Late in 1999, [Patent Enforcement and Royalties Ltd.] agreed with UFIL Unified Data Technologies Ltd. [who doesn't seem to have a web site] to assist in the enforcement of a patent that covers a number of elements critical to the next generation of web browsers and other Internet-related programs. ... It is believed that the patent is being infringed by the many companies [and open/free software authors] building products based on an emerging metadata standard known as the Resource Description Framework (RDF).
That's RDF as in Tim Berners-Lee's new brainchild, the "Semantic Web" (Semantic Web at the W3C; Semantic Web in Scientific American; SemanticWeb.org), and as in RSS 0.90 and RSS 1.0, and any software that publishes or consumes it. Like Syndic8. Like Radio UserLand. Like . Since they don't use RDF, RSS 0.91 and 0.92 don't count--we think. Who knows what case they'll put forward in court? If all RSS is declared legally RDF, that's Stapler and LiveJournal on the pile. Some say with enough imagination, their patents might cover XML itself, which throws the doors wide open.
The words despicable and unconscionable come to mind. That a company that doesn't even have a web site could, through conspiracy with the US Patent and Trademark Office, impede the progress of Internet technologies like web syndication and the Semantic Web is both. That a company could build a business "enforcing" software patents (though, yes, they enforce non-software patents too) is both.
But while people are getting the letters, people are getting the word out as well as organizing to fight it, and PEARL have put themselves in a bad way by attacking the web syndication community, who are nothing if not talkative. We can only hope their RDF case goes the way of their "we invented the LAN" case: back to the USPTO to unscrew-up. Of course, there are groups for this kind of thing that could really use support from anyone in a position to give.