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12.30.08

Ray Niro, Microsoft, and Other Patent Failures

Posted in Apple, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 10:11 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Patent troll

AN IMPORTANT STORY that we mentioned on Boxing day is about a high-profile, yet outrageous, lawsuit that involves software patents and what some sources label “trolling”. As correctly pointed out here:

If necessary, Google, Microsoft, and Apple will surely fight all of this tooth and nail. Whether even a smallish effort is necessary remains to be seen, however, since examples of prior art are abundant.

Prior art has already been identified.

In five minutes of searching, I found this mention in a book that Windows 98 offered an option to use image thumbnails in Explorer. Cygnus originally filed their patent on June 12, 1998, but Windows 98 was already in beta at that point — I was testing it at that time — and by that time Microsoft probably had the feature implemented. And I wonder, where did Microsoft get the idea for the feature? Was it really a totally original idea, or did they have some earlier example they were following?

Now, watch this:

The Niro firm is representing the patent holder – Cygnus Systems. An additional continuation is pending. The complaint can be found through Stanford’s LexMachina Database.

Niro?

Over time, however, I have heard from many people in the industry that what they see coming at them by way of lawsuits is nothing more than harassing, and I would have to say if that is the definition of what a patent troll is then I can’t imagine how else Cygnus Systems could be properly characterized. The federal complaint filed by Raymond Niro in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona has absolutely no useful information in it and is hardly appropriate to put anyone on notice of what the plaintiff is claiming the defendants did wrong.

Is this Raymond Niro [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] by any chance?

Why yes it is. “Cygnus Systems has initiated a patent infringement law suit with Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro Partners against Microsoft, Google, and Apple Inc.”

So, the father of a notorious methodology for abusing loopholes in the patent system could be a mastermind behind this mess. This lawsuit is also covered here and here.

Microsoft was among those who got sued, but it’s no victim; far from it. Microsoft is seeking a patent on addictionware/drugware that restricts people’s ability to own and control their computers, returning us all back to the age of mainframes when Gates and Allen unnecessary created problems.

Microsoft files pay-per-use PC patent

[...]

Microsoft’s patent application does acknowledge that a per-use model of computing would probably increase the cost of ownership over the PC’s lifetime. The company argues in its application, however, that “the payments can be deferred and the user can extend the useful life of the computer beyond that of the one-time purchase machine”.

The document suggests that “both users and suppliers benefit from this new business model” because “the user is able to migrate the performance level of the computer as needs change over time, while the supplier can develop a revenue stream business that may actually have higher value than the one-time purchase model currently practiced”.

This seems like a repetition of one of Microsoft’s oddest patent stories, which we covered here before. They want to apply the same principles to access to documents [1, 2].

Intel, Microsoft's collusions partner, is helping Microsoft with this initiative by the way, especially in countries that are determined to move to GNU/Linux. This pair also collaborated on destruction of OLPC's mission, which was to help underprivileged children. Microsoft’s vision is entirely different -- it's about artificial limitations and addiction as well.

Elsewhere in the news, which got published throughout the holidays, software patents strike again:

On Christmas Eve, South Korean game developer NCSoft received a lawsuit in its stocking from a Massachusetts firm that claims to hold an extremely broad patent for developing online virtual worlds.

We already know that the system is broken and, in order to make progress, companies with strong presence must push for a reform, but it’s not happening just yet.

The tech giants in the Coalition for Patent Fairness are joined by a strange assortment of others, most notably prominent banks such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Wachovia, HSBC North America, Capital One and others. The reason for what appears to be a strange assortment of collaborators is the fact that tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Apple and others are facing what they characterize as a huge patent troll problem, and this so-called patent troll problem comes disproportionately from business method patents and software patents. So it is easy to see why the banks and tech giants have formed an alliance to go after these types of patents that impact technology, communication and software. The Coalition for Patent Fairness is waging an all out assault on those that invent in the high-tech areas that will define the future of the US economy.

[...]

The Coalition for Patent Fairness home page has a series of factoids in the bottom right corner. If you refresh the screen you will see several different factoids pop up, all with the objective of scaring those who read the information into believing that there is a patent troll problem and the technology and bank members of the Coalition are the victims and they are almost helpless to do anything. First, they are not helpless, they just choose to pursue bad strategies that are calculated to encourage patent troll lawsuits.

A solution may come nearer to an extent, ushered by the Bilski ruling [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14].

Experts believe that the Supreme Court is unlikely to accept review of the Bilski decision, leaving intact Bilski’s rule that to be patentable, computer software must meet a (nonstatutory, judicially-imposed) “machine or transformation” test.

It’s not just business methods and software that make bad patents. There are ethical questions too when life is at stake. Glyn Moody possibly paraphrases Slated when he points out that:

There is currently a huge bun-fight going on at the WHO over who has the “rights” to “own” key genomic information about pandemic influenza viruses.

[...]

You would have thought that against the background of a financial system brought to its knees by blind greed, at least here at the World *Health* Organisation there would be a more, er, healthy and mature attitude to saving the world from a potentially even greater disaster. Apparently not….

Patents need to be reassessed not in terms of their financial impact alone but their impact on life too. Many patents are inherently unethical as they lead to deaths, primarily in the name of endless greed profit and reluctance to share vital information innovation.

“Since the birth of the Republic, the U.S. government has been in the business of handing out “exclusive rights” (a.k.a., monopolies) in order to “promote progress” or enable new markets of communication. Patents and copyrights accomplish the first goal; giving away slices of the airwaves serves the second. No one doubts that these monopolies are sometimes necessary to stimulate innovation. Hollywood could not survive without a copyright system; privately funded drug development won’t happen without patents. But if history has taught us anything, it is that special interests—the Disneys and Pfizers of the world—have become very good at clambering for more and more monopoly rights. Copyrights last almost a century now, and patents regulate “anything under the sun that is made by man,” as the Supreme Court has put it. This is the story of endless bloat, with each round of new monopolies met with a gluttonous demand for more.”

Lawrence Lessig

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