On IBM and patents

The latest Microsoft/Linux patent controversy has stirred up some interesting commentary from former IBMers about IBM’s voracious hunger for new patents. Mark Pilgrim discusses being coerced into filing, whereas Brian Levine, who I’m proud to call a former colleague and mentor during my two co-op stints at Lotus, agrees but takes offense at Mark’s histrionics:

What I take issue with is Mark’s need to point out that he was coerced into filing a patent application and to justify it by pointing out that he has a mortgage. Lots of people have mortgages. Many more people with more significant financial responsibilities than that are asked to do much more heinous things than file a patent in order to keep those jobs.

Software patents may suck, but Brian is right: they should not rank that high on any reasonable scale of heinosity.

IBM has been the patent king for many years now, and I suppose it makes good business sense: if you employ more engineers than virtually anyone else in the world it behooves you to exploit them in any way you can. But even if you believe IBM’s claim that its software patents are purely defensive, a shift in management could change everything in a heartbeat. It’s not all that long ago that they were suing Amazon for patent infringement. Although I don’t mean to cause any offense, it seems to me that forcing software engineers to patent anything even remotely novel is a reasonable disincentive for those of us who are concerned with the future of software IP to work there.

Slides and video from last month's Handshake presentation

You can take the software company out of the jungle