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Inside Yahoo: how defensive patents became offensive weapons

Inside Yahoo: how defensive patents became offensive weapons


Former Yahoo employee Andy Baio discusses his experience working for Yahoo, being asked to patent his old inventions for the company, and watching as these patents were used by the company to go on the legal offensive.

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Imagine you're a mild-mannered software developer running your own company, when one day the big dog in town decides to buy you up — only it wants you to patent your existing inventions. "Don't worry," the company tells you, "we're only going to use these to defend ourselves against patent trolls, and we'll make it worth your while." Turn the clock ahead a few years and your former employer is now using these same patents offensively, to come after its more successful rivals. In a recent Wired article, developer and former Kickstarter CTO Andy Baio details his experience with the Yahoo/Facebook patent dispute, a story that ends with disappointment in Yahoo, frustration at the patent system, and a vow to never patent another piece of software.

Baio believes patents like Yahoo's "dynamic page generator" are so broadly defined that every web application could be said to violate them, before obviating the need for software patents altogether, saying "software is already covered by copyright, making patent protection unnecessary." And while Baio agrees that when it comes to a lot of web technology Yahoo "got there first," he posits that being first with something generic isn't the same as being first with something really original, criticizing the company for using litigation as a business model.