Back in 2006 our part of Sun was going through a bad patch. At the coffee machine we were thinking up ways around the lack of raises. In engineering it seemed like the quickest money came not from working, but from filing patent ideas. All you had to do was come up with a plausible invention, write it up, talk it over with the patent attorneys and try to correct the most unreasonable of their generalizations, then wait a bit. For a total of a few hours work, you could net something like $2K a few months later.
One idea Gilles had was copy-on-read. For Sun’s directory technology writes were expensive, but thanks to replication we had reads to burn. I wrote up the disclosure. The request made its way through the system.
This has morphed into Oracle’s US Patent 7886113 now. My former employer mailed me the plaque. 7886113 is entitled “Method and system for managing access to a data element in a multithreaded environment.”
I never felt particularly good about what we did, rationalizing that we’d get bonuses without hurting anybody. Sun, I reasoned, would never use patents the wrong way. Probably Oracle has to have a sheaf of patents for legal horse trading with SAP, HP, and IBM, and will never use it offensively.
But maybe I shouldn’t have been so greedy. I was cruising up and down main street, needlessly driving a gas guzzler in my own ecosystem. Check out the article Simon Phipps linked to today from his blog, Investors Speaking Up About Patents Harming Innovation.