Microsoft the Patent Troll?

For years I’ve argued against ridiculous software patents: WhileI’m a fervent believer of the innovation fostering environmentprovided by IP protection and rights, the stream of trivialsoftware patents has reached a torrential pace. We’re now at apoint where it’s impossible to create any software solution orwebsite without infringing upon the trivial “IP” of hundreds ofpatent holders, leading to the unintended consequence thatinnovation is suppressed because of the natural litigationrisk presented by patent trolls.

One of the more recent abusers of the patent system is noneother than Microsoft. They’re even patenting methods they’re takingfrom other products now (sure, Microsoft’s patent wouldn’thold up during the course of a real lawsuit, but few opponentswould have the resources to even bring it that far).

Such a comment inevitably summons the Microsoft-does-no-wrongdefenders who repeatedly declare that Microsoft is different, andthat these were defensive patents. Microsoft, we aretold, is just building a patent shield in case a patenttroll comes gunning for them (ignore the absurd foundation of thewhole “defensive patent” argument — patent trolls seldom have anyinterest in cross-licensing, and they seldom have publishedproducts that a target can counter-assault with dubiouspatents).

Maybe not.

When Microsoft’s growth curve seemed limitless, they overlookedcasual piracy (which is how they gained dominance), had limitedinvasive copy protection mechanisms, and played nicely in thesoftware development community. As their hegemony has facedrealcompetition, some of it coming from the open source world(given that capitalist competitors were easy to squash), and theirgrowth has been stagnant and has the potential of reversingcourse in the coming years, Microsoft has changed for the worse.Now they’re enlisting jackbooted squads of anti-piracy teams, andinfesting their products with activation and “genuine advantage”bugs.

Now they’re starting to threaten competitors, and worse thecustomers of competitors, with their patent trolls.

The risk presented by Microsoft’s so-called “defensive” patentsis exactly what is happening. They’ve been offensivepatents all along.

Expect it to only get worse.