Recently Red Hat has decided to go on the offensive with their patent strategy. With this patent Red Hat is attempting to patent “Method and apparatus to deliver messages between applications”.

To me this smacks of the way Microsoft deals with patents. They patent “ideas” or “the framework of an idea” in case someone happens to get the same idea or a similar idea. This “offensive patent” strategy is very much in line with the Microsoft way of business. Of course Red Hat does have a different twist. What they have promised is these “offensive patents” will not be enforced against open source development.

This reminds me of the jokes tossed around in the 1990s of Microsoft threatening to patent ones and zeros. Although the ones and zeros patent idea was a joke, the idea was not far off. Microsoft was attempting to offensively patent everything it could.

Of course, I understand why Red Hat would feel this necessary. But there are other ways around this that are less “’90s Microsoftian.” The most applicable idea is “prior art”. Basically what this means is any information (in any form) made public that is dated and relevant to the patents’ claim of originality can be used to dispute a patent. With that in mind I would much rather see Red Hat (in true open source form) create a sort of “patent wiki” that would post all information relevant to any ideas or technologies they are working on. With dated (and well documented) information, this would serve as strong defense against anyone applying to patent something Red Hat was already working on.

I wouldn’t want the court of public opinion to start looking at Red Hat in the same way they looked at Microsoft in any way. Red Hat has done so much for open source over the last decade, the very idea that they feel it necessary to start working offensively.

And, like they say in professional sports, the best offense is a good defense.

What do you think? Would you rather see Red Hat working defensively or offensively in the patent arena? What about yourself? As a developer, do you prefer to patent everything or do you count on “prior art” to work as your defense?