After many writers (myself included) exploded with rage at Information Architects’ patent threats over part-of-speech highlighting, iA announced that they will “drop” their pending patents.
I retweeted their update, but didn’t update the post. Few others did, and Collin Donnell’s calling us out:
If a company does something you don’t like, you speak out, and they correct it, that means what you did worked. It means you got what you wanted. Isn’t the right thing to acknowledge them for it?
Multiple actions by iA angered me:
- For a software-feature idea they had, they thought they deserved exclusivity, or royalties from anyone doing something similar (whether accidental or not), for 20 years1 — at a time when small software developers (like iA) are under constant attacks from patent threats and extortion over unintentional infringement of software patents.
- They began the process of attempting to secure those restrictions.
- They immediately began threatening other developers against developing similar features.
Canceling the patent filings only really absolved them of number 2: the fact that they even did numbers 1 and 3 still angers and offends me. Filing a patent application was an action that they undid, but thinking they deserved one in the first place and threatening other developers (prematurely, at that) are offensive to me in ways that are harder to just cancel and sweep under the rug.
I was silent about their update because it didn’t change anything for me.
Many have criticized the feature they attempted to patent because it’s just using the linguistic-tagger API available in Cocoa for years, but I don’t think that’s relevant.
It doesn’t matter how much time you put into your idea (or didn’t) — I don’t think ideas are exclusive property. Copyright and trademark protection make sense in practice overall, but patents don’t. The idea of “protecting inventors” is a charming fairy tale, but it conflicts with how invention really works (wow) and is a huge burden on our industry. ↩︎