Developer

Another day, another patent threat

Planning on building an AJAX application that will be hosted in the United States? First, you may need to pay for a licence if the latest patent debacle is enforced.

Planning on building an AJAX application that will be hosted in the United States? First, you may need to pay for a licence if the latest patent debacle is enforced.

Last week a small San Francisco-based company called Balhaser was awarded US patent for "Methods, systems, and processes for the design and creation of rich-media applications via the Internet".

Soon after the patent was awarded the company sent out a press release announcing they intend to licence this patent to companies who deliver rich media internet applications such AJAX, XAML, Flash, Flex and Java.

Niel Balthaser, chief executive officer of Balthaser, said that the company will "be able to provide licenses for almost any rich media internet application across a broad range of devices and networks."

Personally, I think if Balthaser tries to force companies to licence this patent the company will find a legal challenge with those claiming prior art — including Microsoft and Adobe (formerly Macromedia).

It looks like this is another demonstration of the poor procedures in place to check into prior art before awarding patents in the United States. Sun Microsystems claimed they "took a bullet" for Java developers when they paid kodak 92 million US dollars to settle on a dispute over alleged patents in Java. The father of Java called this patent case "atrocious" and the way patents are being used today "ridiculous".

IBM, one of the largest holders of patents in the US last year called for reform in this area — which has seemingly fallen on deaf ears. Jim Stallings, vice president, intellectual property and standards, told Builder AUthat the methods the United States Patent Office use are flawed, and the ability for patent examiners to check things like prior art had created a bias towards granting patents. Experts in Australia have echoed this problem in our own patent-granting examination process.

Its going to be an interesting case to watch, especially if you are a developer who has rich internet applications running in the United States. While it is too early to see how this will really end, and if it will prompt any significant change in the way patent processes work, one thing is for sure — lawyers from both sides will cash in.

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