In response to a patent infringement complaint that Uniloc filed against Minecraft developer Mojang, creator Markus Persson (“Notch”) has been issuing statements on his blog:
A common argument for patents is that inventors won’t invent unless they can protect their ideas. The problem with this argument is that patents apply even if the infringer came up with the idea independently. If the idea is that easy to think of, why do we need to reward the person who happened to be first?
Trivial patents, such as for software, are counterproductive (they slow down technical advancement), evil (they sacrifice baby goats to baal), and costly (companies get tied up in pointless lawsuits).
It honestly looks as if Uniloc’s business model is litigation—primarily to protect patent #5,490,216, “System for software registration,” which was filed in 1993. Almost twenty years later, the company is still suing companies, including Microsoft, EA, Square Enix, and, of course, Mojang.
In other words, Notch’s feverish diatribe is not the cry of one targeted game developer—it’s an echo of an ongoing effort, arguably long-overdue, to reform the patent system. As developer Marco Arment suggests, the system has become a battleground for large corporations like Google and Microsoft. It’s more or less a nuclear arms race in which companies must rapidly develop or obtain intellectual property and protect themselves through the process of countersuing—a sort of mutually assured destruction that loosely guarantees equilibrium. But proxy wars are being fought daily by mercenaries (attorneys) in the deserts of third-world countries (East Texas). Until the patent system is revised, the best we can hope for is a corporate Cold War.