News that the US Patent Office has granted a patent to a software developer that gives him the rights to charge license fees for any application development that uses AJAX has not been well received by developers and others with an interest in this set of technologies.
Scores of blog posts and hundreds of Digg comments are uniformly negative if not downright hostile about this news. Little commentary yet by mainstream media.
AJAX is one of the hottest application development areas at the moment, so it’s not hard to see why this news has been greeted with uproar in the developer community:
[…] Potentially tens of thousands of businesses-not only software makers employing its business processes but companies offering rich-media on their Websites-could be subject to licensing fees when they use rich-media technology over the Internet.
[…] How broad is the patent? Here’s what the patent abstract says it covers: A host computer, containing processes for creating rich-media applications, is accessed from a remote user computer system via an Internet connection. User account information and rich-media component specifications are uploaded over the Internet for a specific user account. Rich-media applications are created, deleted, or modified in a user account, with rich-media components added to, modified in, or deleted from the rich-media application based on information contained in a user request. After creation, the rich-media application is viewed or saved on the host computer system, or downloaded to the user computer system over the Internet.
That appears to cover literally everything happening with AJAX development today. It will affect anyone, as noted, not only developers but anyone using the technology on their website. And not only big application developer companies. Put it in perspective: it could affect the developer of the theme I use on this blog, for instance – the search and commenting functionalities are all based on AJAX.
And that would be absurd. It looks like a battle has only just begun.
I’m not sure that the scope of this patent is as you suggest. As other commenters on Aviran’s post have said, this is a patent for a specific application that allows its users to create dynamic websites (it looks like it is actually to protect an application called pro:fx that the patent holder has created). It certainly doesn’t appear to be a patent for any application that uses AJAX.
I saw those comments, Niall. I’m not sure I agree with those views. It looks to me very much as though the patent is as all-embracing as stated, and so concerns about what the new patent-owner might want to do are valid. And the projection I made on the potential impact is equally valid in the midst of such concerns.
I think ‘might’ is the key word here.
So it’s all speculation at the moment. Reminds me a bit of the kerfuffle that happened some years ago when it emerged that the patent for the compression algorithm used in GIF files was owned by Unisys. Lots of worries about licensing, impacts to anyone, etc. Nothing untoward emerged from that in this regard.
Maybe this will be the same. Still, when the CEO of the company who was awarded the patent makes statements like this, quoted in a ZDNet UK article, and which is widely reported elsewhere, no wonder people get worried –
“This new addition to our patent portfolio is a pioneering patent and provides significant licensing opportunities for both Balthaser and our licensees,” said Neil Balthaser, chief executive officer of Balthaser, in a statement.
Fair point. I’m no lawyer (and quite proud of that fact). I also remember BT claiming the patent to hyperlinks. Strangely, not much happened after that either.
It’s the kind of thing that keeps lawyers in business for years…