Slashdot is running a story stating that Morfik, an Ajax development platform we covered recently on Read/WriteWeb, has filed a patent dated September 2005 for the compiling of high-level languages into AJAX apps. The timing of the news is interesting, because Morfik is just about to release its version 1.0 – after 8 or more years of development.

To remind you of what Morfik is. Morfik allows developers to use high-level programming languages (which give the developer more power – e.g. BASIC, C#, Pascal) to create web apps. It does this by converting apps from high level language INTO Ajax code. The Slashdot story states that Morfik has actually patented this technology, as of September 2005. According to Slashdot the patent covers virtually any high-level language, including “Ada, C, C++, C#, COBOL, ColdFusion, Common Lisp, Delphi, Fortran, Java, Object Pascal, SmallTalk, Visual Basic, and Visual Basic.NET”.

It seems that Google and its Google Web Toolkit is the primary target of the patent, because Google (more than any other big Internet company) relies heavily on Ajax apps.

This rumor of a Morfik vs Google battle has surfaced before. In fact I covered it back in May 30th, 2006 on my ZDNet blog (which is now run by Alan Graham, hence his pic is on the story). The story from May ’06 started:

“A couple of weeks ago Google released its Google Web Toolkit (GWT) and almost immediately there were rumors of an alliance between Google and Morfik, the Web OS vendor which has a Javascript converter as one of its main products. The reason? GWT bore more than a casual resemblance to Morfik.”

My post in May ’06 went on to note that Morfik had a patent pending on their Ajax compiler and that Morfik had issued a press release in defence of it.

While the rumors of a Morfik-Google alliance were eventually scuttled and the press release came to little, it’s clear that Morfik and Google is in some kind of protracted battle – or negotiation – about the Ajax compiler technology. There has also been talk that Morfik is under NDA with Google – about what, I don’t know.

It may be that Morfik ends up being acquired by Google, or at least licenses the Morfik technology to Google. Or perhaps Google will battle Morfik in the courts instead. It is an interesting story to follow, no matter what the eventual outcome…


A Morfik prototype of a desktop version of Gmail, which has the ability to check email offline.

UPDATE: I emailed Fuad Ta’eed from Morfik to see if he would like to respond to the following comment I saw on Slashdot: “your patent is invalid. (Thank God, too. This patent appears to be overreaching and far too broad. It could prevent an entire industry from developing.)” Fuad has just gotten back to me and here is his response…

“In response to your question.

The application for this patent is very specific and is neither overreaching
nor too broad.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world to have a system
where patents are granted on a ‚Äúfirst to invent‚Ä? system rather than a ‚Äòfirst
to file’ see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_to_file_and_first_to_invent
on the basis that no prior art exists. This significantly more complex process
requires people to read patent applications with due care and attention, and not
just glance at the first few opening paragraphs. In this case, author’s
statements [i.e. the slashdot commenter] suggest that he has not done
that yet, nor fully understood the difference between, ‘first to invent’,
‚Äòfirst to file‚Äô, ‘priority date’ and ‚Äòprior art‚Äô. It may be worthwhile
remembering that patents are written for the purpose of unambiguously defining
what the patent excludes, just as much as what they include.

Further, there is a general misunderstanding on how patents work and who it
aims to protect. Startups are generally very small and easily trodden upon by
giants who may not ‘want to do evil’ but nevertheless can kill them just by
simply rolling over to sleep on their other side. Startups need some kind of
flashing light so they have an opportunity to live and continue to contribute.
Morfik is a startup and the patent is there to permit it to live and grow,
presumably exactly what the author wants.

Morfik is making every effort to be the ‘Robin Hood of Ajax’. For
example, the pricing of Morfik is fully free for non-commercial use and
chargeable only for commercial use. Does this sound like an entity which using
its patent to try to prevent an industry growing? (Do search engine providers
offer free advertisement for non-commercial entities and charge for commercial
entities?) If there are any suggestions on how we can strengthen the marriage
between open source and commercial entities we want to hear it. Please let us
know.”

That was Fuad’s response to the Slashdot question. I’d be interested in what R/WW readers think about this issue of patents – particularly the comment from Fuad that “Morfik is a startup and the patent is there to permit it to live and grow.”

richard macmanus

subscriber