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10.03.08

Microsoft Storms India with Patents, by Proxy

Posted in Asia, Free/Libre Software, Law, Microsoft, Patents at 7:07 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Intellectual property is the next software.”

Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft patent troll

Microsoft may be breaking the law in India, as we have already pointed out before, but more importantly, its surrogate Nathan Myhrvold with his shell company seem to resort to patent-mining in a land which makes software more of a commodity.

It’s a desperate yet somewhat successful attempt to digitally monopolise in a country that potentially suffered the most from such type of suppression, brought about in a colonialist fashion, so in light of the patent deform in the country [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11] Indians are urged to react.

The ‘meat’ of the claims comes from this article. It reveals that Nathan Myhrvold’s deals are kept secret not just in the United States. It’s akin to those secret patent extortions by Microsoft, for the use of GNU/Linux.

New Delhi: Individual inventors and research organizations here may find their patents turning liquid with the imminent entry of Intellectual Ventures Llc., a controversial company that owns an estimated 20,000 patents and is in the market for as many more as it can lay its hands on.

The company has already entered into agreements to buy patents from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and is close to signing an agreement with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, India’s largest research and development organization, said a person familiar with the developments who did not want to be named.

Software patents protest in India

There is some more detailed commentary in this subsequent article.

Intellectual Ventures is moving into India says a report published this weekend. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Livemint Lounge, IV has signed deals to acquire patents from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, IIT in Bombay, while it is close to signing an agreement with Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

What the report does not say is whether this is a deal for Indian patents, for US patents or for patents internationally. My guess is that there is going to have to be a pretty substantial international element. On that front, it is worth noting that CSIR is by far the biggest Indian filer of international patent applications, filing over 350 in the US alone between 2005 and 2007.

These patently-absurd escapades of IV have made it exceptionally unpopular and it shows.

Brian Kahin draws the parallel between the financial/real-estate “bubble” with the still-expanding “bubble” in patents. As Brian suggests, combine that bubble with a Ponzi scheme (Intellectual Ventures) and you might have a real perversion.”

This is not about a peaceful collection of patents. First comes the mining, later comes the extortion.

Millionaire Nathan Myhrvold, renowned in the computer industry as a Renaissance man, has a less lofty message for tech companies these days: Pay up.

Over the past few years, the former Microsoft Corp. executive has quietly amassed a trove of 20,000-plus patents and patent applications related to everything from lasers to computer chips. He now ranks among the world’s largest patent-holders — and is using that clout to press tech giants to sign some of the costliest patent-licensing deals ever negotiated.

Since Microsoft already rattles its saber, this isn’t something to be overlooked entirely. Digital Majority has found this page where Microsoft’s intentions, as confirmed by those 'ally analysts' it had ammassed, are clear for all to see. It’s incompatible with Free software and it’s no accident.

As a result of our investment in innovation, Microsoft has created a large, diverse portfolio of intellectual property (IP) that is now available for licensing. This portfolio includes source code, schemas, protocols, and documentation as well as associated copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets. Our policy is to license this IP under commercially reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.

The following post, “Software Patents and Microsoft,” explains why (and how) geographies matter a lot.

The US (and Australian) more liberal position on patents for software has traditionally differed from the UK where software patents are related to thought processes, which are not patentable. The Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office (EPO) has allowed companies to patent computer programs if they can demonstrate some sort of innovative technical effect. This may for example be something like increased memory access.

The case law of the EPO Boards of Appeal is not binding on the EPO member states and different national courts acting on different cases may take a different view of patentability. The position on software patents in the UK has been recently considered by the High Court and UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO).

We will soon unleash another post that reviews the state of the patents systems in Europe and Australia. There’s unrest and there are evident problems.

As pointed out earlier today, Bruce Perens has at least temporarily joined the cause of fighting software patents and here are some portions from his latest article, which explains patents in the context of open source software.

Jacobsen’s case against Katzer is ongoing, although this most important appeal is completed. He has not yet convinced the judge that Katzer lied on his patent application, but what if he does? There has been no criminal prosecution of anyone for lying (“perjury”) on a patent application since 1974, when the patent office eliminated its enforcement department.

Contrast that to what the defendant in a suit brought by the holder of a bogus patent faces: between $3 and $5 million dollars in legal fees per case. Without the beneficent legal team that came to Jacobsen’s aid, winning such a case is so expensive that it’s really losing.

The current system of software patents in the United States makes it too easy for the Katzers of the world to come after others for big bucks, even when there is significant doubt regarding the validity of their own patents. The poor defendants have to spend millions just to prove that the patent being pursued against them isn’t valid, bankrupting themselves in the process.

The patent holders have little prospect of punishment when they game the system. That’s a system with no sign of balance. We need to restore justice to the patent system, and we also need to take a good look at the motivation for software patents, which many economists and others feel do more to hurt innovation than to promote it.

Microsoft is not the only foe here, but it’s the one which is poised to lose the most. Shielding the existing patent laws is very important where software patents are verboten.

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