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10.22.08

Novell’s Michael Meeks Gets Software Patent from the UK

Posted in Europe, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell, Office Suites, OpenOffice, Patents, SUN at 1:18 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Software patents are a huge potential threat to the ability of people to work together on open source.”

Linus Torvalds

IT IS worth re-emphasising that while Novell purports to be an advocate of open source software (not Free software), its mixed-source claims [1, 2, 3, 4] take such ambition to task and Novell’s business is still overwhelmingly reliant on proprietary software. Moreover, Novell is not against software patents. In fact, it’s actively obtaining quite a few.

In recent days we have been writing about Symbian’s destruction of a saner legal system in the UK [1, 2, 3]. It is therefore interesting to find that Novell’s Michael Meeks, despite being based in the UK, is pursuing software patents in the USPTO, for Novell’s benefit and on their very own behalf.

Optimized decompression using annotated back buffer, patent No. 7,439,882, invented by Michael Meeks of Newmarket, U.K., assigned to Novell Inc. of Provo.

It’s a software patent. Bad stuff. Anyway, here is this new patent’s abstract:

A system and method for decompression optimization employing a data input and a dedicated back buffer and data parser. The system and method also relate to accelerating the parsing process during decompression of a block of data by taking advantage of those naturally occurring redundancies within the block of data identified at compression time. The system of the invention includes a parser and an annotated back buffer which operate collectively to optimize the parsing process during decompression.

Meeks is not alone, however. There is also this new patent:

System and method of associating objects in search results, patent No. 7,440,948, invented by Jon Eric Trowbridge of Chicago, Ill., and Nathaniel Dourif Friedman of Boston, Mass., assigned to Novell Inc. of Provo.

As suggested and later reported to us by a reader with inside information, Novell's patent portfolio by all mean matters. Speaking of Meeks, Novell is still trying to grab control of the 'Open Office' from Sun Microsystems (Novell already has its own fork). Thus far, it hasn't worked out too well for Novell, perhaps with the exception of GNU/LInux distributions.

Microsoft’s and Novell’s patents should not be ignored. They do matter because the companies might intend to use them, especially amidst difficult times. In response to apathy from Matt Asay, our own Shane Coyle wrote:

Wow, it’s been a while since anyone has tried to paint Novell as the party of advantage in their MS deal. My question is, if Novell’s patent portfolio is so great, how come there is no ongoing royalty from MS to Novell, as their certainly is on open source software shipped under the agreement by Novell?

The same type of unjustified apathy was noted by wallclimber, a respected lady in the Digg community), who wrote:

This really puzzles me. Matt Asay says he likes and respects Gutierrez and thinks he really does understand the issues. Yet, if that’s true, how can he justify respect for someone that still, apparently willingly (willfully?), grants an interview for the main purpose of spewing Microsoft’s insidious patent and IP FUD to the world?

I think Mr. Asay is being much too kind in assuming that an IP lawyer, employed by Microsoft, actually has a heart to begin with, much less knows where “the right place” is to put it.

Software patents are horrible. Yet it’s impossible to pretend they do not exist. Pretending alone does not make them go away. Protesting is more effective.

“I’m always happy when I’m protesting.”

Richard Stallman

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15 Comments

  1. OO said,

    October 22, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Gravatar

    All big software companies have software patent portfolios, not just Novell. Red Hat has several software patents and also has pending applications. For instance, Red Hat has this patent on atomic file look-ups: http://www.google.com/patents?id=wfAVAAAAEBAJ and this one on debugger tracepoints: http://www.google.com/patents?id=1osSAAAAEBAJ Novell and Red Hat have also both given some patents to the Open Invention Network so that those patents can be used to defend Linux from patent litigation.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 22, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    Gravatar

    I’m aware of this. This does not make it OK.

  3. colin said,

    October 22, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Gravatar

    …and this doesn’t make it OK to single out a hard-working individual developer and try to spill dirt on his good name in your filthy blog!

    Bah.

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 22, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Gravatar

    I thought about omitting the name (I omitted it the last time), but that would not lead into the discussion about OOo.

  5. Dan O'Brian said,

    October 22, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Gravatar

    If you actually read his blog, he notes:

    1. it won’t be used for anything other than defensive purposes
    2. he actively combats software patents

    Obtaining patents is not a sign that he is pro-Software Patents, it is simply a smart thing to do.

    Better that a responsible Free Software developer like Michael Meeks apply for the patent than someone who would be likely to use it for offensive purposes.

  6. Dan O'Brian said,

    October 22, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Gravatar

    Wow, it’s been a while since anyone has tried to paint Novell as the party of advantage in their MS deal. My question is, if Novell’s patent portfolio is so great, how come there is no ongoing royalty from MS to Novell, as their certainly is on open source software shipped under the agreement by Novell?

    This quote just shows Shane’s ignorance. The massive quantities of money going from Microsoft to Novell is precisely because Microsoft is paying royalties to Novell. This fact is well documented for those willing to research.

  7. Dan O'Brian said,

    October 22, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Gravatar

    Forgot to link to Michael Meeks’ blog earlier: http://www.gnome.org/~michael/blog/2008-10-22.html

  8. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 22, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Gravatar

    You can’t fight software patents by obtaining some. It’s nice to know he used to lobby against them though.

  9. Dan O'Brian said,

    October 22, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    Gravatar

    Actually, having patents helps when fighting against them. If you have no patents and complain about patents, it sounds like you are just a whiner. But if you have lots of patents and are sitting in a position of being able to nuke people off the face of the earth with your patent arsenal, and then lobby against patents – you are taken a lot more seriously because you actually have something to lose by getting rid of patents. If you have nothing to lose by getting rid of patents, but everything to gain – it just seems like you are fighting patents because you are in a position of weakness.

  10. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 22, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Gravatar

    I don’t really subscribe to this position. It’s like saying you are “just a little pregnant” and want an abortion.

  11. Dan O'Brian said,

    October 22, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Gravatar

    No, it’s not. It’s called “arguing from a position of power” and it is one of the most effective means of arguing for something.

  12. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 22, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Gravatar

    Microsoft is said to have about 10,000 USPTO-stamped pieces of paper. Should Novell try to match this and then “argue from a position of power?”

    Don’t fight fire with fire. Or fight a bonfire with a matchstick.. and a teaspoon.

  13. Dan O'Brian said,

    October 22, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Gravatar

    It’s going to take more than just Novell to fight the patent system, hence why I’d also encourage Red Hat and other FLOSS companies to file for as many patents as they can.

    Another advantage of doing that is that they can more easily protect themselves and/or FLOSS itself from patent (or other) attacks from proprietary software companies. Granted, this will not help defend against patent troll companies, but it’s still a lot better than nothing.

    Patent trolls are also not the most dangerous sources of patent attacks, they usually only demand a small amount of cash (well, small for a company to pay) – the idea is that they want an out-of-court settlement because they know that if it goes to court, they stand a good chance of losing. By demanding less than what it’d cost a company to defend themselves in a court battle, they hope that their target will simply pay it. “Easy money”.

    Patent trolls are the most annoying, but they are unlikely to ever be able destroy any company.

    (I do agree with you, though, that patent trolling should be illegal and are a clear indication that the current patent system is broken).

  14. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 22, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Gravatar

    I’m glad that we agree on something, except for the earlier part (about embracing more patents rather than actually developing software).

    I believe we are at a crossroad now, particularly amid the economic collapse. The patent system too is almost imploding and patent literature online is clearly worried. To push the system over the cliff at these fragile times should not be as hard as you imagine. Just watch how EPO _STAFF_ took it to the streets against their own employers, accusing them — essentially — of corruption.

  15. Dan O'Brian said,

    October 22, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Gravatar

    Let’s hope it is easier than I fear to get rid of software patents (and possibly patents in other fields as well).

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