Patents for Standardization?


Quote from Scripting News: 6/30/2005:
“I’ve been having a back-channel conversation with Larry Lessig about software patents, and why they may be worth the trouble (my position, not his). Here’s another reason. If we had a patent on podcasting, one of the terms of the license would be using the same export format we did.”

Wow. Really, really can’t agree.

My first concern is simply about this sort of use of the patent system: patents, software or otherwise, are not tools to enforce standardization of ideas or technologies. If we want to get old-school about it, patents are tools intended “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries; […]”

The second is simply practical: what would a “patent on podcasting” be? What exactly would it cover, and how broad would it have to be to encompass “podcasting” as a whole? Would you file suit against any companies that were doing something that looked like podcasting but didn’t follow your standards, and cash drain them out of existence? What if their approach were actually interesting and useful?

This sort of issue is why standards bodies exist, not why the USPTO exists.