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05.08.08

Intellectual Exclusion Makes Intellectual Abuse

Posted in Courtroom, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Intellectual Monopoly, Microsoft, Patents at 10:12 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Intellectually appalling

Here is just a quick roundup of news which revolves around our ‘favourite’ patents trolls, our ‘favourite’ anti-Free software laws, and Microsoft’s latest intellectual monopoly offenses.

Software Patents

Only a week or so ago we wrote Nathan Myhrvold, a patent troll who comes from Microsoft [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. He is probably worse than Acacia [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10], which also comprises former Microsoft employees. An article from the New Yorker show just how busy he is exploiting the already-broken system.

Nathan Myhrvold met Jack Horner on the set of the “Jurassic Park” sequel in 1996.

[...]

But then, in August of 2003, I.V. held its first invention session, and it was a revelation. “Afterward, Nathan kept saying, ‘There are so many inventions,’ ” Wood recalled. “He thought if we came up with a half-dozen good ideas it would be great, and we came up with somewhere between fifty and a hundred. I said to him, ‘But you had eight people in that room who are seasoned inventors. Weren’t you expecting a multiplier effect?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but it was more than multiplicity.’ Not even Nathan had any idea of what it was going to be like.”

The original expectation was that I.V. would file a hundred patents a year. Currently, it’s filing five hundred a year. It has a backlog of three thousand ideas.

This figure is, needless to say, rather ridiculous because it says something about the poor quality of these patents. It’s all about inspiring awe and fear for settlements (royalties). Look back at this talk about computer program ideas and this one about patent trolls.

Another short piece proposes the idea of making software patents usable only for defense purposes, knowing that promises which companies make about it are only valid as long as they do well. As soon as they struggle, it becomes their obligation to shareholders to use whatever weapon can be used to attack, even if it means going litigious like SCO (with or without the bogus claims). Public image becomes a secondary consideration, a negligible factor.

A friend of mine – who recently was “paid to file a patent” said he considered requesting that – if granted – the patent only be used defensively. I asked him why. He responded that he felt conflicted and thinks a lot of his peers feel the same way. He didn’t think the patent was particularly valuable, useful, or valid.

That last statement relates this fairly recent post which is titled “My Dumb Software Patents”. It said: “Many think that Software Patents are stupid. I conceptually agree with this statement. Having spent what seems like millions of hours constructing these, baby sitting them, defending them; it is really all wasted time and effort, at least in a conceptual sense.” In conclusion, even actual owners of software patents have no faith in the system.

The Economist meanwhile speaks of the possibility of software patents getting rubbished. It refers to Bilski again [1, 2, 3, 4].

…the court took the unusual step of calling for the parties, and anyone else with an interest in the case, to address not only whether the patent should be granted, but also whether the court should overturn the 1998 case in which it first held that business-methods patents could be awarded.

The Huffington Post also has this piece which criticises scope of patent laws. [via Digital Majority]

Should we allow patents on tax-avoidance strategies? Legal arguments? Mathematical algorithms? Toilet reservation systems? Negotiation tactics? Business models?

Microsoft and Trademarks

Trademarks are separate from patents, but to illustrate Microsoft’s disregard for what it calls “intellectual property” — an imaginary umbrella really — consider this news story about Microsoft policing use of language.

Unicaresoft loses MSNLock case against Microsoft

[...]

The Dutch version of Oxford English Dictionary, Van Dale, also mentions MSN as a generic term meaning to contact someone via an instant messenger.

This won’t do any good. It won’t recover Microsoft’s stagnant popularity in a country that's already moving to Free software and ODF while complaining about Microsoft’s “arrogance”. Recall how Microsoft ‘stole’ the “Open Office” term, among others [1, 2]. The IPocrisy (a term coined by Pieter, apparently) hasn’t bounds.

Merely by chance, Microsoft eats its own poison as it has just been sued over trademark as well.

Microsoft’s TerraServer-USA satellite imagery project has been slapped with a trademark lawsuit from a small North Carolina company with a confusingly similar name.

There are other recent examples where Microsoft does not honour other people’s copyrights and trademarks. Those examples include:

More on Copyrights and Intellectual Monopoly

Over at MilkingTheGNU, a nice article has just appeared which deals with the notion of ownership and how it relates to the GPL.

Open source and implicitly the GPL (well explicitly but not everybody realizes it) question the very nature of property and ownership. If you’re skeptical, think about this: why are open source proponents almost always anti-DRM, always among the first ones to advocate for a free distribution of music, games and movies?

Note that the point here is to offer a new set of glasses to look at the world, not to make a political statement. Besides, asking people about the nature of property usually transcends traditional barriers. In the US for instance, it’s almost impossible to infer people’s opinion just by knowing whether they are Republicans, Democrats or Libertarians. How property must be controlled or by whom, is subjected to political debates but the very nature of property seems to trigger such a very personal, emotional response that opinions largely eludes partisan cleavages.

There is a rather amusing discussion also at The Register where copyrights around sporting events are put at stake.

Iain Connor, an intellectual property partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, said: “A football match is not a performance for the purposes of copyright because you can’t reproduce it. It isn’t choreographed.”

A good and recent article on “Intellectual Insanity” you’ll also find here. It puts the whole problem in better perspective. At the end of the day, it’s all about perception, which comes from education. This is something that Microsoft too has recognised and I attempted to frame this as a risk factor to Microsoft with the following message from yesterday (mind Reason #3):


    Subject: What Makes GNU/Linux Microsoft’s #1 Rival
    Newsgroups: comp.os.linux.advocacy
    Date: Thu, 08 May 2008 17:32:31 +0100

What Makes GNU/Linux Microsoft’s #1 Rival

Reason #1: it forces Microsoft to lower its prices, regardless of market share. Microsoft adjusts its prices in order to remain relevant. Free software keeps it on its toes in that respect. Apple, on the other hand, makes sales for Microsoft (Office), keeps its prices up (fixing), and has Microsoft as a partner and shareholder.

Reason #2: Linux dominates the embedded space, which is very large (probably orders of magnitude larger than the desktop, in terms of CPUs). It also controls supercomputers that are increasingly becoming part of the more universal network, including search engines (Hadoop comes to mind, bigtable).

Reason #3: it shatters misconceptions about Microsoft’s foundations, which are intellectual monopolies and other nasties like DRM. That’s why Microsoft talks about ‘education’ (pollution of minds) as an anti-Linux tactic in its latest SEC filing.

Looking at (1-3) again:

     * Linux lowers cost.

     * Linux enables real innovation, performance, efficiency (environment)

     * Linux enables people to be free and it democratises

February 2008:

http://www.news.com/Feeling-the-heat-at-Microsoft/2008-1012_3-6232458.html?tag=ne.fd.mnbc

“[If I ask you who is Microsoft's biggest competitor now, who would it be?]

[Steve] Ballmer: Open…Linux. I don’t want to say open source. Linux, certainly have to go with that…”


The responses so far have been interesting.

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