When news first broke this week that a Singapore company had been awarded the patent to a technology that enables Web sites and pages to be linked via images, I found it tough to believe the report bore any truth.
Long story short, Singapore-based Vuestar Technologies has hit the town with a stern message that any company that uses photos and graphics to link to other Web sites or Web pages, must obtain a "license of use" from Vuestar. It has begun sending out notification letters to selected companies, urging them to sign a licensing agreement in order to continue using image linking, legally.
If its claims are true, and it hasn't misinterpreted the patent it was awarded, then Vuestar basically has the right to take millions of companies to court including Wikipedia, for using its famous jigsaw globe icon as a link to its homepage. The cyberworld has just become Vuestar's legally-lucrative oyster.
I'm not surprised over the Singapore company's attempts to recover what it claims is its rightful intellectual property, after all, isn't money always the motivation behind such affairs?
Rather, what has completely baffled me is that Vuestar had actually succeeded in getting that patent.
Weren't there any notices of opposition, a standard legal procedure that usually takes place before a patent application is approved? Any interested party is allowed to oppose the patent application based on various grounds, for example, if the technology highlighted in the patent application isn't adequately described, or that the technology is not patentable due to prior art.
Prior art, when highlighted in a patent application, points to anything which depicts similar inventions published before the patent was filed. And, obviously, image linking and image search have been around way before Vuestar filed--and was awarded--its patent, which apparently took place between 2000 and 2003.
I'm not quite sure what Vuestar's intentions are here. If it's purely for publicity, and this whole exercise is nothing more than a marketing gimmick, then it has definitely succeeded in accomplishing its objective.
And if the company's goal was to illustrate the flawed patent-approval system, I think it has also achieved its purpose.
It's not reasonable to expect the law to keep pace with its knowledge and expertise concerning every piece of technology available out there in the market. Legal processes are typically long-drawn affairs and can sometimes take years to see completion. Technology, on the other hand, waits for no man and the company that goes to market in the shortest possible time has the first-mover advantage.
But, if the various governing powers worldwide view patents as a necessary evil, then they should--at the very least--ensure they take the fundamental step of appointing patent officers who understand how the IT industry works. This will enable them to make better informed decisions when they evaluate patent applications, and also allow them to better defend their decisions if the occasion calls for it.
I'm actually very eager to see Vuestar take someone to court--though I doubt it eventually will--and try to reclaim its "intellectual property" rights. It would be interesting to see how the patent will hold up in court.