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A Rose by Any Other Name Is Still Subject to a Patent Lawsuit

Way down there in Tyler, Texas -- famous for its gardens full of yellow roses, for being the hometown of football legend Earl Campbell (who was once dubbed the Tyler Rose), and, apparently, for juries friendly to patent holders -- another in a series of interesting little decisions came down this week.

A Michigan man, owner of obscure z4 Technologies, won $133 million from Microsoft and Autodesk -- $115 million of which will come from Redmond, pending appeal -- in a patent-infringement case heard in the eastern district of Texas, where juries have consistently found in favor of patent holders over the last dozen years or so. The jury found that Microsoft and Autodesk willfully infringed on two patents for anti-piracy technology held by z4 founder David Colvin. The decision might even force Microsoft and Autodesk to change their anti-piracy software. Both companies are making noises about an appeal and say that not only did they develop their own anti-piracy software, but that the patents shouldn't be enforceable, anyway.

Now, the money here is no big deal. If Bill Gates dropped $115 million out of his pocket, it wouldn't even be worth his time to bend over to pick it up. What's interesting here is the growing trend in patent-infringement lawsuits that came to light when Research in Motion got hit with a suit over its Blackberry technology last year. RiM ended up settling that suit for $450 million. That's a lot of money for a company the size of RiM, and that doesn't even count legal fees and all the other expenses involved with getting tied up in court.

Granted, most of these suits target the big guys, such as Microsoft and Apple. And, usually, they can afford them … but what about you? If your company is an ISV, or if you're developing technology at all, there's a chance that somebody out there might be sitting on a patent for the applications you're developing. Worse yet, you might not even know it. Remember, companies can be sued for patent infringement even if they “accidentally” and independently develop something somebody else already patented. And, even if your case is air tight, a good lawyer and a bouquet of jurors in an East Texas courtroom could still cause you a whole lot of hassle and expense. Are you careful about avoiding patent problems? Is the issue even on your radar? Maybe it should be -- because when it comes to patent disputes, you can either get ground into mulch or come out smelling like a … well, you know.

Keeping the Pirates at Bay
In other anti-piracy news, Microsoft last week revealed enhancements to its Windows Genuine Advantage program. When users download Windows automatic updates, they'll be prompted to download WGA notifications as well. The notification download will scatter the piracy police into a user's installation to collar those copies of Windows that didn't come straight out of Redmond. The user will then be either sent back to his or her system builder or referred to a reseller -- politely, we're sure -- for assistance replacing fake Windows with the real thing.

This sounds like a good idea, except that most companies running (and selling) pirated software probably know they're doing it and aren't likely to be too interested in catching themselves. Still, if this helps root out the occasional illegal freebie here and there in corporate installations, great. Now how about a Chinese version?

Could You Please Re-Send Your Contact Info?
Expect a lot of these e-mails from people who installed Microsoft's MS06-16 patch, released on April 11. Microsoft Watch's Mary Jo Foley tells us that it's wiping out Outlook Express address books. Woops…

But wait -- that's not all! In another “Patch Tuesday” saga, Microsoft will re-release one of its patches next week to fix a flaw that caused applications to crash on systems running either an older Hewlett-Packard utility or certain NVIDIA drivers. What was that old phrase about the cure being worse than the illness?

Bad Times at Intel
There was a time when Microsoft's old buddy Intel ruled the chip roost. Now, you might say the chips are down. Intel reported an income shortfall and big spending cuts this week. Wintel isn't what it used to be, and apparently AMD is rocketing past its bigger rival.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 21, 2006


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