It seems the universe has aligned to annoy me with various patent goofiness and stupidity.
Two events regarding patent law have come to the forefront of tech news over the past month, the first I will mention is that a company called Parallel Processing, is suing Sony over patent violations regarding it's Cell processor.
The patent, “Synchronized Parallel Processing with Shared Memory” was issued in October 1991. It describes a high-speed computer that breaks down a program “into smaller concurrent processes running in different parallel processors” and resynchronizes the program for faster processing times.
Now I'm not an expert on the ins and outs of patent law… but here's the basics:
To patent a technology it must be 3 things: useful; novel; and in-obvious. The purpose of patents are to stimulate the spirit of inventiveness and drive humanity froward. With this in mind I show you my problem with Parallel Proceeding's suit. It was filed in 1991, over 15 years ago at the time it might have been a novel and in-obvious technology. Now however computers and the ways they operate has come up to the point where such concepts are obviously the next step, meaning that they're no longer in-obvious and the patent is redundant. SLI video cards work similarly, as does AMD and Intel's multi-core processing technologies.
Even if Sony is in patent violation (which likely means IBM and Panasonic are as well) the decision runs contrary to the purpose of patents, which is to stimulate inventiveness, it will be in the face of a decade and a half of advancements, and will certainly not be stimulating growth.
The second event, (though first chronologically) is Microsoft suing Linux for over a hundred software patent violations. But here's the caveat, they won't say what the violations are. This is obviously a scare tactic, Linux has already said that if the violations are revealed that they will be fixed… but Microsoft is obviously not doing this to aid Linux in further legal operations.
Here's what I'm seeing. As of even 2 years ago, there was one viable option for operating systems unless you belonged to one of two fringe groups of computer users; if you wanted to do anything mainstream easily with your PC the choice was clear. You chose Windows XP.
These days the choice is far less clear for a number of reasons. The first is gaming consoles. This year more money will be spent on video games than will be spent on music and there are three game consoles on the market, each of which is competing for a piece of the consumer pocketbook. Microsoft is in that race with their X-Box 360, and in order to stay on top of the console wars they are pushing game developers to create products exclusively for their console. This means less variety for computer gamers, and less desire to purchase a gaming computer, which was what demanded the most potent computer hardware.
This leads to the second reason; hardware. Gaming enthusiasts choose Windows based PC's, because the games almost exclusively ran on them, and because there was more selection in hardware. Two years ago there were two extremely competitive companies developing video cards; ATI and Nvidia, and two extremely competitive companies developing processors; Intel and AMD. These four companies drove the industry forward. This past year, ATI was purchased by AMD in order to better develop multi core processing, and this merger has slowed their development drastically. For the first time in ages there is only one clear choice for buying a sound computer, an Intel processor with an Nvidia GPU.
Now consumers want choice, but the variety in Window's based PC's has gone stagnant. The discerning buyer now looks beyond simply what Microsoft has to offer, and for the first time ever two non-microsoft Operating Systems are looking enticing. Apple has had a strong year, they've brought out some of the highest end peripheral hardware, itunes is now the 3rd highest selling distributer of music in the world, and their computers now function under the same processor specifications that other mainstream computers do which is easier for software developers. This means Mac is now a viable option for the mainstream market, and the games aren't present to draw the people who might have been wavering over to Windows. Coupled with the lack of Mac targeting spy-ware, and an OS that isn't bloated and buggy Apple's appeal is growing.
Linux has also had a phenomenal year, once only an operating system for savvy programmers, open source has truly become an option for anyone, and in fact is now simply the best choice for an older PC. Windows has become bloated and hardware demanding and there's no way around it, and older versions of the OS aren't supported by software developers. So Linux has stepped in to fill the gap. Ubuntu is not just the OS for the tech savvy. It is genuinely easy and well supported, and applications originally designed for it such as Firefox have become household names even beyond Linux users With Linux security is also considerably less of an issue, which draws more customers simply on the basis that they will not be required to keep abreast with the constant security updates. It has in fact gone from the experts-only OS to the choice for the casual user. And it's starting to eat into Microsoft's bottom line.
For the first time in 10 years, the Windows' lead in the market is wavering, the second and third place contenders are coming up fast and hard, and Microsoft doesn't know what to do. Longtime Apple users genuinely love their Mac's and Linux users love open source, but who really loves Windows? Microsoft doesn't have an inkling how to win over consumers through product superiority, so they're resorting to scare tactics. They're crying out that the other guys are in the wrong and if you use them, you're gonna get sued! Too bad for them it's all hot air. There's too many big fish in the open source pond. IBM, a long time developer of Linux servers, has thousands of software patents, and of them how many do you think Microsoft might be in violation of?
While these issues are very different I see one commonality in them. Both are late, and that tardiness to me, indicates they are nothing but sleazy attempts to grab cash and undermine another company's success. If Parallel Processing was seriously the first to developing the technology behind the Cell why are they only now bringing this patent to light 3 years after the Cell was developed? And if Microsoft was actually serious about protecting their software innovations why are they announcing the violations a decade after Linux has been active?
These are the sorts of underhanded legal manoeuvres that effect the entire world and anyone who would attempt to develop an idea or create a work of art. I for one hope that they are killed and buried in the spirit of the law that they are trying to exploit.