There's only one thing that makes me madder than somebody trying to blackmail an entire industry through a worthless patent, and that's seeing others take the opportunity to help stir up the mud.
I have no doubt at all that US patent 7,000,180 as granted to Balthasar Online is worthless — it's an opportunistic bit of gaming that does nobody any good whatsoever.
The company, of whom you won't have heard, makes very strong claims that it is at the heart of basically all multimedia on the Internet. Even the patent itself doesn't support that — it's all about remotely editing rich media over the Internet, which makes sense as that's what Balthasar Online does. But even if you could patent that basic idea, there is prior art stretching back to at least the days of Prestel in the early 1980s. The teenage Goodwins spent some time bashing away on Bishopsgate terminals manipulating text, image and downloadable data over a modem; if it wasn't over the Internet, that was just because the Internet wasn't that kind of lady back then.
More specifically, there was a flood of similar ideas during the dot-com boom years. We found one company, Javu, which not only explicitly offered just about every idea in the patent but even won awards a year before Balthasar filed. They even had some clever technology, licensed from Cornell, which let you edit video over the Net — not bad, in the days before broadband. Not good enough either; Javu didn't last.
But the ideas are out there and documented: on 10 May, 1999, the company announced "JavuNetwork (tm), the company’s network-centric, streaming-enabled, cross-media editing and management tool. JavuNetwork is the first content creation tool that enables users to combine and edit nearly every type of video, audio and image format together with text, and automatically convert them into the finished video format of their choice over the Internet. A Java-based tool, JavuNetwork has an intuitive, drag-and-drop interface that works with any standard Web browser."
Read that in the context of Balthasar's claims, filed Feb 9, 2001. I call bullshit on Patent 7,000,180.
I also call bullshit on Ovum, which put out a press release about the whole matter saying that this underlines the problems at the heart of the patent system — no, really? — and that it had a report about rich media on the Internet coming out soon. Well, fancy that.
Ovum also said how worrying the patent was. So worrying, in fact, that it could reach this conclusion despite admitting that "Ovum has not yet had a chance to examine the patent in full and understand fully the extent to which it covers the creation and deployment of rich media and interactive applications and what this might mean for the industry." Tell you what — how about examining the patent before issuing a press release about it? True, all we did was dredge up some memories and throw a few suitable search terms into the right corner of the Googleverse but at least we came up with concrete concerns.
Sorry if I seem intemperate, but this is the sort of thing that gives analysts a bad name. When a press release finishes thusly — "Either way a mouse with respects to Balthaser's size has roared and the consequences are unpredictable but important. While Europe continues to prevaricate on bringing software patents laws inline with the US, Balthaser's patent awards, and its consequences for leading players, demonstrates both the good and bad of software patents and gives us a good reason for careful deliberation before we follow the US's lead" — I'm either going to fulminate in print or kick the cat.
And I don't have a cat — robot or otherwise.