keep. Only time will tell if someone is gearing up for a genuine siege. Even if there is a massive commercial and legal battle against the open source world, will that kill it? How many Linux users quit using Linux until these various court cases were settled? How easy is it going to be to stuff this genie back into the bottle?
In the mean time, it looks like a time to celebrate. As more people have more exposure to open-source software maybe it will become less of an issue.