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08.29.07

Patent FUD Has People Talking About Reform, But Talk is No Walk

Posted in Hardware, Intellectual Monopoly, Microsoft, Patents at 10:04 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“The System is Broken, But We Love It That Way”

“When will the linked list (or a trivial extension thereof) lawsuits begin?”

Many companies, including Novell and Microsoft, have publicly spoken about problems with the patent system. You would think that change ought to soon follow, but behind that sympathetic public relations mask, all you have is greed. Companies do not truly want change, provided they have got themselves a portfolio to boast and extract money with. Here is a new article from the Wall Street Journal.

Opponents of the legislation argue that it would make it easier for foreign competitors to legally copy patented methods and products. The maneuvering dramatizes how fears about global integration are spreading across many issues

Small companies are aware of the dangers that they face. They have barriers to face — barriers that were built by much larger companies. At the same time, wealthy large companies are being victimised by small patent trolls with very trivial inventions that most probably have prior art.

In the case of Linux and Free software, the former scenario (abuse by giants) is in effect a deterrent, but it is made worse by the fact that obscurity is used to incite panic. Microsoft has been doing this for years.

Patent Trolls Abound

You would be flabbergasted to find some of the stuff that gets patented and actually used to pull money out of companies’ pockets. Nowadays, do not dare to automate mail delivery, or else you might be sued for stepping on someone else’s toes.

Crouch pointed out that the message routing patent at issue has been involved in litigation many times. “There are no published opinions associated with these cases and they have all been settled,” he said.

There are many other examples, but this one was in the news. When will the linked list (or a trivial extension thereof) lawsuits begin? Will every software company on the planet be sued? Will such patents ever be binned? The European Commission is already addressing one case of abuse.

This is the first time that the Commission is dealing with a “patent ambush” under EC antitrust law, but the approach reflects well-established general case-law under Article 82 of the Treaty.

Aruba, which we mentioned the other day, has just been stung as well.

Mobile-phone maker Motorola said on Tuesday that two of its subsidiaries had sued Aruba Networks for patent infringement related to wireless local-area network technologies.

Microsoft in “Patent Harassment” Land

It was hardly surprising to find that Broadcom, renowned for their vicious behaviour and abysmal Linux support, have strong ties with Microsoft. Broadcom’s products are very Linux-hostile and they recently attacked Qualcomm, leading to an embargo. From BusinessWeek:

The chipmaker is snaring Qualcomm customers before the patent infringement ruling is final, as wireless players scramble amid supply worries

[...]

“Several [manufacturers] have been pushing Broadcom and Microsoft to build this development center,” says John Starkweather, general manager of mobile communications at Microsoft. He adds that, later this year, a major manufacturer will release a Windows Mobile device based on a Broadcom baseband chip.

There was some more information of interest in yesterday’s CNN Money article on a Microsoft entrepreneur.

There’s a healthy dose of skepticism in the programming community that Intentional will accomplish its goal. IBM and Cornell set up similar systems that were shunned by programmers. And MIT’s Edwards is dubious of Intentional’s attempt to patent its system in an age when open-source rules. “It feels archaic, frankly, to have all of this secrecy, the patents and NDAs,” he says of Intentional, which has thus far released few technical details. “The only way you have an influence today is by giving it away.”

Therein lies the proof that Free software is the way to go. There is no place for USPTO affinity whilst algorithms (essentially mathematics) can be owned and arbitrary implementations made taxable.

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