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05.09.08

Software Patents, Microsoft Trolls and Intellectual Monopoly Miscellany

Posted in Asia, DRM, Microsoft, Patents at 11:49 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Can’t compete? Buy new laws to ban the competition.

The intellectual insanity resumes. Let’s take a quick look at some highlights from the news.

Software Patents from the Back Door

The last time we complained about force-feeding of software patents we concentrated on an example from the Philippines. We cited other recent examples from Russia and China.

Watch what’s happening in India at the moment [via Groklaw] and recall this old talk about why Europe, for example, must never repeat America’s mistakes, for competitive and purely logical reasons.

Life is never easy for an open source evangelist. The OOXML drama came to a close on 2nd April 2008 and we were on to our next issue — software patents. The Draft Patent Manual might end up bringing software patents through the back door. this would be surprising because the Indian parliament explicitly rejected software patents in the Patent Amendment Act 2005. In this blog, I am including extracts from a letter that I sent to the Patent Office on 11th April 2008. The deadline for comments was 15th April 2008.

Microsoft’s principal patent troll was last mentioned yesterday, but here he is again showing that ideas are dime a dozen. [via Glyn Moody]

Gladwell uses this to talk up what Myhrvold is doing, suggesting that Intellectual Ventures is really about continuing that process, getting those ideas out there — but he misses the much bigger point: if these ideas are the natural progression, almost guaranteed to be discovered by someone sooner or later, why do we give a monopoly on these ideas to a single discoverer? Myhrvold’s whole business model is about monopolizing all of these ideas and charging others (who may have discovered them totally independently) to actually do something with them. Yet, if Gladwell’s premise is correct (and there’s plenty of evidence included in the article), then Myhrvold’s efforts shouldn’t be seen as a big deal. After all, if it wasn’t Myhrvold and his friends doing it, others would very likely come up with the same thing sooner or later.

This is especially highlighted in one anecdote in the article, of Myhrvold holding a dinner with a bunch of smart people… and an attorney. The group spent dinner talking about a bunch of different random ideas, with no real goal or purpose — just “chewing the rag” as one participant put it. But the next day the attorney approached them with a typewritten description of 36 different inventions that were potentially patentable out of the dinner. When a random “chewing the rag” conversation turns up 36 monopolies, something is wrong. Those aren’t inventions that deserve a monopoly.

You could kindly ask Microsoft what merits ‘innovation’ and then ask how it reached desktop dominance in absence of software patents. Was it not innovating? As a smaller company back in the days, was it not ‘protected’?

The Fox Watches the Patent Hen House

USPTOSeveral days ago we mentioned claims that appointment of patent appeal judges was probably unconstitutional. Here comes another report that suggests no less than 46 such appointments might come under fire. How about this report from the other day about the “Chief RIAA Litigator Named Colorado Judge”? The Pirate Party’s Andrew Norton said: “Being the lead counsel in a multi-year campaign of extortion, pretexting, and sham litigation should not be rewarded with a seat in any court, except perhaps as a defendant.” We’ll return to this later in this post, but in the mean time consider what happens in the patent system:

A US law professor has uncovered a constitutional flaw in appointing judges who decide patent appeals and disputes, which could undo thousands of patent decisions concerning claims worth billions of dollars.

The basic point John F. Duffy, who teaches at the George Washington University Law School, has raised does not appear to be in dispute. Since 2000, patent judges have been appointed by a government official without the constitutional power to do so.

“I actually ran it by a number of colleagues who teach administrative law and constitutional law,” Duffy said, recalling his own surprise at finding such a fundamental and important flaw. He thought he must be missing something. “No one thought it was a close question.”

Speaking of Microsoft again, the court is now split on the Alcatel-Lucent/Microsoft decision, despite the fact that Microsoft lost the case the first time around [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

A federal appeals court reinstated one of two patent cases tossed out last year in the ongoing patent dispute on user-interface technology that pits Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) against Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Dell Inc. (DELL).

The appeals court said the San Diego district court erred in its determination of a “terminal device” and remanded the case, which was dismissed, back to the court for further proceedings. The technology covered by the patent in that matter is a communications protocol that aids information exchange between a host processor computer and a terminal device, like a portable computer or smart phone.

The seemingly-endless Alcatel saga was also covered (or at least alluded to) previously in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]. Always mind the choice of judges and jury, bearing the OOXML scandal in mind, as well as the following quote from Microsoft:

“I have mentioned before the “stacked panel.” Panel discussions naturally favor alliances of relatively weak partners — our usual opposition. For example, an “unbiased” panel on OLE vs. OpenDoc would contain representatives of the backers of OLE (Microsoft) and the Backers of OpenDoc (Apple, IBM, Novell, WordPerfect, OMG, etc.). Thus, we find ourselves outnumbered in almost every “naturally occurring” panel debate.

“A stacked panel, on the other hand, is like a stacked deck: it is packed with people who, on the face of things, should be neutral, but who are in fact strong supporters of our technology. The key to stacking a panel is being able to choose the moderator. Most conference organizers allow the moderator to select die panel, so if you can pick the moderator, you win. “

Microsoft, internal document [PDF]

The Latest on Bilski

We wrote about Bilski yesterday and many times before that too [1, 2, 3, 4]. Here is an update from CNN.

A U.S. federal appeals court Thursday considered making it harder for companies to obtain business-method patents that, among other things, protect novel tax strategies, financial-services processes and one-stop online shopping.

In a rare 12-judge session, the Federal U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was using the Bilski case, which involves a process for reducing weather-based risk in commodities trading, to consider stemming a tide of business-process patents that has followed the panel’s 1998 ruling in State Street Bank & Trust. The State Street case involved a process for handling mutual-fund assets and said processes could be awarded if they achieve a “useful, concrete and tangible” result.

Groklaw has some comprehensive coverage, courtesy of people who were there, physically.

Even Microsoft filed a brief [PDF], along with Dell and Symantec, and they too are worried at the thought of such a patent as Bilski is trying to get…

[...]

By affirmed, he means that the USPTO refused to grant a business method patent (the Board of Patents and Interferences’ decision {PDF]), and he believes the appeals court will affirm that refusal. But Red Hat raised the issue of software patents hindering innovation, particularly for Free and Open Source software creators. Here’s another account of how the arguments went, by Gene Quinn on the Practising Law Institute’s website.

This case could have a serious impact on software patents, especially their scope or validity in the United States.

“All Your Copyrights Are Our Own Rights”

There are some news items about copyrights that are outrageous enough to be worth bringing up. Watch how Blizzard tries to redefine copyrights. Shades of Microsoft and SCO.

Cheating is bad, but does cheating infringe on a video game publisher’s copyright? World of Warcraft-maker Blizzard, a subsidiary of Vivendi, is trying to argue in court that it does. If this argument succeeds, it could change the way all software copyrights operate in the eyes of the law.

More outrageous, however, is what Hollywood’s greedy moguls try to do to the Internet at the moment — essentially treating all traffic as though it’s theirs. There’s an attempt to shut down not only sharing as a whole (blindly killing the medium), but also things like the Internet Archive, which is all about information and rarely about entertainment.

After one big blow that was served to a BitTorrent finder (there will be an appeal) comes yet another one:

Hollywood wants SEK93 million (US$15.4 million) in damages for copyright infringement from the people behind The Pirate Bay, according to a claim filed by industry organization the Motion Picture Association this week.

To clarify, I have no interest in copyrighted content, but apart from the gross use of propaganda terms (the conceited Dan Glickman calls them “pirate sites” and he sometimes talks about “criminals”), the main concern here is the targeting of the medium.

“They just kill the whole media, suffocating creativity (and code) in the process.”What about independent film producers and GNU/Linux distributions, among other things? They rely on torrents. They haven’t the money or resources for dedicated servers or Akamai. These can be shared legally and legally steal the thunder from proprietary software vendors and Big Media. What better excuse for Big Media to end it all? They can just poison the well (they did, as a matter of fact, resort to baiting before) and then call it a day.

It’s worth emphasising this again because it parallels the fight against Free software: Filtering the media isn’t what the media moguls want. They just kill the whole media, suffocating creativity (and code) in the process. They wish to ‘own’ communication as a whole (or have a monopoly on production of software). It’s about limiting choice. Mind Microsoft’s active role in the fight against YouTube [1, 2].

Here is an update on the fight against the Internet Archive. Is there any free source of data that won’t be attacked nowadays?

The FBI has withdrawn an unconstitutional national security letter (NSL) issued to the Internet Archive after a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). As the result of a settlement agreement, the FBI withdrew the NSL and agreed to the unsealing of the case, finally allowing the Archive’s founder to speak out for the first time about his battle against the record demand.

Starting with more recent examples, here are some other related stories to consider:

If we don’t fight for our rights, we soon lose them.

Proprietary ‘Standards’, Private ‘Standards’ and Microsoft’s Secret ‘Standards’

Posted in Antitrust, Asia, Deception, ECMA, Formats, Hardware, ISO, Microsoft, OLPC, Standard at 10:38 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Abuse is just a standard procedure

There are various picks from the news that are worth commenting on very quickly. Here goes.

Like Father, Like Son

We demonstrated before, using collusion stories for example, just how close Intel and Microsoft really are. There is almost no longer point in denying it, especially when Intel’s CEO suggests so explicitly.

You may wish to know just what approach Intel adopts for ‘standards’.

Intel plays games with USB3.0

[...]

This behaviour is not what defines ‘standard’, it is what defines ‘proprietary’. Basically if you are competing with Intel, or are perceived to be competing with it, you have to wait and suck down a six-month disadvantage. The last time this happened was USB1.0. Intel played the same games and the standard was so broken it never worked.

If it sounds familiar, it probably ought to.

“There is nothing ethical about what came to be the ‘Wintel standard’.”Another thing never to be forgotten is the OLPC story, which sometimes evokes repulsion. It all began with the Fedora/AMD OLPC, which had Intel respond by offering considerable discounts to Asustek and also started this wave of products where the price was no longer fixed. Intel was dumping free hardware (selling at a loss) in countries like Nigeria just to make OLPC suffocate. Unfortunately, that’s not what Intel permits the mainstream press to tell you, despite strong evidence and actual eyewitness accounts.

OLPC was too disruptive to Microsoft and Intel just could not afford to stay out because it wishes to continue its all-or-nothing kickbacks/dumping crusade to eliminate competition in x86, notably AMD. Microsoft just needs to get as many children as it can "sort of addicted" to Windows (Gates’ terminology). It’s a sick world, but let’s not drift off topic, at least for the time being. There is nothing ethical about what came to be the ‘Wintel standard’.

Microsoft Pulled a China, or China Pulls a Microsoft

Watch what is happening in China

US warns China about standards war

THE FORMER English colony of Virginia has warned the glorious People’s Republic of China that it needs to follow technology standards and not impose them on the rest of the world.

That’s its job.

US Under-Secretary of Commerce Christopher Padilla warned that if China went around creating its own technology standards then it risked “technological isolation”.

Once again, if it sounds familiar, it probably ought to. Noteworthy is also Microsoft's special relationship with China. Now we come to the main item which affects Free software — as opposed to hardware — very directly. It’s about OOXML.

Whose Pseudo-standard Is It Anyway?

OOXML went private and never yet been out for the concerned public to see. The last complaint seems to have come from Rob Weir, but here is yet another that refers to Microsoft and ECMA disobeying rules and making false promises.

The fact is, nobody outside the Ecma and probably ISO knows how OOXML looks like now. It is particularly cumbersome, not so much because that could amount to one more irregularity against the JTC1’s SC 34, but also because it creates yet one more precedent in the long story of anti-competitive practices by Microsoft. At the time this article is being written, there is no sign of OOXML and according to the loosest estimations, we should have seen it on the 2 nd of May at the latest.

[...]

Now if you care to ask me, what in blazes does this linguistic considerations have to do with OOXML? The repeated and successful attempts by Microsoft to influence the outcome of the OOXML standardization process at the levels of the ISO’s JTC1 and of the national standards body was in itself unseen and the evidence that some large corporations are ready to do whatever it takes to fulfill their strategic objectives. Yet, the incongruous, unexpected behaviour of the standardization world has given way to a near total impunity for the Ecma and Microsoft. No matter how twisted a situation can be, the JTC1’s SC34 should always be followed, and when the rules do not fit the Ecma, then the rules are ignored or simply changed. At this stage, we do not know the reasons for which OOXML has not yet been published. I’m not even requesting the very final, ISO -stamped version of OOXML, but just the final, post BRM, consolidated version of OOXML. That too does not seem to exist. But worry not, some reasons will be made up, almost on the fly, cunningly lame and incredibly mediocre explanations that will show the utter submission to powerful interests of some inside the SC34 and the complete brainwashing of others.

This scandal is not over yet.

flickr:2400443777

Links 09/05/2008: Freedom Summer of Code Announced; Yet Another Microsoft Antitrust Possible

Posted in News Roundup at 9:26 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish

Richard Steel’s and Microsoft Ballnux Franchise (Updated)

Posted in Europe, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, SLES/SLED, Ubuntu at 5:50 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Only ‘Microsoft-approved’ (and Microsoft-taxed) Linuxes for the Microsoft-faithful CIOs?

Speaking of ‘Microsoft tax’, as we did just a moment ago, our old ‘friend’ (a Microsoft sellout/shill really) Richard Steel [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] seems to found interest in Free software only when he heard about Microsoft’s distribution of Ballnux. He has just posted the item “Microsoft’s Suse Linux franchise,” Yes, that’s right. It’s “Microsoft’s SUSE” and it’s a franchise. Oh gosh! Have a quick look:

I note that Novell has a local arrangement with Microsoft, which resells its version of Suse Linux to enable Linux exploitation on a Windows platform!

Based on something we heard but cannot publish in this Web site, Microsoft is doing some little ‘marketing tours’ trying to sell business its distribution of Ballnux at the expense of market leaders like Red Hat (or Ubuntu on the desktop). It’s truly a disgrace and something to watch out for.

Sell Novell

Update: a good comment has just been appended to the item above. It says (in part):

Be warned, besides of the clear Microsoft bias in the article, it promotes SUSE. After the patent deal Novell and Microsoft have made, using SUSE makes you MORE LIKELY to get sued by Microsoft, I recommend you to research on the topic rather than just following this article.

Ballnux on H-P Laptops: Fail

Posted in Dell, GNU/Linux, HP, Microsoft, Novell, SLES/SLED, Xandros at 5:34 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Non-Microsoft-taxable GNU/Linux works better

Steve Ballmer rides SUSEWhen Hewlett-Packard first announced that it had made SLED 10 its choice for a low-cost laptops, we were not very surprised because of the solidarity there is between Microsoft and H-P (Dell raises some doubts too). Perhaps it’s just that H-P wants to ensure Microsoft gets paid even if a GNU/Linux Ballnux distribution is sold, without alternative choices being offered (not even a blank hard drive).

Reports from Australia, where software patents are seen as valid, indicate that the Asus Eee with Xandros (or a derivatives thereof) is more expensive than that which has Windows XP. Coincidence? Maybe. Kickbacks/incentives? Maybe. Memory costs? Sounds like an excuse. Maybe the retailers just want to pocket the difference. Nobody knows for sure. Such deals have always been back room deals, until antitrust action that exposed anti-competitive agreements.

Let’s get back to the H-P laptop. Some might try to say that only SLED would work for consumers, but that is simply not true. In fact, SLED is not quite as popular or as widely-known as Ubuntu for example. Not only that, in fact, but Ubuntu also works much better on the laptop based on the following new review.

I got a mini-note 2133. It came with SUSE. I tried, repeatedly to do the most simple operations (using the software updater to update packages that had critical patches, install JDK 1.5, install Skype, etc.) and it just sucked. ZMD (the package manger) would crash, corrupt its database requiring a complete re-install to fix. It was simply aweful. I don’t know what the folks at SUSE are thinking, but coming out with software that’s more fragile than WIndows 3.1 and the registry is plain stupid.

So, I found some pointers for installing Ubuntu 8.04 on the mini-note. I installed Ubuntu and the Mini-Note turned into a great machine. I’m totally loving it. I’ve got everything except the wireless drivers working (but I’m using an EVDO modem and that works just fine…

The reviewer is happy with Ubuntu on this laptop, but sadly enough, this reviewer has already paid the Microsoft tax when a SUSE-loaded laptop got purchased. Is this the future? It needn’t be. Just boycott Novell and its products. If you don’t, Microsoft will continue to be paid for every PC shipped, no matter what operating system it runs.

Say No to Novell

Links 09/05/2008: GPL wins in court Again, 100% Free Software PC Finally Available

Posted in News Roundup at 3:35 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish

KOffice + ODF; ODFDOM is Released

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Patents at 2:55 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

KOffice Logo

KDE’s KOffice has just reached Alpha 7 and it revolves around OpenDocument format.

This release is the first to see some results of the OpenDocument Format testsuite being imported into KOffice. The testsuite exists from a lot of little documents that each show one feature in ODF. Automated testing of loading those documents will allow developers to keep on working on the code without fear of breaking the already working code. This is known as regression testing.

In this release already 23 tests are added into KOffice and the results are visible in much better loading of text documents in KWord. KWord is also one of the target applications for 2.0, and NLNet has sponsored a developer working on that application.

KDE deserves some praises for refusing to touch OOXML with its the anti-FOSS poison pill (RAND+OSP), in addition to the impossibility of implementing something that nobody else will ever implement, not even Microsoft.

KDE’s views seem a little different from the views of Abiword, which has just spoken to Red Hat Magazine about the same issue and also from that of Gnumeric, which was discussed here before (a Microsoft ‘success story’ and ‘case study’).

In other OpenDocument news, ODFDOM has just been released to the public.

I am pleased to announce that the first public version of ODFDOM is now available for download.

Europe seems to be quite firmly behind ODF.

Microsoft Literally Pays ISO (Sponsors ISO Meeting) (Corrected)

Posted in Europe, Finance, ISO, Microsoft, Standard at 2:42 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

In Norway at the very least

ISO Sold Out to ECMA

ooxml_demo_4.jpg

There was clearly a transaction of money made by Microsoft in Norway, which passed it on to ISO. Good catch. Watch the picture inside this page and recall our old entry about soft briberies.

A reader of ours sent the following artwork that he had produced some hours ago. Click on it for a Full-sized version. It’s mildly amusing.

The Nightmare

The BSI, which seemingly shares some people with ISO (e.g. Alex Brown) has already been taken to court. It got sued over (mis)handling of OOXML (Correction: see more accurate description in the comments below]. Let’s see what the guys in Norway do next. OOXML is not a standard yet. Technically, it can never be.

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