Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In Response To The Whole Mojang Patent Thing

So, recently, Mojang received notice of a patent lawsuit from some company nobody's ever heard of called Uniloc.  Uniloc apparently holds a vaguely worded patent on "an authentication system to prevent unauthorized access to a piece of software".

Think about that.  Think about how much software exists today that phones home in one way or another to make sure you're allowed to be running it.  Use Steam?  There you go, everything you have on Steam phones home.  It happens automatically, true, but it still happens.  Let's see the relatively unknown patent troll take on Valve, and really the entire video game industry.

This whole thing is apparently in reference to the Android version of Minecraft, which the document notifying Mojang of the lawsuit so helpfully calls "Mindcraft".

The other issue here is that this involves a software patent.  Software patents are largely evil.  They have never been used for good, except in the case of the practice of obtaining defensive patents and intentionally not enforcing them, just to prevent someone else from patenting what you've done and then suing you over it.  With regards to software, the whole system is an overglorified competition for FIRST!!!1!1!1111one.  Since software development can happen so much more quickly than anything physical that someone might use a patent to protect, there could very well be multiple teams of people working on ideas that are either identical or close enough to being identical that it doesn't matter.  It essentially becomes a huge competition, the first team to finish it, get it working, and patent it wins.  At this point, all the other teams just spent all that time and money for nothing.

For instance, Microsoft (everyone's favorite monolith of evil) holds a patent on "a system that awards points to the player for completing in-game tasks".  I've actually read the text of this patent, and in it, it quite clearly states some examples from games they didn't make that existed before they filed the patent.  This is better known as "prior art".  Prior art is usually what precludes something from being patented in the first place, as you can't claim you invented it if someone else already did it.  Microsoft should not have been awarded that patent.

Also patented (not sure by whom) is an arrow that points towards your destination in a video game.  You know, like the one used in Crazy Taxi.  That too is bullshit, and should not have been awarded.

Software patents in general should not be awarded.  Patents should only apply to physical, tangible goods.  Not digital goods.  Anything digital can in effect be turned into a number, so this is essentially allowing people to patent numbers.  Can I patent the number 8147 then please?  No.  Why?  Because that would be ridiculous.  Then the maker of any book listing prime numbers would have to pay me royalties to print that one number.

So, Uniloc, if that is your real name, you sir are a patent troll, and you need to GTFO and DIAF.

This happens periodically with physical goods too.  Remember when the PS3 was released?  Just before it was released, some relatively unknown company sued Sony for patent infringement over the vibration motors they use in their controllers.  The result was that the PS3's controller was initially released without vibration motors.  The whole thing was an incredible dick move on the relatively unknown company's part.  Maybe the patent system as a whole needs to be re-examined if it allows for this kind of action.  Even with development of physical goods, many companies like to keep what they're working on a secret until it's complete, which of course means that anyone else developing something identical or similar has absolutely no clue if anyone else is already working on it.

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