I want to revisit patents briefly. My inbox is turning into a who\u2019s who of industry groups calling for software patent reform. Congress is holding hearings. (In fact, if you read this post within a few hours of its going up you can watch the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property\u2019s live webcast. It\u2019s like C-SPAN, only on your computer!) There\u2019s even some draft legislation on the issue, whose purpose, Computerworld said, is to "save Microsoft a half-billion dollars." To be fair, the article also said:\n\nUnder the draft legislation (which, remember, is a long way from being law), it will be harder to prove that a software invention deserves a patent and easier to challenge the patent once it\u2019s issued. Damages will be limited. It will be harder to get an injunction that stops an accused infringer from selling its products. And all patent applications will be published once they\u2019ve been in the pipeline for 18 months.\n\nThose all sound like good things. I just can\u2019t help but feel that any bill being pushed so hard by large technology companies can\u2019t be good for CIOs\u2014at the very least there has to be a catch somewhere.\n\n\n\nThe first time I blogged about patents I said the following:\n\nWhile patents, and specifically patent disputes, have had a large impact on the software market, they have not had much of an impact on CIOs yet. This will change over the next few years as software companies look to retain current revenue streams and create new ones. Software patents give software companies leverage over their customers, and while this leverage has not been applied to date, it may in the future. \n\nOf course, I promptly said that I hadn\u2019t seen enough evidence to really believe this. I still haven\u2019t. But I can at least think of some scenarios where this might happen. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, IBM is allowing free use of some of its patents that cover communications between computers. I haven\u2019t reviewed the individual patents that they will make available, but let\u2019s just arbitrarily assign a name to them, say, \u201cWeb services.\u201d\n\n\n\nNow, while IBM is allowing developers to use \u201cWeb services\u201d for free, they still hold the rights to the technology. What is preventing IBM from deciding that \u201cWeb services\u201d aren\u2019t free anymore, or insisting that everyone who uses \u201cWeb services\u201d has to use it with a particular product? What if another company that holds similar patents, let\u2019s call it \u201cMicrosoft\u201d, decides that you can use its patented technology for free provided you aren\u2019t running it on Linux? I\u2019m not saying that these things are going to happen, but the theoretical possibility exists. \n\n\n\nSo I\u2019m curious, is there a buyer beware lesson here? How should CIOs and developers approach patented-but-free technology? Does anyone have any experience with this, on any side of the issue? Finally, I\u2019ve made a few assumptions in this post. If some of them are off, please correct them in the comments.