Pondering about patents..

17 11 2005

” Betty bought some pretty patents, the patents were very petty , so Betty bought better patents to make the petty patents pretty “

Patent : “A grant made by a government that confers upon the creator of an invention the sole right to make, use, and sell that invention for a set period of time”

I never much thought about patents, until the day I attended a seminar by a medical enterprise, and got a Business card holder as a free gift. It was a normal, typical, plain, card holder, the only distinguishing factor being use of magnets for adhering a kind of detachable ‘skin’ to the case. Kind of like a cell phone cover, if you will . Now, what intrigued me was, written in not-so-small print underneath the case was “United states patent number blah blah blah ” .

I`d always associated patents with mad scientists and nerds with oversized glasses and straw like hair producing innovations for the betterment of humanity , that this petty patent came as a mild shock . Especially because it wasn`t particularly innovative. I mean, consider u have a metal card holder and u want to change its appearance , what would you do then ? Intutively, you would think about sticking something on top, and considering the case is made of steel , a magnet would be a logical option.Bad news, you are now liable to be prosecuted for patent infringement.Shucks.

This kind of stuff could be especially more acute in the software industry, where more often than not, the best solution to a problem is the most intuitive one. I heard an interesting anecdote the other day about a patent filed by Oracle . Seems they developed a database updating program for a client, where after getting the voluminous input data, the program spent 1 hour of its time updating the records in the database. The catch was, during the one hour the database was being updated, you had no access to the older values, and a client wasn`t satisfied with that and asked the Oracle programmer to find a solution. Now, put yourself in the shoes of the programmer and think about how you would have solved that particular problem, before scrolling down to see the solution..

Seems, the programmer copied the older database onto another, and pointed database accesses to the copy during the 1 hour the updates were being made. After updation the pointer was moved back to the updated one and the older table was deleted. Simple, intuitive solution, and what is the next thing you do ? Go and file a patent for that solution !! This implies,if you have the same problem yourself, and its not that uncommon, and you come up with the same solution, you are again, liable to be prosecuted for patent infringement ! Again, Shucks.

Of course, Oracle would not want not likely want to waste their time sueing you, but consider you start a small firm, patent a simple process before any1 else gets there before you, wait till you find one of the big guys using the same thing, and voila, headlines the next day, “young computer prodigy sues Microsoft for patent infringement” .

You may not, of course, actually win the trial, but think of the massive publicity involved. For a small upcoming firm struggling for clients, publicity could mean a lot. Sure, it wouldn`t be ethically right, but hey dont tell me every firm which starts up has ethics over money in its mission statement.

I may have exaggerated a whole lot, and i most probably did, but still, few thoughts..

What are patents really worth ? Would you be more likely to go to a company with more patents that one which has none ? Going by that token, remember the medical company we talked abt? Could they advertise they have 2 patents just because they created a card holder and a cigarette case? Would you ask them what those patents they held were before entering into business with them ?

Lots of questions, and if any1 can answer, i`d be patently pleased 🙂


Microsoft musings.

14 11 2005

Read this article on how the Masachusets (know i spelt (or is it spelled ? ) that wrong but cant bother looking it up ) government is planning to ditch MS office for open-office in all their offices. And this on how Indonesian government is ditching Windows for Linux. Things aint too rosy for MS these days. Note : I`m not a Microsoft fan, but definitely a Bill Gates man.

For the non-technogeeks, what this means is , documents and presentations are no longer synonymous with .docs and ppts . Open office reads Microsofts formats but not vice versa. In essence, that means you can no longer open the documents you find on the web ( or least a good fraction of them ) with Word or Powerpoint.

This article is especially interesting because, it comes months before the release of Offfice 12. ‘Interesting’ , considering Office 12`s major USP is that it uses license-free open XML formats for storage. Read more here . Seems they could have at least waited to give MS a try . Kinda reminds me of the GC – SG saga in cricket . Common opinion is GC is good because SG is bad. 🙂

But i digress, getting back the Office , check out this blog by one of the Office development team guys, naturally biased, to get a view of the other side of the coin. But couldn`t resist smiling over the “The default format for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in Office 12 will be completely open, meaning you aren’t tied into Microsoft software to access your files” line. The points not being able to open MS files in OO but vice versa, i wud think.

Anyway, my 2 cents on what I think MS would do if push comes to shove? Bundle Office with windows and price it slightly higer . Lets face it, for all Linux`s growing popularity, it wont get too much welcome on the home user front for the next 3 years, at least. So, if you already have a office suite bult into your computer, and a pretty good one at that, why would you bother downloading another one ? Just as IE has got to be one of the shittiest browsers around ( aw come on, putting in tabbed browsing can`t be that tough !! ) , but i still use it more often than firefox for the simple reason that it starts up an whole second faster than firefox !

But then , remains to be seen how much MS got scalded over the DoJ suit over IE to try the same stunt again . Not much, in my opinion . For those of you who still think Microsoft got the bad part of the bargain , all i have to say is , When was the last time you used a certain “Netscape Navigator”?..