Wednesday, December 23, 2009

today in intellectual property

Popular sentiment often has it that intellectual property (IP) law exists to keep powerful corporations from having to share their IP with little-guy competitors and the broader culture -- Disney is frequently cited for having reworked public domain stories into copyright-protected imagery to great profit. Today we hear about a little-guy competitor using the very same IP laws to protect itself from a very powerful corporation.

Toronto-based i4i Inc. has succeeded in winning a $290 million (USD) judgement against Microsoft Inc. after the software giant apparently included some of i4i's intellectual property in past versions of Microsoft Word.

And, on the other side of the constantly spinning IP wheel, Amazon's proprietary Kindle code has been hacked, rendering their entire store of e-books vulnerable to illegal p2p sharing.

No word yet on whether or not the "little-guy" who hacked the Kindle gets the irony of my reporting these two stories together in one posting.

UPDATE: One more little thing in IP today:

American fantasy writer Ursula K. LeGuin resigns from the Authors Guild, citing her disagreement with them on the Google settlement. Thanks for the tip, NMcG.

Annnnnd finally: I ran across this entirely confusing IP-related posting on Boing Boing -- by way of context, one normally visits Boing Boing to find all sorts of comments supporting the idea that locking anything away from the consumer is an idea spawned in the underworld. But judging by the comments after this criticism of a Google policy, I now understand that Boing Boing fans believe they should be allowed to hack anything they want to, except for Google's code. Because?

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Darryl Moore said...

Hello John. Merry Christmas.

You are mixing your IP in this post, and here's the word. I do not see any irony in reporting these two stories together, except possibly in the broadest of senses. Copyright and patents, as I'm sure you are aware, are very different beasts. and I don't think it is fair to say "using the very same IP laws" when comparing them.

I do not know much about the patent held by i4i. However, being a software patent and from what little I do know of its claims, I am very sceptical of its legitimacy. As such I am just as appalled by David using it to hurt Goliath as I would be if Goliath had used it on David.

The other thing to keep in mind is that US patents are for a fixed term of 18 years and then the technology is free. Copyrights on the other hand can last well over 100 years and when the do eventually expire the former owners can then enlist trademark law to effectively extend their control in perpetuity.

John said...


Thanks for the word. Authoritative and relevant as ever. Happy new year to us all.

Patents and copyright are all part of the delicious IP soup. I'm not sure at all why you think it's inappropriate to address IP in general. It is a foundational concept -- like, say, the broth that starts the soup. Do you not like broth? Does broth threaten your freedoms as a consumer?

So, you don't know much about i4i's patent claim, but you are skeptical of it. Keep on rockin' in the free world.