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10.12.08

Patents Roundup: Trolls, Acacia vs. GNU/Linux, and Software Patents at Jeopardy

Posted in Apple, Courtroom, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Google, Hardware, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Red Hat at 4:06 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Software patents protest in India

At times of economic hardship, companies might hunt for additional or alternative sources of revenue. This is, to an extent, part of one’s obligation to the stakeholders.

One serious problem is that under such an economic climate, various companies struggle (a few even fight for their very survival), so the possibility of so-called ‘defensive’ patents going offensive is increased. If the likelihood of lawsuits goes up, so is the general tension among inventors, who will become, well… less innovative.

An interesting observation has just been made by Matt Asay, who shows this pro-trolling material, or at least the encouragement of extortion/lawsuit tactics.

Forget about providing customer value. It’s time to pillage customers and competitors alike by amassing and harvesting patent portfolios. You, too, can be a patent troll. Sign up today!!!

Like many predatory schemes, such as Microsoft's patent extortion and its troll Myhrvold’s escapades in India and giants lie Cisco, all of this is happening secretly. Settlement apparently require that no disclosure is publicly made.

Going by evidential terms, it’s likely that Microsoft has already selected Free software, including Red Hat, as a subject of litigation [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. This particular reference is to Acacia, whose case Groklaw is shedding some light on. It is interesting to see who else Acacia has attacked.

The fact that patent litigation follows this process explains something I noticed. Guess who else IP Innovation has been suing in Texas in addition to Red Hat and Novell? Google and Apple [PDF] and Dell [PDF], but Apple got all claims against it, regarding the ’412 patent, dismissed in mid-June, without even having to file an answer.

Only recently we wrote about Microsoft's litigation-by-proxy pattern, the context being Apple and Google. However, some time in the past Acacia turned against Microsoft as well. Conclusions would be premature.

There a also couple of good posts from Vincent McBurney. The first one explains why software patents are moronic.

Software companies cannot win under the current patent system. A software product can be so complex that it can require hundreds of patents to cover everything that is unique about the product. If the company tries to file for everything they invent they spend a fortune on patent attorney fees and filing costs. If they don’t file then another company will “invent” the same thing and file and the original company can end up being threatened for patent infringement.

The second long post talks about the high costs of software patents and they they are a lose-lose situation to everyone (except patent trolls).

The litigation will be a nuisance to the big software vendors involved but with revenue in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, the legal fees will hardly be a blip on the radar. What I do have sympathy for are the defendants who are battlers in the marketplace who are in a no win situation. Either win the litigation and face millions in legal fees or lose and face additional millions in damages.

There is some resistance coming from Broadcom, which has just filed a complaint due to damaging patent-licensing practices.

Broadcom, the US chip manufacturer, is preparing to land a new blow in its legal dispute with Qualcomm. In a press release, it says it has filed a complaint with the US District Court for the Southern District of California, in San Diego, against its competitor’s patent licensing practices. The complaint invokes a recent ruling by the US Supreme Court which, in June, further restricted the scope of patents.

Any restriction on the basis of scope of patents may also include the elimination of software patents. We look forward to the Bilski ruling. It could make a huge difference and even defang Acacia or Intellectual Ventures, both a threat to Free software because of their Microsoft association and commercial existence as very large patent trolls.

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