Yesterday I wrote about IM Bots. A pretty cool idea. Today I see in this Internet World article that ActiveBuddy has won a patent on the idea. I'm not a rabid anti-patent kind of guy, but this one seems pretty wimpy. There's plenty of prior art (like this Eliza IRC bot from June 1999). But whats more, small companies rarely win by having a patent. That's for IBM and other large companies who can employ hundreds of corporate attorneys. Even there most of them primarily use their patents defensively rather than offensively. The best way for a company like ActiveBuddy to win in the market is to spend their time and money on innovation, not in the courtroom.
I once had business dealings with a company called CoolSavings. They have a patent on online coupons. They spent so much time trying to convince us that we had to do business with them or they were going to come after us in court that we never did get to a business deal. I don't think its a smart way to do business.