More fuel to the fire of the gathering storm over copyright and patent infrigement claims in this digital age of the Internet: A small University of California spin-off named Eolas Technologies won its suit this week against Microsoft to the tune of $521 million. Filed back in 1999, a federal court in Chicago found that Microsoft infringed Eolas' patents by incorporating plug-ins and applets into Internet Explorer.
If upheld in appeals court, the decision could significantly impact the current browser market since all of them support plug-ins and applets to some extent. Developers might have to pull support for these technologies from their open source browsers since having to pay for patent licenses would be prohibitive.
What's interesting to note are the comments coming from industry criticising the current state of intellectual property rights:
"...software patents are harming innovation, competition and standards compliance in the Internet age." -David Faure, KDE devloper
"The patent system is kind of broken for software. In many ways it's too easy to get a patent, and too expensive to fight it." -Larry Rosen, lawyer
"Once again we see the tragedy that software patents represent for the industry, because they allow legal opportunists to capitalize on the work of others. That's why software patents are a really bad idea--they encourage a kind of land-grab mentality." -Tim O'Reilly, computer book publisher
This sounds like and reminds me of the current clash with the recording industry over alleged copyright infringement.
I believe that people have the right to gain from their creative talents and inventions, but there needs to be some form of limits established to prevent those rights from interfering with innovation, competition, and consumer rights. Like the concept of "fair use", these limitations would require flexibility and interpretation to evolve with society, technology, and practices as we assimilate with the digital realm.
Something's definitely broke, and we need to fix it.