It would be interesting to see which individuals and companies in the RSS space would be willing to issue a disclaimer saying that if they have patents in RSS-related technology, they will never use those patents offensively. We’d have to get a good IP attorney to draft a bullet-proof release form. Any volunteers?
39 people signed up for a NYC meetup on the 28th, possibly at the Google office or a classroom at Cooper Union. Hope it comes together. To be clear, I’m not organizing this; I just created a page on the wiki and put my name on the list.
I’m glad that Jimmy Wales is launching a search engine to rival Google. Someone should try to make the next big leap in search, there’s little incentive for Google to try.
Google is repeating the pattern of the previous generation of search engines (Alta Vista, Infoseek) were doing when Google zigged to their zag, so successfully. Today, Google is fattening up and spreading out, going after Microsoft in productivity apps, chasing the TV networks with YouTube. Etc etc. Today search is only one of the things Google is doing, and it may not be the most important thing.
Today Google’s profits come from ads, and that business gives them a reason to keep search weak. They want you to do a lot of searching to find what you’re looking for — and the stuff they find for you for free is competing with the stuff they make money on. So Google actually has a disincentive to make search better.
Even if there are reasons to believe that Wales’s effort will fail, I’m glad he’s trying. We need more people who don’t accept the hype, and are willing to try to get to the next level. With enough tries will come success, and perhaps a new search business that is based on the ideas of the 21st century.
Sean Lyndersay of Microsoft posted some comments. He says a lot of nice things, and of course that’s appreciated.
But patents are a legal thing, and Sean being nice isn’t material. In the blogosphere, of course it is, and Microsoft’s defenders will likely say or imply that it’s all that matters.
Cutting to the core, the only substance I can see in Sean’s comments is that their patent application is limited to things they did that they believe hadn’t been done before.
Even if that’s true, it’s not reciprocal because Microsoft received a lot of patent-free IP from the community. They made a big deal (and still do) about contributing their specs to the Creative Commons, but that is a distraction. We could have recreated those specs, if we ever needed to (there isn’t yet much uptake in their extensions), but the patents are much more serious obstacles to growth in the market.
Google and Apple, two other companies Sean mentions, have filed similar patents. Of course what they did wasn’t right or fair, but also, neither of them claimed to be helping the community as Microsoft did, and neither has been convicted of antitrust as Microsoft has. Even so, I have been critical of both Apple and Google here, for their efforts to corral RSS behind a wall of corporate ownership. In contrast, I don’t think any of the big publishing companies, notably the New York Times Company, who have made a greater and much earlier contribution to the success of RSS than the tech industry has, have tried to own it or fork it as Google, Apple and Microsoft have. There’s a lesson here, and Sean is a good teacher. Yes Sean, the tech industry is bad. But even in the tech industry, Microsoft stands head and shoulders above the rest. And yes it has been common practice in the tech industry for companies to blackmail each other, to the detriment of users and the market, but that doesn’t make it good practice.
And Sean offers no response to the crucial question I asked, the one that cuts to the core of Microsoft’s intentions. And even if he had responded, he’s not an officer of the company, and his word isn’t binding. His predecessor, a former Microsoft employee, now works at Google. Next week Sean could be working at another company, and his successor could say, when we show him or her how much Sean liked us, “Okay, now what?” And he or she would be right. There’s little if anything in Sean’s letter that we can take to court.
To those that say the patent is only defensive, note that even though Sean’s word would not be binding, he doesn’t offer that assurance himself.
I think now would be a great time to hear from Ray Ozzie. He is an officer of the company. His word, if given in writing, would be binding on the company. Microsoft isn’t taking this seriously, by sending their response back through Sean, if that’s how we’re meant to understand this.