A column at the New York Times keeps the Linux patent debate in the spotlight for one more day…
What a difference 16 years makes. Last month, the technology world was abuzz over an interview in Fortune magazine in which Bradford Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, accused users and developers of various free software products of patent infringement and demanded royalties. Indeed, in recent years, Mr. Smith has argued that patents are essential to technological breakthroughs in software.
Microsoft sang a very different tune in 1991. In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.” Mr. Gates worried that “some large company will patent some obvious thing” and use the patent to “take as much of our profits as they want.”
Today Microsoft tends a herd of more than 6,000 patents. The column’s bottom line (which it reinforces with excerpts from the legal battle brewing between Verizon and VoIP provider Vonage): patents are bad for the software industry.