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O'Reilly Network: Who's Really Being Protected?

May 29, 2000, 19:46 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Stephen Pizzo)

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"Late last year, when the patent office granted Amazon.com a patent on its "One Click" online purchase system, it hit home: Software patents, especially patents on Internet software, are likely to have a profound effect on the future of the Internet, the software industry in general, and the Open Source community in particular. In this interview you will hear Patent Office Director Q. Todd Dickinson equate Internet/software patents with any other telecommunications industry issue, while O'Reilly Associates CEO Tim O'Reilly doesn't agree with him, with the legislation, or with the very idea that programmers can prove patentability."

"Dickinson and O'Reilly disagree on nearly everything, in fact, from the degree of unique ownership of most Internet innovations to the possibilities of establishing "prior art" to resolve software-patent disputes. Read on or listen to the interview, as Stephen Pizzo tries to moderate between government lawyer/administrator Dickinson and Open Source advocate/writer/programmer O'Reilly...."

"Pizzo: Then, let me get the ball rolling here with just sort of a general question. Critics of Internet patents and software patents say, "Look, the Internet is as popular and as robust an environment today, only because it was really developed out in the open, with its various parts and pieces effectively in the public domain." And there's concern that as we drill down into that technology and start creating ownership pieces for particular people, we threaten to kill that golden goose. What's your response to that?"

"Dickinson: Well, I think several things. First of all, I think that the premise is not necessarily correct. There are pieces of the Internet which have been patented right along. Motorola's got some very important patents, for example, on a piece of it. Secondly, we will -- Our experience with the Internet has been very short, and as it exploded in the way that's exploded, I don't think it's unusual for people with any new technology like this to begin to innovate on it. People are inventing now on the Internet, and the first thing they do is sort of say, "Eureka, I've discovered a new way of doing something." And their second thought usually is, "Well, how can I keep myself from getting ripped off by others? How can I protect myself and allow this to be nurtured?"

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