A Spectator reader called my attention to this news yesterday. i2 Technologies is launching a patent licensing program to make available (for a fee) selected patents that do not apply to the company's supply chain management focus.
In other words, the patent program will NOT affect i2's current lawsuit against SAP
, which is over one of i2's patents related to process planning, factory planning, sales negotiation and tracking, manufacturing allocations, and management of available to promise (ATP).
So what's the purpose of i2's patent licensing program? In one word, money. It appears that i2 has been applying for patents for general purpose approaches to system design, apart from its core expertise in supply chain applications. For example, the initial offering in i2's patent licensing program will be an i2 patent (US Patent No. 6,169,992)
that relates to "the use of a Web browser utilizing an executable client application in order to enable interactive queries of a remotely located information repository." i2's press release
Of course, i2's investors will cheer i2's move as a potential source of additional revenue. But, in my opinion, this program is another example of software patents going too far. AJAX technology is a hot topic in software development these days, as companies such as Google use it to make web-based applications much more user-friendly and efficient. For example, if you've clicked and dragged on a Google Map, you've seen AJAX in action.
Now, I'm not saying that Google Maps infringes on i2's patent. But I am saying that anyone using AJAX to access a remote database may now need to look at i2's patent claims. At what point do patents such as this one stifle rather than encourage innovation?
For more on the subject generally, see this Wikipedia entry on the software patent debate. Related postsSAP: If you can't beat 'em, sue 'em