Continue To Explore Restaurant Menu as an Analogy for API Copyright and Patents

While working on my feedback to the EFF for the first response to the Oracle v Google API copyright case, one of the stories I published used the restaurant menu as an analogy for API copyright. This example was used in the most recent response by Google’s lawyers as they defended themselves in court, and as I’m working on my API patent research, I wanted to revisit this analogy, in the same way, helping focus attention on why API patents are such a bad idea.

Building on my previous analogy, as a restaurant, imagine your restaurant specialty is delivering meat-centric dishes. Your burgers and steaks are da bomb! You literally have several “secret sauces”, some unique preparation processes, as well as some very appealing ways of naming and describing your dishes. Not that different from many API providers, who have some “secret sauces”, some unique process, as well as some very appealing ways of naming and describing the very useful APIs they are offering.

In regards to copyright, why would you want to lock up the naming and ordering of what you are offering? Even if your competitor copies the exact wording on their menu (documentation), their burgers and steaks do not have your secret sauce or unique processes. Also, why would you want to burden food delivery services from aggregating your menu (documentation) alongside other restaurants using copyright? Don’t restrict how the local paper or food rag can reference your menu (documentation), and publish it on and offline–it is unnecessary and will do nothing to protect your business.

In regards to patents, why would you want to lock up the menu to your burgers and steaks alongside your secret sauce(s) and unique process? Could you imagine if McDonalds sued everyone for patent infringement because they had a burger section on their menu? Someone comes up with a unique burger, and now nobody can have a specific meat dish sections on their menu? The menu and the ingredients of your recipe shouldn’t be included in your patent. If your process is truly that unique, and remarkable, then patent that, you shouldn’t be locking up the ingredients, and the ways of naming, describing, and providing a menu (documentation) for your dish (APIs).

I am not anti-patent (well almost), but am 100% anti API patent. APIs are not your secret sauce or process. The URL, parameters, headers, body, response, and other elements of your API are no more patentable than hamburger, buns, mustard and ketchup are for your killer burger. The reason we have so many API patents is that we have very greedy, short-sighted companies who are just racing to get a piece of the action, and they have been taught that patents are how you make a grab for all the digital dishes on the table, or even might possibly be on the table in the future. They see things moving in a particular direction, and rather than doing those things well, they focus on locking up the doing of that thing.

If you are in the business of patenting your companies technology, please focus on patenting your secret sauce and truly unique processes, not the method for exchanging, selling, and baking your solution into other systems and applications. APIs should not be patented. APIs, no matter how unique they might be, are not the thing you should be defending. You should be making them accessible, and defending the unique and valuable thing you do behind them. Stop including API in your patent filings please, it goes against everything that makes API even works.