Using The Phrase Open API In Patents Shows How Broken Patents Are In A Digital World
07 Sep 2016
I am spending a lot of time reviewing patents that mention application programming interface or API in their title, abstract, or in the detail of the patent. Many of the patents lightly reference providing or consuming of APIs, but there are some of them that are directly looking to patent the API itself--which in my opinion just shows how broken the concept of the patent is when applied in a digital world.
One patent that stood out in my reading this week was patent #EP20120170800 for "open API video system and method of making and using same"--which is:
A video player unit, system and method, and a video hierarchy. Included are at least one memory device, a plurality of communication access points for receiving at least one program play, an open application programming interface associated with the at least one memory device, wherein a plurality ofapplications correspondent to the open application programming interface allow a user to manipulate metadata associated with ones of the programs plays, wherein the metadata relates to interframe interactivity with detailed aspects ofthe ones of the program plays, and at least one correlation engine in communication with the open application programming interface, wherein the at least one correlation engine provides for correlation among at least for the interframes of the program play to ones of the interframes of other ones of the program plays.
The word "open" is used once in the title, and three times in the abstract each time the API is referenced. Directly patenting an API goes against what an API is and does--making data, content, and algorithms accessible on the Internet. When patenting an API, you are asking people to integrate your patented thing into their web, mobile, system, and device applications, wherever they may operate on the Internet--how is this open?
The web is about delivering content, data, and algorithms to humans using HTML, and APIs is about delivering content, data, and algorithms to other systems using JSON or XML. Does someone have the same patent above, but for "open web page video system and method of making and using same"? I sure hope not, otherwise, successful platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, and Instagram would not be able to do what they do cost effectively.
Patent #EP20120170800 for "open API video system and method of making and using same" is a sign of how broken things are both with the private sector's views on patents, the USPTO's awareness of the nuances involved with delivering algorithms using the Internet technology. I know this will all end up playing out in courts, which is why many people I know do patents--to provide a defense. However, it is more like they will come into play behind closed doors in the backroom dealings between business power brokers, as deals are made, and valuation of companies are established--which itself is antithetical to the benefits that APIs bring to the table as well.
This lack of understanding of what the Internet is, and what open is left me pretty depressed about the future. Maybe this patent will never be leveraged against companies, but the fact that someone thought it was a good idea in the first place, and is investing money and time into this, and not investing these same resources into web technology, is just blind and greedy, and we can do better.