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11.07.08

Patents Roundup: Microsoft, India, Bilski and Some More Cronies

Posted in Asia, Courtroom, Europe, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Patents, Red Hat at 3:30 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

THIS POST summarises the latest developments and analyses involving software patents.

Microsoft

Avistar’s legal battles with Microsoft were previously mentioned in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. The company seems to have just scooped up some more ammunition with which to harass Microsoft.

Avistar Communications Corporation (Nasdaq: AVSR), a leading provider of unified visual communications solutions, today announced that it has been granted five new U.S. patents this month, including its 92nd patent, U.S. 7,441,001, covering services involving two or more real-time communications services such as text instant message (IM), video IM and Voice over IP (VoIP).

Avistar–by continuing its lawsuits against Microsoft–can hopefully change Microsoft’s mind regarding sofwtare patents.

India

The software patents situation in India was last mention in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]. We still track the progression of dreadful lobbying by Microsoft, its partners and other cronies with vested interests. They try to change the law and they break it in the process.

The latest update from the news there indicates that Microsoft’s pursuit for changes in the law has not ended.

Thankfully, Indian judges need not venture down such a circuitous path. That a Bilski sort of invention is not patentable in India is crystal clear from section 3(k) of the Indian Patents Act, which prohibits a “business method” from patentability.

Section 3(k) also excludes “computer programs” per se and algorithms from patentability. In order to clarify the ambit of this exclusion, the government is currently evolving guidelines via a patent office manual; a process has spurred a fierce battle between proprietary software firms such as Microsoft Corp. and open-source evangelists such as Red Hat, which claim that the government is attempting to introduce software patents through the back door.

Software patents protest in India

Bilski

From prior coverage of the decision [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] it could almost be concluded that software patents were affected too. They were badly hurt. Concludes Peter Judge:

The open source community will be resting a bit easier – “abstract” patents, for business processes have been ruled out by the US authorities, at least for now.

From Gardner:

Gardner explains that the Patent Bar should stand-up and explain to the PTO and courts that “the application of novel and nonobvious software to otherwise computer hardware is neither ‘routine’ nor ‘typical.’”

Linux Magazine has this summary on the effects (specifically where software patents are concerned).

FOSS lawyers see the decision as a good basis for changes to patent laws. They caution, however, that the software world will have to figure on increasing lobbying efforts from past patent seekers and “beneficiaries of the status quo.” The Red Hat press release ends on a positive note with “We have a battle before us, but it is a battle we can win.”

Here is the formal reaction from the SFLC.

Of course, patent applications for many software systems will meet this test, and we have only minimal guidance from Bilski on how the test should be applied. However, SFLC believes that this decision takes us one step further toward freeing the United States from “software patents”. The SFLC hopes and expects that this case will lead to fewer patent grants that stand in the way of advancing software freedom.

The formal press response from Red Hat says:

Last week the Federal Circuit issued a major decision, In re Bilski, concerning the subject matter limits of patent law. The case presented questions relating to software patents, an issue of great significance to the free and open source software community, and so Red Hat filed a brief in Bilski to educate the appeals court about FOSS and its problems with the software patents. In the new opinion, the court cited Red Hat’s brief, but declined to settle the issue of when, if ever, software based inventions should be patentable. Even so, the new test in Bilski will probably limit the patentability of software. The war is not over, but the odds of success for FOSS just got better.

An interpretation from Groklaw, regarding Red Hat in part, states in its second part:

There probably isn’t a single judge on this court who grew up with computers in his or her life. But look at their backgrounds a little more carefully, and you’ll see that while they may not know what you know about tech, they are certainly highly educated and highly accomplished individuals in their area of expertise, namely patent law. Let’s focus on those who wrote opinions, now.

Therein lies a very important issue, which was covered here before.

Cronyism

Related to the above, not all legal treatment is objective. It may not be founded on impartial judgment, so trust is lacking. In fact, based on this new report, Barack Obama is already overwhelmed by lobbyists for imaginary property.

The intellectual property community has been quick to begin the anticipation of a Barack Obama presidency in the United States following his election on Tuesday.

[...]

“Obama’s regime is more likely to take the feedback from civil society into consideration and similarly more sceptical towards the pure business interests presented by Big Pharma, etcetera,” he said. “In the end, much will depend on what kind of persons Obama chooses to his cabinet for the key positions pertaining IP policy and global trade.”

Andrew Updegrove, an attorney at technology law firm Gesmer Updegrove in Boston who runs the open-standards blog consortiuminfo.org, said administration changes have little effect on US technical standards policy, since this sector is largely driven by industry – not government.

There is a very timely example of such manipulation. The OpenParliament meeting in Europe saw the intrusion by Microsoft lobbyists.

Note that Mr Lueders is a well-know[n] Microsoft & Software Patents lobbyist, who wants to raise a patent tax on every EU citizen who wants to access gover[n]mental documents via discriminatory patented standards.

The OpenParliament has also drawn the attention of other Microsoft drones ea[r]lier on.

In short, it emerged that CompTIA, a notorious Microsoft pressure group [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6], was lobbying the secretariat of the PETI committee in order to sneak into the panel. The OpenParliament OFE people met the PETI secretariat two days ago, and one guy had apparently been lobbied by CompTIA before, saying he needed a balanced (i.e. distorted) and opposite point of view.

So, eventually, even Microsoft managed to sneak in, as usual. There is nothing they don’t intrude, including ODF [1, 2, 3, 4], which they mocked (well, they had to pretend otherwise later, in order to gain access to it).

Recordings of the talks are up at the FFII Web site now. Hugo Lueders was pretty bad as he did not have any strong point. If anyone could transcribe the audio, it would be splendid.

In Conclusion

Mark Taylor from Sirius Corporation wrote an article for ZDNet UK. It explains rather bluntly, yet correctly, what the software patents fascination really is about.

Free software acknowledges that truth. Proprietary software does not. Instead, like the banks, proprietary-software vendors have had to justify the cost of their wares by constructing complex arguments about value.

Again, lipstick terms such as ‘software patents’ and ‘intellectual property’ have been applied so successfully they have entered the vernacular. Yet even a cursory examination of their real meaning shows them to be spurious. They exist only to perpetuate the dominance of monopolists.

Yes, we are living in a proprietary-software bubble and, like the bursting of the easy-credit bubble, this one is about to burst too — it’s a matter of survival.

One current danger is Microsoft’s (among others’) attempt to define or redefine "open source" to suit their conveniences. Free software is pervasive, but there are those who try to ‘dilute’ it. This was foreseen a year ago [1, 2, 3].

“That would be because we believe in Free Software and doing the right thing (a practice you appear to have given up on). Maybe it is time the term ‘open source’ also did the decent thing and died out with you.”

Alan Cox to Eric Raymond

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