Thursday, October 28, 2010

Open Standards

Our patent system is getting out of control. Once our mobile industry finishes suing itself out of existence (and our country becomes the only place in the world without smart phones), I wonder whether we'll eventually get reform. Obviously, mutually assured destruction is inadequate prevention because it just results in lots of destruction. In the latest news, Oracle has claimed that method names and signatures in public APIs are copyrighted.

In my opinion, it doesn't make sense to call a standard "open" if it is encumbered with patents. Encumbered protocols and file formats have stifled innovation on the Internet, and this will continue to get worse in the future. A few controversial technologies have included GIF, H.264, Flash, VoIP, hyperlinks, plugins, Java, and OOXML. Some of these were encumbered with proprietary baggage before achieving status as de facto standards, while others developed these problems later. In both cases, lawsuits and rumors of lawsuits have stifled innovation.

I'm still undecided whether I think patents should be banned entirely. At the very least, the lifespan of a patent (or copyright) should be limited, it should be easier to get rid of trivial ideas without expensive lawsuits, and companies proposing protocols for standardization should not be able to threaten patent litigation over those protocols.

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