Feeds

Paul Allen's patent madness not worth single penny

Execution wins. Not ideas

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Open...and Shut Businesses aren't built on ideas. They're built on execution. Google didn't win because it was the first to the search market. It won because it did search better than anyone else, and devised an ingenious way to monetize it.

This, more than anything else, is what makes the US patent system, overrun by patent trolls, so broken: it rewards ideas, not execution against them.

Anyone can think up a brilliant idea. The difficulty is in doing something with it.

Just ask Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who recently sued...everyone. Well, everyone except Microsoft, in which he continues to own a fair amount of stock, and Amazon, with whose executives he likely shares boat outings on Lake Washington.

For all the other cool kids, however, there's a lawsuit for that. If you're not on the list, don't despair! Rob Cottingham offers hope in a recent Noise to Signal cartoon.

Allen apparently started out trying to actually do something with his patented "innovations," but he failed. Why? Well, his former colleague at Interval Research, Terry Winograd, gives some clues:

At Interval there was more of an explicit strategy to bring things to market as opposed to PARC, where that wasn't the orientation for many of the people there....

[Question from the interviewer: Why was Interval unable to succeed in the market?]

Interval got completely sideswiped by the web. It was started just before the web. In fact, my first exposure to Mosaic was through a summer intern at Interval. All of a sudden all of the money and talent and everything else got sucked into the web. It dried up the pool there, to some extent. It's hard to know what would have happened if the timing hadn't been that way. Interval was looking at devices, at things people use, and at the home, and not looking at putting commerce onto the internet.

Irony, thy name is Paul Allen!

Here's the man now suing most of the world's most successful web companies for patents that Interval didn't even intend for the web, according to one of its own employees. Hindsight may be 20/20, but did Allen really need 10 years to figure out that he completely failed to turn his patents into web-related businesses?

Perhaps he needed 10 years to get up the courage to pretend his weakly drafted patents would stand up in court. Or perhaps he was waiting for just the right moment - like a few weeks after nobly committing to philanthropy on a grand scale? Short on cash, Mr Allen?

Allen is suing on just four of the 300-plus patents at Interval's disposal. Other patents, as Techflash suggests, put a target on the backs of Twitter and Foursquare.

Legal experts argue that Allen's 10-year wait to file may make his patents unenforceable. It should.

But an even more compelling argument for me is that Allen never actually did anything with them. He spent $100m of his cash developing the ideas, and now expects payment for that work. But real businesses get paid by customers, not lawsuits, and Allen should be no different. The fact is that he failed to turn ideas into substantive businesses. The law should not reverse business failure with legal victories.

If Allen wants to be remembered fondly, and Forbes reporter Lee Gomes speculates that Allen does, then he should stick to the success he had with Microsoft and the philanthropy he has done since then. Microsoft was more than idea. Interval? Not so much. It was an expensive exercise in blue-sky brainstorming, which is nice, but not worth $0.01, much less the $100m it took to amass his patents. ®

Matt Asay is chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears every Friday on The Register.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Euro Parliament VOTES to BREAK UP GOOGLE. Er, OK then
It CANNA do it, captain.They DON'T have the POWER!
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online
Now you can run your own intelligence agency
Post-Microsoft, post-PC programming: The portable REVOLUTION
Code jockeys: count up and grab your fabulous tablets
Twitter App Graph exposes smartphone spyware feature
You don't want everyone to compile app lists from your fondleware? BAD LUCK
Microsoft adds video offering to Office 365. Oh NOES, you'll need Adobe Flash
Lovely presentations... but not on your Flash-hating mobe
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing and building an open ITOA architecture
Learn about a new IT data taxonomy defined by the four data sources of IT visibility: wire, machine, agent, and synthetic data sets.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.