Sued for running an online shop?

I’ve recently been trying hard not to express my dislike of M$ business practices on the front page of this site, and I’d almost canned this post as a result.
Then I realized that it has nothing to do with M$ and everything to do with web development.

Picture this, you have put up a web site, and you decide to add a shopping cart to the mix so that you can sell your wares to your visitors internationally. Not long after, you find yourself being sued by a company who has no real product as such, and makes a living of patenting any little thing that pops into their head and then goes looking for people to extort licensing fees from. Sound far fetched? Think again people, it’s actually happening as you read this.

A charming company by the name of PanIP LLC has no actual product or service as such, but has several patents. The two main ones in question here are:
“automated sales and services system,”
“automatic business and financial transaction-processing system.”

Guess what people? PanIP would have us believe that that means anyone with a shopping cart essentially owes them money. Ridiculous isn’t it? But they will probably make money of it, (they have sued 50 companies so far.) The problem is, that those to patents are ridiculously vague and non specific, in fact one could argue that a cash register could be construed as “prior art”, since cash registers automate the calculation of monies. These patents simply should never have been allowed in the first place.

Anyway, this ties in nicely with what’s happening in Europe. Right now, they are arguing tooth and nail about “software patents”, the idea that you can patent an idea as it relates to software and then charge licensing fees to people wishing to use that idea. It doesn’t sound that bad at first thought, but consider this, I’ve just read that MicroSoft has just patented the “double click”, and then there was Amazon a couple of years back with the “one click” shopping thing. If it was strictly controlled, and frivolous patents were tossed out by knowledgeable people, then there would be no problem. The problem is that the people that make the decisions are not experts, and they very often make huge errors of judgment. The result is that the big guys like MicroSoft, Intel, IBM, Novell and all the other big guns have huge patent portfolios that they can use to crush competition (If they choose) or use as countering tools against legal action taken against them. Makes it kind of hard for a small startup to produce anything useful when he can’t even use a double click without licensing for the right to use it first.

So, if you live in Europe, then I strongly suggest that you head over to the no EU software patents petition and sign up. You might want to write your local pollies to let them know your views on the subject. (and to show most of them what they are voting on, as most apparently have no idea of what the real issues are.)

For more info on the PanIP shopping cart extortion scheme, head over to Informationweek.

These guys are using exactly the same trick as the SCO group are trying against IBM, I’m hoping that neither will be allowed to twist and distort the law to their own financial benefit. If you reserve the right to one day running your own shopping site, I suggest you do the same.

Dark issues like this sometimes have a lighter side, and in this case its Micro$ofts recent patent for “Using human skin as a conductor for power and data”
See here for the userfriendly take on things.
Me? I’m scared at the possibilities of Micro$oft software running on my body, what happens if I get hacked or infested by Spyware?
:-) Sorry, couldn’t resist. :-)



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