Some time ago I talked about trusting open source companies, with the bottom line being ‘trust them as far as their licenses and their profit motives let you, and not a bit further.’ IBM has generally been very good about supporting open source, and as steven says, they’ve been very up front about their motivations- they are doing it because they want to make money, and they think open source and open standards help them make money.
This consistency has extended to their opinions on patents- they have made it clear that they think the system is broken, but they have also made it clear that they think patents are a perfectly legitimate business tool, and that they want to fix the system so that they can continue to make money on patents. (Their Counsel for IP law discussed this all in the Harvard panel I moderated last year- realplayer stream here.)
So it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that IBM are using patents to go after Amazon. What surprised me, after skimming the patents, is that the patents they are using to go after Amazon are so broad. With the exception of one (which is so opaque I can’t figure out what exactly it is patenting) a cursory reading suggests that these are exactly the kinds of broad, obvious patents that everyone (even IBM) at least says on the surface that they hate. Maybe by demonstrating that they have what Tim Bray calls ‘the Internet Tollbooth’ they think they can precipitate real patent reform, but that seems unlikely; more likely they just want a cut of Amazon’s pile. Shame, really, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. (It also shouldn’t raise much backlash from any company which doesn’t have a patent policy like RH’s- if your company is not following such a policy, some part of your company is jealous of IBM.)
[Tangentially, yes, the combination of law school and trying to enjoy NY is kicking my ass ATM, hence the light posting.]
[Update: David Maisters, a lawyer, has an interesing musing this morning on the subject of company ethics being less than the sum of the ethics of their employee/parts. It is mostly about lawyers and law firms, but it seems to have some relevance to this discussion. I'm curious to see what, if anything, comes up in his comments.]