End of Software Patents Near?
A couple of important court decisions may constitute a change of law, but it’s too early to tell for sure. Bilski is due very soon and the SSP Web site suggests that immense lobbying is likely to ensue.
The outcome of the Bilski case, which should be published in October, might invalidate software patents in the United States:
Plager said he regretted the unintended consequences of the decisions in State Street Bank and AT&T. Those rulings led to a flood of applications for software and business method patents, he noted. If we “rethink the breadth of patentable subject matter,” he said, we should ask whether these categories should be excluded from patent protection.
If the CAFC are clever enough to follow the Supreme Court and kick software patents out, you might see the desperate large corporations and their patent department rushing to Congress. Especially if tomorrow the banks value their patent portfolio as void, and not useful to get any credit.
This month will be a fascinating one not just because of the many major releases of GNU/Linux (Mandriva 2009 is due any day now).
Sun is crowing that a judicial ruling in the NetApp_Sun IP lawsuit has effectively invalidated another NetApp patent. The US Patent Office also appears to be rejecting NetApp’s key patents in the law suit. NetApp’s position looks like it’s crumbling.
The dispute began with NetApp claiming that Sun’s free distribution of its ZFS technology infringes NetApp’s six patents for its WAFL (Write Anywhere File Layout) technology. WAFL is a core component of NetApp’s SAN and filer products.
Groklaw has some more pertinent details about this case, which it has followed since the very start.
There’s news from the NetApp-Sun patent litigation front, and I think you’ll like it. Sun’s general counsel, Mike Dillon, posts the news that the US Patent Office has now responded to all six of Sun’s reexamination requests, which they filed based on prior art. We’ve been waiting for the order on the reexamination from the USPTO on the claims of ’292. Dillon’s the lawyer, not me, and he says the USPTO has now rejected all the ’292 claims, but I’d describe it from the Order [PDF] from the USPTO more that it found that the prior art “raises a substantial new questions of patentability” as to the claims. This isn’t yet the end of the process, but it’s still very good news for Sun, no matter how you describe it.
Why have software patents if they won’t be used offensively, i.e. for profit? Why have software patents if they are only ever bound to a cross-licensing agreement (or a set of them)? Why even ‘defend’ a software patent if, as Comcast and Verizon now show, it’s better to call off the fight and issue a cease-fire? The following report makes one wonder if there was ever a true need for this type of patents in the first place.
Comcast and Verizon Communications have inked a deal under which the two companies have agreed to not sue each other over patent claims for a period of five years, according to company sources and published reports.
Ensuring fair competition using software patents is like ensuring public safety by distributing pistols for citizens to ‘protect’ themselves. Some weapons — whether real, physical, perceived or ‘intellectual’ — are just not worth having; having already got them in the US, they are simply worth burying (disarmament). The United States and the Soviet Union learned this the hard way after the Cold War.
Here is another fruitless patent lawsuit in telecom.
Verizon, which was seeking $404 million in damages against Cox, filed the infringement case against Cox early this year after winning a patent infringement case against VoIP provider Vonage Holdings. Verizon’s original filing against Cox cited patents it had exerted against Vonage, but it isn’t clear from media reports whether the Verizon-Vonage patents figured in the final Verizon-Cox decision.
This is innovation?
Delusions of Innovation
FFII points out that these notorious illusions around patents are likely to be coming from lawyers and it also warns about certain publications that strive to change public perceptions in favour of software patents.
The website LinuxInsider.com, closely associated with Technewsworld.com and Macnewsworld.com, has for a long time been an object of complaints. Writers at Groklaw et al treat it as a “Linux FUD site”. Recently it published lots of pro-software-patent commentaries, alongside with “neutral” news reports in which the anti-swpat-arguments are invented by the writer (no sources given) and of poor quality, whereas the pro arguments consist of extensive quotes from lawyers who usually have the last word.
This one particular Web site, LinuxInsider (its siblings new aside), was once an innocent domain, but it then got acquired by ECT only to be filled with Linux haters like pseudonym ‘Paul Murphy’ and Rob Enderle.
Regardless of Apple’s products — whether readers of BN like them or not — its record with respect to software patents is pretty bad if not appalling. It keeps getting worse.
Steve Jobs Patents ‘The Dock’
“If you’re a PC, you may be unfamiliar with The Dock, the bar of icons that sits at the bottom or side of a Mac and provides easy access to Apple applications. But don’t count on it becoming a standard on the PC. On Tuesday, the USPTO awarded Apple — and inventor Steve Jobs — a patent for their User Interface for Providing Consolidation and Access, aka ‘The Dock,’ after a rather lengthy nine-year wait.”
Apple did not invent the concept of “The Dock.” It merely extended and enhanced existing ideas. That’s how most so-called ‘inventions’ come about — through inspiration. But Apple doesn’t care. It might as well just ruin Free software projects due to its greed for patents. █