Spats over patents, of the software variety, are nothing new and, unfortunately, aren't going anywhere any time soon. Microsoft is going after Google in Germany and has sued the company over some patent that it's claiming has something to do with Google Maps.Given the fact that Google pretty much invented modern online mapping, through an acquisition, and that Microsoft only came up with Bing Maps later, you'd be forgiven in believing that this is just another nonsense patent lawsuit that has nothing to do with innovation or inventions and everything to do with money.
You'd be right too, the patent Microsoft is relying on dates from 1995, Google didn't even exist at the time, but it's so broad it's ridiculous.
"A map of the area of a client computer is requested from a map server. Information relating to a place of interest is requested from an information server by the client computer," the patent's description reads.
"The information is superimposed or overlaid on a map image at a position on the map image corresponding to the location of the place of interest on the map. The information (or 'overlay') server may contain details of, for example, hotels, restaurants, shops or the like, associated with the geographical coordinates of each location," it adds.
Not only does this apply to pretty much any service that uses a map in any capacity on the web, the idea is so obvious that anyone could have and has come up with it over and over again.
Were it not for the online context, the basic idea can be boiled down to information on top of a representation of an area, aka a map. That's what maps do, they contain information about the places they represent. Putting them online is not innovation.
But ridiculous patents are nothing new. And, for all of Microsoft's flaws, this lawsuit came as a retaliation by a lawsuit from Motorola, now owned by Google, over various mobile patents.
But Motorola only sued Microsoft because Microsoft sued everyone using Android and asked for money for something Microsoft had absolutely nothing to do with, aka Android.
Until serious patent laws reforms are implemented in the US, in the EU and elsewhere, lawsuits like this will become even more frequent and even more ridiculous. But who knows how long it's going to take to get there.
A German court is deliberating on whether to block Google Maps and associated products in the country. Blogger Florian Mueller would have you believe that Google is in imminent danger and that a German court would actually issue an injunction on something so widely used. He is a Microsoft consultant though, so maybe that has something to do with his analysis.