The first stage of developing IP (intellectual property, not to be confused with that other IP thingy) consists of various “defensive” tactics, notable the tedious and confusing act of tracking existing patents. Obviously, if someone else has already patented something very similar to your invention, there is no point to continue on working on it. Not only that, but patent lawsuits are lengthy, expensive affairs. Ignorance isn’t an excuse that holds up well in court, either.
This means inventors have to sift through the records of the patent office. You can do it at, say, the US Patent Office for free, but it’s a pain. Most major corporations use a company called Delphion to handle all “prior art” searches. Two online IP databases have also appeared.
On a semi-related note, let’s consider the infamous SCO infringement lawsuit against the Linux community – and by extension, Linux’s corporate backers, such as the very large IBM, who, having more patents than most countries, is no stranger to intellectual capital management. At the moment, SCO has not produced any compelling evidence to back their claims that Linux contains proprietary code from SCO Unix. They have as much credibility as those guys from Yemen who claim they own Mars. So they are either very sure of themselves, or very dumb.
“At one point, McBride, explaining what he thinks is the Linux community’s efforts to damage SCO through Web site attacks, asked a student whether he was affected by the MyDoom.A e-mail virus, which targeted Outlook and Outlook Express users and installed malicious code used to launch a massive distributed denial of service attack [on SCO’s website].
“The student replied with a hint of humor in his tone: ‘No, I have Linux.'”