from the our-patent-system-at-work dept
There’s a famous story of how IBM sued Sun for patent infringement in the early days. The patent claims from IBM were ridiculous, and Sun’s engineers pointed that out to IBM’s lawyers. In response, the men in blue made the famous statement:
“OK, maybe you don’t infringe these seven patents. But we have 10,000 U.S. patents. Do you really want us to go back to Armonk [IBM headquarters in New York] and find seven patents you do infringe? Or do you want to make this easy and just pay us $20 million?”
I had been thinking of that story after seeing the news that Oracle was suing Google over patents it received in buying Sun, and it seems that the joke of an IBM lawsuit may be indirectly responsible for this equally laughable lawsuit. Slashdot points us to a blog post by early Sun engineer James Gosling, where he admits that the experience with the IBM lawsuit resulted in a game among Sun engineers to come up with the most ridiculous thing that could be patented:
In Sun’s early history, we didn’t think much of patents. While there’s a kernel of good sense in the reasoning for patents, the system itself has gotten goofy. Sun didn’t file many patents initially. But then we got sued by IBM for violating the “RISC patent” – a patent that essentially said “if you make something simpler, it’ll go faster”. Seemed like a blindingly obvious notion that shouldn’t have been patentable, but we got sued, and lost. The penalty was huge. Nearly put us out of business. We survived, but to help protect us from future suits we went on a patenting binge. Even though we had a basic distaste for patents, the game is what it is, and patents are essential in modern corporations, if only as a defensive measure. There was even an unofficial competition to see who could get the goofiest patent through the system. My entry wasn’t nearly the goofiest.
Of course, it’s easy to point out that the folks named on the patents are claiming themselves that the patents were part of a joke to see how bad the patent office is. But, you can take it to another level altogether, and have folks who actually know quite a bit about the technology go through the patents one by one and explain why each of them is a total joke.
This is yet another in an exceptionally long line of examples of what a complete mess our patent system has become. I’m curious if the patent system supporters out there can come up with some sort of way to defend the patent system in this particular situation.