As I push out stories on the next round of the Oracle v Google API copyright case, considering how I will write about API deprecations and acquisitions I’m privy to, and document the continued march by the enterprise into the world of APIs — I begin to see how APIs will continue to wither on the vine, and never reach their full potential in an increasingly toxic environment.
The Oracle v Google is just the first of many battles to occur between tech giants when it comes to APIs and the application of intellectual property laws. With the number of patents out there that focus on APIs as the thing that is protected by IP, not just the thing behind the API being protected, the copyright of the common API patterns we enjoy will just be the tip of the iceberg. This is how the giants will battle it out, leaving the rest of us fighting for scraps in the cracks.
Legal tussle like what we see between Oracle and Google will become commonplace in the future as the enterprise fights for what they think is their “property” when it comes to integrations, collaboration, sharing, and automation. These battles will take place after this current wave of “interest in APIs” by the enterprise, where these large entities have sent their scouts out to map this uncharted (and mildly threatening) wilderness, understand what everyone is doing, and file patents based on what they see. Simplifying enterprise operations, actually innovating, or truly achieving integration is farthest from their mind. While we are all busy doing the work, these IP cartographers are mapping out the exhaust from our labor.
Alongside all of this, another shift in the winds is occurring, that will reduce some very useful, innovative, and valuable API patterns to just portfolio items of the enterprise. As VC funding cycles shift, the startups who are doing the most interesting things with APIs will have their work gobbled up by the enterprise, either through direct acquisitions, or fire sales — in any case APIs are IP, nothing more. These winds are strong, and will not just blow away the valuable APIs, but also much of the shade trees that is needed for other APIs to flourish on the vine.
All of this change will sweep up this API experiment as we know it, into the IP portfolios of the enterprise giants, so they can use as leverage in court battles, and venture negotiations of the future. The enablement that APIs bring to the table is just too small of a thing currently for the enterprise to even see.
Startups are often too greedy, or beholden to their investors to understand the opportunity they are passing on when they see APIs as intellectual property. API enablement is not IP, the thing they enable is IP, and by freezing up the enabling factor, you will miss out on your IP ever reaching full potential, and will be left with a vineyard of perpetually green grapes.
I know, I know. All my enterprise and startup friends will tell me how naive I am, and this is how business is done. Again, I will say, you are so blinded by your greed, and your belief in this broken IP systems, you are willing to kill off this very interesting experiment — where we all had a seat at the table. At this point, I am left without any hope, and the concept of APIs as we know it will wither on the vine, never reaching their full potential — this API economy thing we all saw in our minds eye, will not happen.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna still keep on fighting, and pushing for APIs usage in healthcare, education, government, and other important areas. I will keep building services and tools that embrace APIs as their core, but you will rarely hear me speak of the bright, API enabled future anymore. The experiment is over, the believers in a broken IP system are winning — they just have too much money, and resources to play the long game, and the wider API space, and the rest of us will lose out.