Subject: patents and web services
From: Thomas Lord <lord@emf.net>
Date: Sat, 03 Jun 2006 09:42:20 -0700

Stephen made a case that patents can be good for software
re-use.   Some of us (including me) put on our progammer
hats and said, for various reasons, that no that was a lousy
way to achieve re-use.     I think we nay-sayers were mostly
thinking of re-use in terms of questions like "How do I find
a library I can link with that has the functionality I need?"
Patents would be lousy for that.  If anything, copyright is
more appropriate.

Today I remembered Google and thought not just about
them about companies like them.

Increasingly, the computing people use isn't from programs
they acquire and install -- it's from web services.   And, at
scales like Google, those web services can be extremely
innovative.   They're well positioned to do things that look
to most people like magic and that are available from just
one source.

Google has precious little economic incentive, absent patents,
to pull back the curtain and explain the magic.   Absent patents,
they have to fall back to trade-secret protection or else
invite capital-rich competitors to just mimic them.  Patents
may be a very good alternative.

We're entering a period of big "black box" web services:  patents
*might* be very helpful here.

There's still the problem of keeping those patents wide enough
to give incentives to the Googles but narrow enough not to shut
down non-competing implementations of the same technology.

-t