You know the world has gotten a little nutty when a Microsoft guy complains about a patent, but when Matt May last night at the Podcast Hotel told me a company is trying to patent AJAX, among other things, I was amazed when Matt said this patent looks like it tried to patent AJAX. I haven’t looked at the patent (the patent lawyers ask employees to refrain from looking at patents) Then he passed me a Slashdot article on them today.
We call some of this kind of behavior “patent trolling.” (I haven’t looked at the patent in question, so don’t know if it’s legitimate or not, I’m not a lawyer and all that). What’s a patent troll? A company gets a patent that it itself isn’t willing to commercialize in a product, but goes around to every company threatening that it’ll take everyone to court. Demands a licensing fee. Usually something like $20,000 to $150,000. And repeats, often stopping short of the big guys with the deep pockets (although in this case it looks like they are pitching it to the big guys).
Why does this work? Well, I interviewed one of our lawyers recently and he said that a patent case, if it goes to trial, will cost millions of dollars to defend. So, of course everyone settles out of court if the fees are far less than a potential loss in court.
The commenters over on Slashdot are unusually lucid on this topic. Makes for fun reading.
As usual, my disclaimer particularly applies here. This is my personal opinion and may or may not agree with anyone else’s opinions, in particular my employer’s. I haven’t checked with anyone else at Microsoft before writing this post.
What do you think? What should the responsibility of big companies be here?
Here’s an article in InformationWeek about this patent and the breadth of what it covers.