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This is why software patents are stupid. Microsoft just lost a patent infringement lawsuit brought by a company called Eolas over the use of browser plugins. The reason this is stupid is that Microsoft is infringing because their browser automatically launches applications to display multimedia content.
Patents were intended for innovations, not ideas. Having the idea of launching a program automatically isn’t an innovation. If there were a hard problem associated with it, maybe if it was hard to figure out when to launch it, and you spent time solving it then your solution could be pantentable.
I think on my way home today I’ll stop by the patent office and file a patent for “automatically allowing light to pass through a surface so things on the other side can be seen.” Oh, and I’ll also file the other 50 stupid patent ideas I come up with while driving there.
It’s not hard to see why we’re in this mess with patents — the US patent office was commissioned on the number of patents they allow per year. Now that’s a good idea!!