Patent Trolls Challenged
Two stories have caught our attention in the past few days. Here is a classic example of trolling, which has fortunately gotten the EFF involved.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is challenging a bogus patent on Internet subdomains that has been used to threaten small businesses and innovators.
Even the European Union has just gotten involved in the fight against patent trolls. It accuses the already-abusive Rambus of “patent ambush”.
European Union regulators have charged Rambus Inc. with antitrust abuse, alleging the memory chip designer demanded “unreasonable” royalties for its patents that were fraudulently set as industry standards.
Microsoft was caught doing similar things a few months ago (overcharging a company for unspecified patents). This did not received much media attention at the time.
Microsoft Confirms Its “Patent Troll” Status
Some months ago, Microsoft got sued over tilted mice, whose design was said to have been subjected to an obvious patent. Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled a new type of mouse, but it also got caught filing yet another obvious patent.
Microsoft just published a patent application for an adaptive heads-up user interface for automobiles. It covers, among other things, virtual fuzzy dice that appear to move with automobile movements.
Prior art makes this seem like a joke at best.
Microsoft insists it has many patents (never mind the quality) and it uses that argument against Linux. It seems afraid of boiling down to specific and given the low quality of patents, this is unsurprising.
Microsoft’s anti-Linux patent strategy goes many years back
[PDF]. The cited PDF shows a ‘smoking gun’ E-mail from Bill Gates, who is now filing patents himself. That is what the Seattle P-I discovered. Ironic his latest patent application is the following:
Playing the “anti-competitive” and “information monopoly” trump cards, the patent applicants argue…
Bill Gates denounces monopoly and anti-competitive practices? Wow.
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Good news, everybody. According to Groklaw, the fight for ‘monopoly enablement’ was lost in India (see previous coverage from India [1,2, 3]). This is confirmed to be the case in Brazil as well.
After a very difficult and inconclusive meeting in ABNT (Brazilian Technical Standards Organization) office last Tuesday, the standards process director had to analyze the audio recording of all the meeting, review some facts, review again all 63+2 comments produced by the technical group about the ECMA specification, and conclude that a NO for OOXML is the correct position for Brazil in ISO Fast Track process.
Microsoft’s relentless fight, however, shows no signs of abatement. The company is not being passive. It does not let the technical committees follow a natural route. It intervenes behind the scenes using money, government relationships, and business partners. Here is a brand-new example of the use of partners in New Zealand.
Thomas says Standards New Zealand has received a number of letters on the issue and “had a lot of contact from some parties” including Microsoft and a consulting firm working for the software giant. Microsoft New Zealand director of innovation Brett Roberts identified that firm as Wellington-based Guinness Gallagher.
Given what we know, OOXML stands a chance of being approved. This would be an insult and a sore to the ISO, whose reputation, purpose, and goals are said to be heading for the gutter. Rob Weir ends his latest blog item with a rant.
The tragedy of this is that for so many NB’s, with talented technical committees, the discussion of OOXML has failed to be a technical evaluation, but has quickly become a political game, where committees are stuffed, governments are pressured, billionaires call in favors, competitors blocked from participation, voting rules ignored or modified at whim, etc. All we can do is stand by and watch as Microsoft takes over JTC1. The cost to Microsoft will be great, but so much greater is the cost to JTC1. What will it mean for JTC1′s future to be known as a body that does not follow its own rules, does not evaluate proposals on technical merits, but has procedures so weak and poorly written that it allows itself to be taken over by a single company? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
It is indeed amazing what a single company can do with its money and power. Influence can be bought when non-compelling standards are too poor to earn approval.
Update: the word from India can finally be confirmed (“War of formats: India shows thumbs-down to Microsoft”).
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“I’d be glad to help tilt lotus into the death spiral. I could do it friday afternoon but not saturday.” [More]
– Silverberg, Microsoft
There are those who have principles and those that are greedy. With leadership in a company comes responsibility, but some people just never learn. They take the money and commit corporate suicide. Linspire may be one such story about corporate suicide. It seems to be the first Linux partner to have gradually fallen down to its knees just months after its deal with Microsoft.
Kevin Carmony left the helm, Microsoft cut the ‘umbilical cord’, Linspire is caught in a licensing riddle, and Eric Raymond has not uttered a single word. In the following new article, “Linspire: Doomed to failure”, some reasons for Linspire’s demise are outlined.
Linspire has an even bigger problem. The free software community has recently decided that Linspire was on their blacklist. Why? Most (if not all) of it is a backlash from the recent Linspire-Microsoft deal. Basically, Linspire agreed to help with Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org compatibility, Pidgin and Windows Live Messenger compatibility, and Windows Media and TrueType font support in Linspire. Microsoft also promised not to sue Linspire users. But what is given in exchange? Freespire isn’t covered, major upgrades are invalidated (so you have to buy again to maintain protection against patents), and if you use free software, business software, software running on servers, or “clone” software, you could still be sued. After three years, this protection runs out. Plus, Microsoft can stop offering protection whenever they want. And to keep it, you can’t share the software, resell it, modify it, or use it for an unauthorized use. As you can guess, this didn’t go over well with the GNU/Linux community. Not only was a Linux company doing a deal with Microsoft, they were admitting that Linux was infringing on Microsoft’s patents.
We also have Novell and Xandros. They might face similar legal issues in the future. More worryingly, the OSI seems to be approaching something which is paralleled to such deals. We said this several times before [1, 2, 3, 4]. Groklaw has chimed in to send its warning signals as well.
If the OSI accepts Windows-only, Sharepoint-only “Open Source”, that’ll be the end of OSI as we know it. “Open Source” would become meaningless when it is innately incompatible and relies on proprietary stacks. There are many more issues to be concerned about and we covered many of them in the past.
In a very active new discussion, OSI’s options are being explained. The OSI can escape all of this, but the only barrier are those that have lunch with Microsoft. It is yet another case of ‘partners’ and influence playing a role.
See? It doesn’t say OSI can’t discriminate. It can if it wants to, as far as the OSD is concerned. So Microsoft’s representatives and defenders need to stop twisting the definition’s words.
Don’t let OSI become irrelevant just like Linspire. It would be sad to see it falling victim to this trap.
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