Are Patents Too Broad?

In 2003, Eolas won a historical $520 million (plus interest) court case, which established that it owns the patent on self-executing applets on a web page. Despite Microsoft appeals both to the US Patent Office and the Supreme Court the patent has been held to be valid. Now that Microsoft has run out of legal remedies it has no choice but to comply with judgment, and modify Internet Explorer 6 (IE 7.0 already has this built in). Sure there are script-based developer workarounds, but the whole Fargo of the thing is that it's pretty damned ugly.

Essentially what Eolas' patent says is, "No matter how you make it happen, if an applet (very broad definition) starts automatically on a web page, we own the patent on that, and you have to license the technology from us -- that is, IF we decide we like you."

I realize this is an oversimplification, but that really is the essence of this whole deal, in a nutshell. And of course, as we all are well-aware, Eolas isn't the only company winning lawsuits along these lines.

Bottom line is, you can get a patent on a lot of stuff that really shouldn't even be considered patentable. The Patent and Trademark Office simply doesn't have the resources and staff with a level of training to oversee this whole process properly. Basically a bunch of overworked bureaucrats look at your application and if there isn't anything that looks like it came before yours did, well, technology be dammed, you are probably gonna get a patent. Now what's wrong with this? Well, you can get a patent on something because you use the technology in your business and your product and you have a legitimate need to protect your investment. But, you can also get a patent on something that you do not use in your business, and which you may never expect to use - JUST to have the power over somebody that might use something like it later.

Getting patents on whatever you can just so you can do "patent parking" and legally terrorize legitimate businesses has become the new "domain parking for extortion" scheme.

Basically what Microsoft has to do now, since the legal remedies have been exhausted, is make applications that run in a web page "Not work" until the user enables them. Among the applications that will be affected by the change are some of the most widely used programs on the Internet, including the Adobe Reader, Apple QuickTime Player, Macromedia Flash, Microsoft Windows Media Player, Real Networks RealPlayer and the Sun Java Virtual Machine. Can you believe this utter horseshit?

I think I remember something like last week I read that some yo-yo announced he's got a patent on RSS. Gimme a fewkin' BREAK! RSS?

Folks, is this ludicrous, or am I just off base? I think this has just totally gotten out of hand.