Thursday, July 29, 2010

Abuse of software patents (what else are they good for?)

Check out the Wikipedia entry for Vistaprint (emphasis added):

The company recognizes that developing and protecting its intellectual property creates additional value in the company, and acts as a business moat to deter competitors. So far, Vistaprint has secured 15 issued patents and has applied for almost 40 more.

The company has described its objective as a "minefield of patents" and has been active in pursuing companies that it considers to be infringing on those patents."

If you think that's an unfairly exaggerated statement, check out the interview* with Wendy Cebula, then Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (now President of the North American unit) of VistaPrint (emphasis added in italics):
VistaPrint has always placed a strong focus on getting patents. Which one or two would you classify to be the most important?
We really look at patents as a portfolio approach. As different competitors may choose to enter the market in different ways, our strategy is to create a minefield of patents that would be difficult for anyone to navigate. That being said, our patents around our studio design technology, which is one of the ones we are defending right now in the public, and in our back-end aggregation and our bridge are two that have been issued and that are public that we believe that are very important to us. There are others pending that, clearly, we are excited about as well.

If that's not clear evidence that patent systems, and especially software patent systems, are purposely abused to stifle competition, then what is?

* Note that the interview was taken down - I had to find it in the Internet Archive snapshot from 2008. Interesting...

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