I wouldn’t want to be accused of being anti-IBM but the news that online fruit store Harry & David (H & D) was suing IBM is very worrying. The case concerns patents that IBM did not own, which Harry & David bough as part of IBM’s WebSphere/NetCommerce retail software. H & D alleges that it had to buy a licence from EPOS maker NCR to cover these patent. It is also saying it paid Charles E Hill Associates for patent infringements relating to the IBM software. Whatever the outcome of the case, this looks like a patent mess. First, IBM should not have sold software containing patents that it had not already licensed or owned. Second,
Why did NCR and Charles E Hill Associates go after the customer? Surely if it was IBM’s software that had infringed their patents then they would have a legitimate claim against IBM. Ah, but IBM would be a hard target given how SCO’s patent case against IBM/Novell and the Linux community has played out. Like SCO, these companies have gone after the soft target: the end user business that bought IBM’s software, I presume, in good faith.
A quick scan on Google reveals that Charles E Hill Associates has previously gone after several online shops including Amazon, Compuserver, Abercombie.
Software companies should be held accountable for the software they sell and have a duty to ensure they have the legal rights to sell the products they develop. It is totally unacceptable that an end user business should be left in this position. Clearly any identity should be honoured.