Protocol Monopolies are Dangerous

The recent blackout of BlackBerry service has taught us a few lessons. Paul McNamara points out the importance of transparency. Merlin Mann warns us about techonogy addiction. But there is another lesson that I'd like us to learn from this experience: protocol monopolies are dangerous.

Almost 3 years ago, NTP sued RIM over their infringement of its push-email patent. The case dragged on, and threatened to terminate the service that many consumers had come to rely upon. RIM eventually settled with NTP for $612 million, ensuring that the service would continue.

Until this recent interruption, that is.

If not for the government sponsered monopoly that we call US patent law, competing services would have been available. RIM's customers would still have suffered, but their competitors would still have been operational. BlackBerry users would have been able to hold their service provider accountable, since they could switch to a competing platform. NTP once held its monopoly power over RIM's head, and now RIM holds it over us.

The Internet, with all of its flaws, is built on open standards. The protocols are well documented and not encumbered by patents. Any service provider is able to implement these protocols, and thereby (theoretically) interoperate with other service providers. For the most part, this works. And when it doesn't, we have the opportunity to hold our service providers accountable until they make it work. The Internet has no single point of failure (except perhaps DNS, but that's a discussion for another day).

When a service provider is given a legal monopoly over a protocol, the entire Internet suffers. Inventions and business processes can be patented, but protocols should be excluded. Until the law is changed, I encourage you to trade in your BlackBerry for a Windows Mobile, or some other device that can check email via the open protocols.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.