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06.25.08

Patents Roundup: Good News, Bad News

Posted in Europe, Google, Interoperability, Microsoft, Patents, SUN at 7:02 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Many stories about software patents make an appearance at the moment (it’s clearly a hot topic) and there’s little time to expand on them, so here is just a sample of news worth reading if you care about the legal fight against Free software.

Patents Down in Europe, Sun

It was interesting to discover that patents in Europe are on the decline, but the reasons for this decline was discomforting. [via Glyn Moody]

European Patent Office issued fewer patents in 2007

[...]

Nonetheless, the EPO staff’s morale seems to have never been lower. A survey conducted among several thousand staff members found that only 4 per cent have faith in the management board. Only 6 per cent said they were satisfied with their direct superiors and the president. The auditors have also long been complaining that they are chronically overworked.

We previously wrote about Sun's view on software patents. While not much has changed, it’s reassuring to find this:

On his blog, Sun’s general counsel Mike Dillon provides an explanation as to why his company took the decision back in 2005 to reduce the number of patent applications it files…

Aside from our focus on patent quality, there is another reason we are filing fewer patents. It has to do with our business model. Unlike some companies, we don’t have a corporate goal for revenue derived from patents (and patent litigation).

UNIX-basedFor a company that suffers financially and reduces its workforce perpetually, the above seems like a bold statement. Reasons below.

Downturn/Recession Turns “Defensive” to Offensive

Digital Majority turns its readers’ attention to this article.

Why Patent Applications Increase in a Down Economy

[...]

In September, in a case known as “Re: Comisky,” the U.S. Patent Office held the inventor’s method for conducting mandatory arbitration involving legal documents was not patentable, essentially finding that a business process that does not require the use or implementation of technology, but depends on steps of human intervention, can not be awarded a patent.

Europe’s Back Door Again

Glyn Moody is well aware of the little scheme that’s apparently cooking in the EU. It’s partly about shoving in some software patents by the backdoor, using the help of Commissioner Charlie Mccreevy:

…where those “opportunities” almost certainly amount to sneaking in software patents by the backdoor.

Be alert for more of this stuff: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance etc. etc. etc.

Watch Don Marti’s critique of the Commission’s toothless and lawless (as in tiger) fight against RAND and the likes of it. We highlighted this problem before [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12].

You can’t have it both ways: if “Intellectual Property” should be treated like actual property, then you put it at risk when you use it in a crime. The European Commission isn’t picking on a US-based company for no reason here. In fact, the Commission generally advocates for expansions of exclusive rights in information that tend to benefit US-based companies at the expense of Europe. And in this case, the Commission didn’t even limit Microsoft’s use of the patent system. It only limited the company’s ability to make vague anticompetitive threats based on unspecified parts of a large patent portfolio, and handed over some protocol information that Samba was in the process of working out anyway.

A common-sense patent regime would limit the tools available to future software monopolists, and might make the next antitrust action unnecessary.

Copyrighted Datasets

Here is an interesting observation from Brendan Scott. He points out that his local laws may impose artificial barriers on interoperability.

The current authorities still hold that the reproduction of a data set, even for the purpose of interoperability, will be an infringement if there is copyright in the data set. Moreover, the courts have simply looked for a causal connection between the original work and the reproduction. The re-implementation of a work by piecing it together from observation may still result in an infringement.

The legislature has introduced an interoperability exception but it seems to be worded in a way limited to reproductions for the purpose of gaining information – and therefore doesn’t seem to be a lot of help in practice.

What would that mean if not only copyrights were involved? What if someone obtained a patent on a data transformation tool, which describes mapping between fixed objects? Watch this one from the news.

Start-up sues Google over e-mail switching tool”

Google was named on Monday in a trade secrets lawsuit alleging that the company’s business software unit copied a tiny start-up’s tool for moving customers off of Microsoft software onto Google’s.

LimitNone filed a complaint in an Illinois circuit court alleging that Google at first began promoting the smaller firm’s tool for migrating Microsoft Outlook customers to Gmail, then copied the idea and went into competition with it.

It sounds as though LimitNone got back-stabbed by Google, but patent laws certainly would not work here. The idea is by no means innovative and the solution not unique (it’s mathematics in the sense that data gets systematically translated). It’s important not to let such cases permit junk patents to exist.

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