For years we've been writing about various abuses of the patent system, and how they damage innovation. There are times when we hear about abuses of the patent system that actually put lives in danger -- often around the pharmaceutical industry. At least in that case, you can sometimes understand the basic reasoning (even if it's actually incorrect). However, we recently came across an example of the patent system being abused in such an egregious manner that it's putting many lives at stake...
Bob Austin, who for many years has worked in major metropolitan fire and EMS departments, had the idea of creating an open source medical dispatch system. Such a system would have numerous benefits. Beyond being a free system, it also would allow best practices to easily bubble up in a way that actively would help save lives. If another EMS department could improve on the system, they easily could do so and contribute it back to the community.
One of the parts of the system was a project called Cards 911, which was a useful document for use by emergency dispatchers. Basically, it gave them a simple script to follow when an emergency call came in, asking where they were, the nature of the emergency, how many people injured, etc. The answers to certain questions would lead the dispatcher to different parts of the document using hyperlinks. The entire document (and, yes, it was just a document) was created in OpenOffice Writer and was offered either as a document file or a PDF file. In other words, this was basically a script with hyperlinks in it, that helped an emergency dispatcher get the necessary information, and help the caller as quickly as possible -- and it was free and open.
Who could possibly complain about that?
Apparently the lawyers for a company called Priority Dispatch Corporation, who sent a legal nastygram listing out ten patents that the company held, which the lawyers implied the Cards 911 project violated. Remember, this is a script written as a document. The lawyers were careful never to actually say which of the ten patents the cards violated, but simply listed them all out and said "Our investigation has revealed that the... Guide Cards may infringe on one or more of Priority Dispatch's patents and/or copyrights." Not only that, but the lawyers then demanded that all physical and electronic copies of the documents be destroyed.