Have Tech-Company Intellectual Property Policies Gone Too Far?

I had no idea that one could sue a hacker; the tricky part is probably finding the hacker in order to sue them.

Sony have announced that they’re suing the hackers who uncovered the security codes for the PlayStation 3, that the console uses to determine that software is genuine.  This means that anybody who has access to this code can use it in non-approved (and even pirated), software to get that to run happily on the console.

Microsoft are also taking Apple to court over the name “App Store” claiming that it’s a generic term and they should be able to use it for the Windows Store should they want to.

These are two examples of the madness that’s been going on in the last couple of days with tech companies and litigation.  Sony are effectively saying, “our product isn’t secure enough and you’re to blame for that, not us” and Microsoft, frankly, are perfectly correct in their assumption of generality.

Let’s take the Microsoft / Apple case first.  There are a great many terms in the world that fall into this generalisation category.  UK technology firm Psion famously sued over the term “Netbook” a couple of years ago because they had released a computer previously with that name back in 1999.  They lost, and rightly so.  A netbook is a net enabled book-sized thing.

The fact that Apple have popularised the App Store concept means, as they can expect, that every other technology company will jump onto the bandwagon.  The company couldn’t possibly claim to hold onto exclusive use of such a ‘foggy’ trademark name in such a broad market.  Not in the way they can with a specific product name such as iPod.

Apple on the other hand have sued other companies for using the letter i at the beginning of their product names.  This has even included products that were around for years before the first iPod appeared.  Is this right and should it be allowed?

This brings me back to Sony who are using their corporate size and money to push responsibility for their security problem onto a party of hackers, because hackers can be seen as an easy target.  The group responsible for the hack, fail0verflow, have said that ”We have never condoned, supported, approved of or encouraged videogame piracy.  We have not published any encryption or signing keys. We have not published any Sony code, or code derived from Sony’s code.”

They also claim they only broke the code so that people could run their own legitimate code on the console if they wanted to.  But what is a crime?  Surely it would be a crime if they took Sony’s code and used it in their own products.  Is simply finding out what Sony’s code is a crime?  Many people would think not.

Now I’m not going to get into any guessing game over who is right or wrong as  fail0verflow will have to prove their claims but it still boils down to the fact that Sony’s security simply wasn’t good enough.  There is security in other products that’s never been cracked and other companies have means of patching security holes as and when they appear.  Who’s fault is this?  Is this the fault of a group of hackers?

The litigation situation with large technology companies is getting out of hand, especially when there are so many thousands of products on the market that are all so similiar to one another and that all do the same thing.  Xerox, if it wanted to, could probably take Microsoft, Apple and Linux to court for copying their first windowing GUI way back in the 1980′s.  They’d definitely lose though because GUIs are now generic and everywhere, even on your phone.  Microsoft couldn’t sue Apple or the Linux community either for using windows on their desktops because windows on a computer have now become a generic thing.  Such lawsuits would be laughable.

So come on guys, put your hands up and admit to your own problems and don’t try to cling onto pointless patents anymore.

© Mike Halsey (MVP) for gHacks Technology News, 2011. | Permalink | Add to del.icio.us, digg, facebook, reddit, twitter
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