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Automated Assessment of Terms of Service in an API Marketplace

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Automated Assessment of Terms of Service in an API Marketplace

Today, the API evangelist questions whether patenting details necessary to the functions of APIs could slow the spread and integration of API use.

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I’m reading a lot of API patents lately trying to understand the variety of approaches these “innovative” patent authors are using to help define the API space. Many of the API patents I have historically objected to tend to patent the technical details that make the web work, or significantly contribute to the integration benefits that an API delivers. Today’s patent does all of this, but is focused on patenting the legal details that are needed to make this whole API thing work at scale.

"Title: Automated assessment of terms of service in an API marketplace. Number: 08954988. Owner: International Business Machines Corporation. Abstract: An embodiment of the invention comprising a method is associated with an API marketplace, wherein one or more API providers can each supply an API of a specified type, and each provider has a set of ToS for its API of the specified type. The method includes, responsive to an API consumer having a need for an API of the specified type, obtaining the ToS of each of the API providers. The method further includes implementing an automated process to determine differences between the ToS of a given API provider, and a ToS required by the API consumer. The ToS differences determined for respective API providers are used to decide whether to select a particular one of the API providers to supply an API of the specified type to the API consumer."

Don’t get me wrong. I think this is an innovative idea. I just don’t think it is something that should be patented. It should be an open standard, with a wealth of open (and proprietary) tooling developed to enable it to be a reality. If you are patenting the thing we need to make the legal partnership details in API marketplace, and ideally on the open web across API implementations more streamlined, you are just slowing meaningful API adoption and integration–it isn’t something you are going to get rich doing.

Imagine if every technical, business, and legal detail of the web was patented early on–it wouldn’t exist as it does today. We do need an automated way to assess the terms of service that govern API consumption. We need this now, but we need it to be an open standard that anyone can implement as part of any API marketplace or single API implementation. This is similar to what we are trying to accomplish with API Commons, trying to make the licensing portion of platform operations machine readable and digestible at integration, as well as at runtime.

I just wish the innovation and resources that went into this patent had gone into an open standard for helping define terms of services so that there could be any innovation when it comes to automating the assessment of API terms of service. It feels like this patent author is just counting on the fact that the API space will eventually mature and reach a point where automating the assessment of terms of service is possible, and then cash in on the fact that they hold a patent on this valuable aspect of the API economy.

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