Archive for October 9, 2008

Will AIR developers get sued?

As the distinction between AIR applications and conventional desktop applications becomes narrower, so too does the possibility that an unsuspecting RIA developer is going to get sued.  The desktop application arena is an already hostile battle-scarred legal quagmire, dominated by the big players who mostly tolerate each other now, but won’t necessarily tolerate any newcomers on their territory.

I’m not so concerned about all-encompassing patents such as Eolas or Balthsar.  Broad claims are so easily compromised by prior art.  I’m more concerned about very specific ways of doing things in desktop applications.

There have already been a couple of minor Central/AIR copyright incidents.

I remember the first try-buy application for Central was a nifty bitmap icon designer, created by Ted Patrick.  It accessed an online library of icons.  Allegedly, Macromedia owned the copyright of some of these icons, and this resulted in their removal from the library.

Another example allegedly involved the use of the word “air” in the names/domain-names of online Adobe Air community resources and websites owned by Air enthusiasts.  Adobe’s legal team got involved, resulting in names being changed, omitting the reference to “air” – allegedly.

(For those who’ve never watched any satirical BBC TV, throwing the word “allegedly” into your statements may offer some protection against legal repercussions.)

Interesting that both these cases involved well-meaning evangelists, doing something that was arguably beneficial to both parties.  Perhaps that’s why these cases were resolved so amicably.  (You can be an evangelist – just don’t cross the line).  But these are very minor examples.  I’m sure it can get much worse.  Who will be the first unsuspecting AIR developer to inadvertently trespass a hostile intellectual property minefield?  I’m thinking more about patents that cover some aspect of interface design, or application features.

The reason is brought this subject up, is that I’m currently adding some very advanced features to my vector editing application (e2vector), including a History Palette.  Then alarm bells started ringing in my head.  Did the History Palette once spark a skirmish between Adobe and Macromedia?, in the long-running patent wars before they merged?  Perhaps I was mistaken – I did some Google searches and found Adobe’s patent.  But no mention of a dispute.  “Tabbed Palettes”, on the other hand, were aggressively defended by Adobe.

Actually, tabbed palettes are something I have implemented in the past.  Possibly other developers have too.  I turned up quite a few patents in my search, for some very common ways in which desktop applications do things.  I wonder to what extent my AIR applications have already infringed patents?

My point is this… we’re small-time developers.  We don’t have the inclination, money, or resources to do extensive patent searches.  We certainly can’t afford to employ legal teams to cover our backs.  We don’t have time or resources to waste, getting embroiled in sticky patent issues.  Those of us who are are interested in the future potential of AIR – probably haven’t had any return from their investment yet.  Some of us aren’t even interested in money, but motivated more by higher ideals and our enthusiasm for the technology.  The more we’re focussed on the technical challenges – the less likely we are to think of the possibility of getting sued.

Adobe AIR has opened up some exciting possibilities for the desktop.  But it’s a big, bad, litigious world out there.  Do we need to be more wary about it?

October 9, 2008 at 6:23 am Leave a comment


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