When Patents Attack, Part Deux

I’m superpumped and have my headphones in, in my cube in the Dell “mau5hau5”. This weekends “This American Life” has returned to the topics of patents, especially software patents. Their June 2011 original episode was a classic expose of the patent system, many of the seemingly ridiculous conundrums that it involves, and why the patent system still embodies the classic American wild west way of making money, it’s a halfway house between a shakedown and a goldrush.

Interestingly patents have been at the front of my mind recently. A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Dell patent awards dinner. Michael Dell was in attendance along with many of the Dell senior technical staff and executives, including my current and prior boss, legal and the Dell Inventor of the Year. All great stuff. I have no patents. This year I’ve declined to be named on two patents. One, which uses NFC, was soley my idea, I pushed to get it considered, I did the initial design, the software and app design. Yet, two or three people who were luke warm to the idea, are being named on the patent. They’ve actually been working on the actual design implementation.

This is good stuff. Morally and intellectually I’ve been against patents, especially software patents since they came into being. Between 1979-1987 I learned my craft, most of my skills from reading IBM source code. During that time, IBM for various reasons, many misguided, some legal, slowly withdrew source code. These days few would ever consider being able to read the entire original source code for their products, while others, in the Linux community but increasing the wbe and database and applications, wouldn’t consider running or using a product that didn’t have source code.

And so it was, throughout my career at IBM I declined numerous(approx. 15) to be named on a patent. It cost me financially through lack of awards, but not in promotion and pay increases. However, mostly through the relationship I had with IBM Senior Vice President, Nick Donofrio, I learned the value to the company of patents and why it was essential. The same has been true here at Dell(approx 6.). So while the system exists, companies at least have to play the game.

When a widely popular, and broadly heard program such as This American Life gets involved, you know the end is coming. Grab your headphones and listen along to “When Patents Attack Part II”.

2 Responses to “When Patents Attack, Part Deux”


  1. 1 Tune June 6, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Sooo…I guess you can’t help me navigate how to apply for a patent, huh? 😉

    • 2 Mark Cathcart June 6, 2013 at 7:14 pm

      I certainly could help you. Provided it for a specific design, that has an implementation, I’d be delighted to help.

      Don’t misunderstand my personal position with the validity of software patents, and other broadly applied, non-specific patents. The hard, expensive part of filings is now much easier if you have time. It’s doing the prior-art searches. All thats online these days, where as in the past you had to pay companies who sent researchers to read…

      There are also some good books on the process as well. I’ve just been re-reading my 1991 copy of Patent Law for the nonlawyer, which lays things out simply.


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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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