The Kodak patent decision — and its grim implications

The Kodak patent decision — and its grim implications

Something truly terrible has happened. Groklaw summarises it thus:

“Kodak bought some patents from Wang in 1997. The patents cover a method by which a program can “ask for help” from another application to carry out certain functions, which is more or less what Java does. Kodak’s business is suffering from the digital revolution, so it decided to sue Sun for infringing its purchased patents. It claims that Sun pilfered its technology. The two companies worked on some joint projects together at one time that involved the same technology at issue in the lawsuit, which Sun argued was an indication of Kodak’s implied consent.

Friday, Kodak won, thanks to a patent system spinning out of control, one that is destroying creativity and innovation in the software industry.”

This could screw the entire software industry. And there’s a terrible danger that European legislators are going to adopt precisely the system that is causing the damage in the US. As Groklaw puts it:

“Europe. Are you watching? Is this system what you want where you live? If you think you can have a patent system and just work around US “excesses”, think again. If you read this history of patents in the US by Bitlaw, you will see that it started small here too, and everyone tried to make the kinds of distinctions you currently are trying to craft in Europe. But look at the results here. The same thing will happen to you, if you allow patents at all on software. The excesses are part of the system as it is eventually applied by greedy individuals and companies, and you can’t legislate against greedy gaming of a system. It happens.

Think about it carefully, because this is exactly what happens when you adopt a system that rewards the Kodaks of the world for such behavior and penalizes Sun for years and years of expense and sweat and toil and creativity by robbing them of their due reward, not to mention removing any motive to ever do such innovative things again as long as they live. What happens now to Sun’s Java Desktop? It was supposed to be a cost-saving alternative to Windows. I wasn’t planning on using it, for other reasons, but some would. Now what? What impact will this decision have on the costs of that system? I don’t even want to start to think about the implications of this decision for the rest of us. Can Java go open source now, before the patent runs out? That may be sooner than Sun intended to open source it anyway, but the point is, now their code is burdened with patents and the associated costs and restrictions, and Sun doesn’t even own or control the patents.”