Web Pressures Microsoft
Fedora 9 and 10
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Active intervention versus passive acceptance of
intellectual monopoly abuse (and patent trolling)
It was only a few weeks ago that we last showed total indifference inside the United States government amid an evident patent problem. It’s becoming rather hopeless. The latest update seems to suggest that a proposed semi-solution hasn’t just been put on the ice, but almost discarded.
After years of heated debate and lobbying, the Patent Reform Act of 2007, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and was scheduled for a Senate vote this session, has been taken off the Senate’s calendar. It can be revived, but its momentum has effectively fizzled.
Apparently, the Senate has better things to do with its time.
Over in Europe came the recent appeal from Microsoft and the analysis from Digital Majority is worth noting.
Microsoft is appealing the decision of the European Commission over the 900M EUR fine. Microsoft is not happy about the patent licensing terms that the Commission has negotiated, and want to tax open source projects, such Samba and Redhat:
Microsoft argues that the licensing terms demanded by the EC violate its intellectual property rights.
Let’s bet that the Microsoft appeal to the ECJ is about patents. My nose is rarely wrong.
Digital Majority also has this good pointer to a new article from the Financial Times. It suggests that the economics of intellectual monopolies are inherently flawed. They are suicidal.
As multinationals become more skillful at managing their intellectual property, there are tax as well as commercial advantages. By holding brands and patents in low-tax countries and charging other subsidiaries for their use, profits are lowered in high-tax countries. Unsurprisingly, these shifts of intellectual capital are unpopular with many tax authorities. Two years ago, Mark Everson, former commissioner of the US Internal Revenue Service, warned that the increasing transfer of intangibles was a “high-risk compliance concern”, adding: “Taxpayers, especially in the high technology and pharmaceutical industries, are shifting profits offshore.”
The only way to shelter monopolies without destruction of the local economy is therefore to expand the bad laws in an imperialistic fashion, thus ensuring that everyone else suffers equally. To use an analogy from Richard Stallman (referring to patents), just because many people have heart attacks doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. █
“Are there some banks that have amassed giant arsenals—the Microsoft(s) of the banking world? (Microsoft had less than a dozen patents before the 1998 State Street decision, and now has thousands, according to a former IPLB reporter who was inside the Microsoft war room a year ago.)”
“Is there a giant settlement, or license agreement, or some other indicator of corporate behavior that would indicate why a particular financial company has a pro-BM patent standpoint? Who are the winners and losers of the first 10 years of biz-meth patent war?
–Why do any financial companies support business method patents?
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Digistan has just published an open letter signed by some high-level figures. It calls for people to adopt the right approach in the embrace of open standards. It’s worth a quick glance.
Industry has always depended on standards and traditional industries have built their standards as part of a slow, controlled, top-down approach to innovation. Industrial-age standards are often heavily patented, complex, and large. They can be expensive to implement and therefore are implementable only for large established firms.
Here too you have a person who is leaning towards the BSD, but nonetheless recognises the importance of patent-free standards. Pay careful attention to what is said about proprietary data and file formats such as OOXML.
Bodom: What is the your think about OGG Vorbis?
David: I have never used Vorbis myself (because I use WavPack), but I am happy to see support for it starting to appear on portables. It’s great to have a free and open alternative to the “big boys”.
Bodom: What is the your think about the Open Source?
David: I don’t have particularly strong feelings about open source. I think open source is great (I use Linux at home), but I think there is nothing inherently wrong with commercial software and I even have some ideas for software applications I might write and try to sell in the future. However, I do feel strongly about open standards. I think that proprietary data and file formats are inherently monopolistic and do not serve the public well, and I have been happy to see governments (like the state of Massachusetts) start to understand the importance of this and move to require that state business be done only with open standards.
Last but not least, here is an article that parses through BECTA's public statement and turns it into an IDG piece which is titled quite sensibly:
Microsoft Faces Another Interoperability Complaint in Europe
As part of the first of those two investigations, the Commission said it will look at whether the Office Open XML document format used by Microsoft Office is sufficiently interoperable with competitors’ products. BECTA has now sent its complaint and evidence to support that investigation, it said.
Standards are a very important and essential stepping stone on the path to Free software adoption. That’s why Microsoft is faking standards, just as it attempts to hijack "open source" at the moment. █
“The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC just heard arguments in the Bilski case, where the appellant (Bilski) is arguing that a completely mental process should get a patent. The fact that this was even entertained demonstrates why the patent system has truly descended into new levels of madness. At least the PTO rejected the application; the problem is that the PTO now allows business method patents and software patents. Once they allowed them, there’s no rational way to say “stop! That’s rediculous!” without being arbitrary.”
–Bilski: Information is physical!?
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What does “open” mean anyway, especially these days?
[More Open Than Open]: “I am constantly amazed at the flexibility of this single word.”
–Jason Matusow, Microsoft (for background see [1, 2])
There’s a lot to a name and if Sun Microsystems believes it can fool people with the name “OpenSolaris”, then it ought to remember the effect of keeping Java closed. Until Sun departs from the CDDL (or duality) it’s better to stick with GNU/Linux and not even poke OpenSolaris with a bargepole.
You can’t beat GNU/Linux with a half-hearted Linux, licence-wise. Sun ought to consider taking OpenSolaris — and probably ZFS too — into the realms of the GPL domain, just like Java. The sooner, the better. If Rich Green was correct, then merging will become a possibility too. Here is the latest decent review of OpenSolaris, but like many others it’s focused on technical characteristics alone. It concludes with:
Although the OpenSolaris development community still has a lot of work to do before the operating system is ready to take on Linux on the desktop, the progress so far indicates that the project deserves further attention. We will keep an eye on future releases to see how the platform evolves.
Licence-wise, it’s worth considering what Groklaw has just had to say.
The CDDL can’t hold a candle to the GPL as far as benefits to programmers or end users. Period. CEOs might love it, but programmers? Why would they? What’s in it for them? Sun needs to make up its mind. Is it open source? ? I don’t care if it chooses to be open, proprietary or mixed, but I can’t see any reason why anyone would contribute code under the CDDL for free, unless you just get a thrill out of helping Sun make money from your unpaid labor, as I explained back in 2005. I continue to view the CDDL as a problem, in part due to the Sun-Microsoft agreement, which includes patent elements, and I remind you of what Dan Ravicher of PubPat.org said about CDDL back in 2005: “My advice is that developers should ask themselves if they really want to work on software distributed by a company that has expressly retained the right to sue them for patent infringement if they don’t give their improvements back to the company.”
On the other hand, a recent interview with Rich Green of Sun indicates that at some point Sun will switch the license to GPL.
At the end, the licences play a tremendous role. Just recall the recent lesson that was taught by Zimbra.
Additionally, as pointed out the other day, Sun appears to be offering OpenSolaris as just a ‘free sample’ that gets young people addicted to the proprietary Solaris. This is something to watch out for and be careful of. What about Sun’s view on patents? █
“Business-method patents are an unwarranted and dangerous extension of the patentability standards. As the article suggests, the method in question may have been used for many years in slightly different contexts and is now being transferred to a computerized system; will that now mean that the pencil and paper method becomes an infringing use? And if you as a lawyer advise a client on a tax strategy or a method of doing business, could that advice be a patent infringement? It is too ephemeral for a patent, and ought be knocked down altogether.”
–I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Bilski!
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Free Open Source Software in Governments
Open Source/Free Software Communication
Trouble in Service Pack Land
Clouds and Networking with FOSS
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[Correction 14/05/2008: Alex insisted that “All I can see is a single developer speculated that writing an IMAP handler in C# would be easier. That’s very much not what that blog post was saying; it was saying GNOME was contaminated via Evolution with a new Mono dependency for IMAP, which is totally wrong.”]
“One Free Software Foundation-backed group–aptly called the End Software Patents Project–is using the [Bilski] case as a platform to argue that no form of software should ever qualify for a patent. Red Hat also argued that the “exclusionary objectives” of software patents conflict with the nature of the open-source system and open up coders to myriad legal hazards.”
–Court case could redefine business method, software patents
Referring to an article that we mentioned here a few days ago, Slashdot has just picked up the modified headline “Microsoft ‘Shared Source’ Attempts to Hijack FOSS.” Is this news to anyone? Can Novell pretend that it’s unaware of the issue? If Microsoft gets its way, then ‘open source’ and software patents will no longer be seen as collisional. Why would you mind? Because GNOME continues to be contaminated with a clone of the shared-sourced .NET and this time it’s Evolution, the E-mail client. [Minor update: clarifications in this subsequent discussion]
As we warned before, Silverlight, OOXML, DRM and all sorts of other nasties might sooner or later accompany this harmful adoption of Microsoft technologies inside the core of GNU/Linux distributions. Glyn Moody shrewdly refers to such things as “poisoning” in his latest column.
Imagine, though, a day when open source programs run well on Windows. Given that the installed base of Windows is currently much larger than that for GNU/Linux, this means that many open source developers are likely to start paying more attention to Microsoft’s platform, even to the detriment of GNU/Linux versions. As a result, some coders will be more amenable to including “optimised” technologies like Silverlight in their Windows versions. And so it will begin: the gradual pollution of free software with proprietary elements and software patents.
If Microsoft’s old approach can be likened to Hamlet’s attempt to “take arms against a sea of troubles” – a futile effort – it’s new, more subtle, tactic might be characterised as poisoning that sea. As we know from real life, that’s all-too easy, and particularly hard to prevent, especially as it can occur very slowly and imperceptibly to begin with.
To prevent the poison building up to noxious levels, open source projects need to be extremely wary when responding to Microsoft’s chummy enquiries, or they may ultimately find themselves repeating Hamlet’s more famous quotation from the opening of the same speech.
What would GNOME’s spokesman say in his defense this time? That you can compile GNOME with the exclusion of Tomboy? Fine. That you could choose a different E-mail client? Fine. How much of GNOME would one have to castrate in order to keep it Microsoft-free and free of software patents that Microsoft granted Novell exclusive rights to? And as it gets harder and harder to do so, who would actually bother? As with most posts that cover this issue, backlash filled with rudeness is expected and since the information above seems factual, it’ll be safe to close this item and disable comments.
By the way, Sam Varghese published another scathing piece about Jeff Waugh, but it gets tedious and redundant. It seems very unproductive because it fails to address the real questions that are practical, as opposed to personal. Mono is coming out of the closet and there is hardly any point in denying it. GNOME is becoming a .NET-rich environment that clones even patent-encumbered and standards-hostile functionality. And that’s a real shame. █
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“I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.”
A couple of days ago, news sites began to be filled with articles sparked by IDG, which broke the news about nearly-gratis XP for crippled laptops. Rather than invest in development of better products Microsoft seems to have gotten itself preoccupied with eliminating competitors, in which case the quality of its products is irrelevant (because there’s no choice). Computer World UK raises an important question and suggests that such moves from Microsoft will not help its attempt to escape the fines and scrutiny from the European Commission.
There’s another issue, though: does this latest move amount to (yet another) abuse of Microsoft’s dominant position in the operating systems market? Some would say “no”, pointing out that price reductions of this kind are precisely how capitalism is supposed to work. But others would say “yes”, because it seems to be exactly the same behaviour that got the company into trouble with the antitrust authorities last time.
Now, I’m no expert on the niceties of this or any other kind of law, so I won’t try to sort that one out. But one organisation that certainly does have plenty of legal eagles is the European Commission, which is already looking at other aspects of Microsoft’s business practice, particularly with regard to open source and open standards. So I’m sure that it is now having a think about this latest move against free software.
It turns out that Jeff Raikes, a departing senior executive (president even) from Microsoft, is joining the 'Microsoft division' which writes the very big checks and encourages dumping, political manipulation and other means of self-serving glorification that harms rivals. For those who are new to this:
The ‘best’ type of charity is that which has a good return on investment. It makes it not a charity as much as business as usual, even a tax evasion mechanism. █
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It often takes a real example from the news to demonstrate just how manipulative — if not corrupt — the process of making patent laws can be. We mentioned one such example a few days ago (Microsoft uses the United States government for software patents in Europe), but here comes an attempt to change the law in Thailand. [via Digistan]
Shortly after a new government was installed in Bangkok earlier this year, European Union trade commissioner Peter Mandelson urged it to review a series of compulsory licenses issued by the previous administration that overruled patents on several medicines.
Agnoletto alleged that there is a contradiction between statements that Mandelson has made to the Parliament and those contained in his letter. “He is using two different languages,” Agnoletto added. “I have the impression he is working more for the pharmaceutical industry than for the Commission.”
For background you can take a glance this older post about pharmaceutical patents and Thailand's tough stance on this matter. The expansionists simply cannot accept other people’s views. They try to force theirs upon others, using money and power that assume and exploit weak-minded politicians. This is totally unacceptable. And while Microsoft lobbyists like Zuck (ACT) are running out and about in Europe they see limited success in contaminating the European patent system too. [via Digital Majority]
The European Union (EU) plans to delegate its power to grant Community Patents to a non-Community institution, the European Patent Office (EPO). The EPO is not bound by any EU regulation, and is often described by academics as a ‘state in the state’. Members of the European Parliament have also criticized the EPO for its lack of political accountability. The EPO grants software patents for the European Patent, and will probably grant such patents for the Community Patent.
Sanity cannot prevail in the face of greed, apparently. █
“Only those inventions “worth to the public the embarrassment of an exclusive patent” should receive patent protection, declared Thomas Jefferson, himself an inventor and America’s first commissioner of patents. Since his day some patents have proved to be more of an embarrassment than others. Most notorious are “business methods” patents, such as the patent held by Priceline, an online ticket agency, for the Dutch-auction method of selling tickets. Thousands of these patents have been issued since they were first recognised in 1998.”
–Methods and madness, The Economist
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