03.04.09

Patents Roundup: Reform, Case Against Linux, Microsoft Patent Trolls and More

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FUD, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, Patents, TomTom at 11:17 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Reform is ahead, Microsoft plays mental games against Linux, Microsoft-affiliated patent harvesters revisited and studied

Change

A patent reform bill ought to have been introduced as early as yesterday, spurring the beginning of change. This may have been delayed a little as we have not been able to identify any coverage, as yet.

Patent reform could be introduced in Congress as early as Tuesday (March 3), as high tech lobbying groups on both sides of the issue turn up the heat. Sources close to the issue said the new bill will pick up where similar bills that failed to pass in 2008 left off.

On one side, big electronics companies want to curb what they claims is a rise of frivolous patent infringement suits and damages, often from companies whose only business is to acquire and assert patents. On the other side, smaller companies and individual inventors say changes in the patent system would cut incentives to develop new technology.

Thought is also given to the issue of patents-encumbered standards over at WIPO, which is typically hostile towards Free software. Fortunately, the Bilski ruling reportedly helps the weakening of software patents. This could rescue standards and further trivialise interoperability.

In February 2009, the Board of Patent Appeals (BPAI) issued nine decisions that touched on Bilski and patentable subject matter under Section 101 of the Patent Act. In eight of the cases, the BPAI either affirmed an examiner’s Section 101 rejection (five cases) or entered a new ground of rejection under Section 101 (three cases). In the remaining case, the BPAI remanded – asking the examiner to consider wether the claims were patentable under Section 101. All nine cases were related to software or electronics type applications.

Microsoft vs Linux

A few articles that are important have been published since we last summarised the TomTom case. One important post came from Harald Welte, who debunks Microsoft’s claim that its case against TomTom does not affect any generic kernel. Welte makes other valuable remarks, for example:

The underlying strategy is very obvious: Make those patent licenses high enough to reduce the cost advantage of a Linux based OS over Windows CE and thereby demotivate companies from using Linux in the embedded world.

This has so far happened behind closed doors, but if you google you can find a couple of strange press releases of Asian companies buying into those MS patent deals for Linux.

[...]

I myself, as well as numerous other people in the Free and Open Source world are asking themselves how this legal action fits into the Microsoft-proclaimed Free Software friendly strategy. As you can see now, that was nothing but vapor.

Bruce Perens, one of the more prominent figures in his area, weighed in on this topic as well. Bruce Perens took shots at the lack of innovation, among other things:

Now, why would anyone want to pay Microsoft for the right to use this lackluster technology? After all, there were better filesystems before MS-DOS came along, and there are much better ones today. It’s not because of the technology, but because of Microsoft’s dominance of the computer business.

FAT was the filesystem provided by Microsoft systems, and thus it was on nearly all floppy disks. Apple implemented FAT to be compatible with Microsoft. Later on, all USB sticks and SD cards had to use it if they were to work with Windows. So, most removable storage came preformatted with FAT out of the box. Others implemented FAT to be compatible with Microsoft, and it became the de facto “standard” for removable media. But a standard with embedded patents, for which Microsoft is now demanding royalties.

Eric Raymond wrote some more about the case, this time with specifics delved into.

Most of the public attention has focused on the two FAT patents. Interestingly, these are not patents on FAT itself. Rather, they have to do with methods for translating between long filenames and the DOS-style 8+3 names that FAT still uses internally. They’ll read on any implementation of FAT that wants to present long names to the user, including open-source ones.

The flash-memory one could be the biggest worry in the bunch. It seems to be claiming things that any flash file system needs to do to manage its hardware. No threat to Linux on its own hardware, but it might be deployable, if upheld, to block anyone from shipping in the U.S. a Linux filesystem that manages flash devices, whether it’s FAT-compatible or not.

From Microsoft Watch:

Microsoft’s lawsuit against TomTom is sure to drum up nothing but trouble.

[...]

Microsoft wants to enforce these alleged patents now? Against a Dutch company? TomTom is a problem created by Microsoft, for many reasons, with timing being the most important. The European Union is within months of whack, whack, whacking Microsoft for new antitrust violations. Linux and open source are en vogue on the Continent, where anti-Microsoft sentiments grow with each new EU antitrust investigation. Then there’s TomTom being a European company.

Several useful points sent to us by a reader are:

  1. “The media is spreading this as a Linux case though it looks like the fight is over the patents on the filesystem FAT”
  2. “FAT, of all the filesystems, is particularly unsuited to flash media (e.g. CF) and if there is no major reason to be pulling chips out of TomTom and putting them into a computer, then there is even less of an excuse to be using it. Further, at least older versions of Windows were capable of using ext2 or one or two others.”
  3. “The licensing [...] says that anyone may use FAT. So what we appear to have here is nothing more than a harassment suit, probably for the purpose of FUDing.”

A Microsoft executive is meanwhile attacking the notion that open source is about… well, anything more than just cost. The “Free” in F.O.S.S. is not about cost, though.

“NOT ALL OPEN SOURCE is free” spluttered Microsoft’s Kevin Turner defensively when the INQ asked him what the Vole planned to do to stay competitive in today’s software market.

Forcefully stating that the concept of “free open source” was a fraudulent one, Turner said Microsoft has, “a better value proposition” than the sorcerers, but that the Vole still held the “highest regard for open source”.

[...]

He neglected to mention if these “smart ways” involved suing the pants off more Linux distributors in the near future, however.

Microsoft Enderle sings this same tune about the TomTom case not having to do anything with Linux. Other Microsoft employees (or Microsoft-sympathetic bloggers) do the same thing because they want to entice FOSS developers, bringing them over to Windows while attacking Linux ‘kindly’ or “by accident”. Here is another option.

Microsoft still sponsors OSBC [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] and also OSCON [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. So, the company which sues Linux/open source also wants to share a bed with GNU/Linux advocates, despite it become the next SCO. Microsoft believes such actions can ruin or dilute conferences, such as Apple/Mac events. Similarly, there are reporters who are helping Microsoft ‘hug’ open source developers; for example, Elizabeth Montalbano from IDG/IDC [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

Her beat includes corporate and competitive coverage of Microsoft Corp., browsers, office productivity suites, Windows and Windows Live. She also covers Linux and general news and events as they happen in New York City.

Be careful what you read and believe. These people sometimes get hired by Microsoft. Caution is advised when sloppy journalism is trying to wed FOSS developers with Windows and Microsoft. It’s being published in Microsoft-funded platforms too (c/f the IDC connection).

(Microsoft) Patent Trolls

One reader has given us information about the patent-trolling business that’s brewing in Washington state. Acacia’s connections with Microsoft [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11] may not mean much, but the company continues acquiring very silly patents that should have never been granted in the first place and then uses them to sue.

“It will seek returns for these investments.”Acacia has just acquired a patent on interactive mapping and speaking of interactive maps, here is an interesting map of Acacia Partners, with a similar one for Intellectual Vultures[sic] (a patent troll created/conceived by Microsoft). The founder, Nathan Myhrvold, is associated with DreamWorks, which as we showed recently, is associated with Microsoft's cofounder too. There may be other overlaps to be found there and it may be important because this patent troll keeps growing in terms of scale with further acquisitions (the latest example being Telcordia Technologies). It will seek returns for these investments.

Given the sorts of payments we've been seeing, it’s worth keeping an eye on money flows. An informant tells us that based on a look-up applied to street address, “it’s always interesting seeing what companies occupy the same building.” For example:

  • Mente, LLC is located at “2365 Carillon Point Kirkland”
  • ICO Global Communications is invested in by Mente
  • Cascade Investment, L.L.C. is based in “2365 Carillon Point Kirkland, WA 98033″
  • Teledesic L.L.C. is based in “2365 Carillon Point Kirkland”
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is at the same place (“2365 Carillon Point Kirkland”)
  • Hawkeye Investments LLC is also at the same place (“2365 Carillon Point, Kirkland, WA”)
  • Bill Gates’ house is also in “2365 Carillon Point Kirkland WA”

Additionally, there is Bill Gates’ own patent harvesting firm, which is based around the same area [1, 2]. Things are more interconnected than the public is led to believe.

Microsoft cronies

Other News

Patents — including software patents — can pass considerable costs downstream to consumers. As new and damning evidence of this:

The CUT-FATT petition said that American consumers pay $20 to $30 per television receiver for intellectual property rights that would cost about $1 elsewhere.

Over video playback, a lot more litigation exists. Latest example:

Beeney’s clients claim that Lenovo knowingly violated their patent on a type of compression technology called MPEG-2, which is used in everything from DVDs to satellite television. (MPEG-2 compresses data into a more manageable form. Without it, an analog movie converted to DVD, for instance, would require dozens of disks.)

MPEG-2 is also a known and somewhat controversial issue to GNU/Linux users. It’s really time to insist on Ogg.

Microsoft and Dell are being sued for an address lookup patent; therein, BT as well goes aggressive with patents. The combination of tagging with speech turns out to be a ludicrous patent and it’s earned by Nokia which continues to prove that it’s interested in software patents [1, 2].

Credit card transactions over the telephone have become a patent too, which is now being used against Visa and there is more coverage in TechDirt. Here is a patent on secure domain names — the type of patents which stifle Web security rather than promote it. We wrote about this sensitive subject before [1, 2, 3].

“I would much rather spend my time and money and energy finding ways to make the Internet safer and better than bickering over patents.”

Dean Drako, Barracuda’s CEO

Share in other sites/networks: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Reddit
  • email

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one

What Else is New


  1. Help Make Techrights (and Other Technology-Centric Sites) More Robust to Censorship by Setting Up More IPFS Nodes

    We’re trying to improve the site’s availability (ensuring it can never be offline) and make it more censorship-resistant; people who adopt IPFS can make that happen while tackling the “bloated Web” and “centralised Internet” issues — all at the same time



  2. Microsoft Loves Linux and Android Apps Running on Windows Instead of GNU/Linux and Android Devices

    Microsoft loves Linux, they say; but as Microsoft's former VP James Allchin put it: "If you're going to kill someone there isn't much reason to get all worked up about it and angry -- you just pull the trigger [...] We need to smile at Novell while we pull the trigger."



  3. Links 28/11/2020: RenderDoc 1.11, GNOME 40 Scrolling Horizontally

    Links for the day



  4. Nine Documents About the Financial Siege Against EPO Staff (Past, Present, and Future)

    Today we release dozens of pages of letters and documents (internal to Europe's second-largest institution); they all focus on the betrayal and skulduggery, crushing staff in spite of what was originally promised (and what workers actually signed up for)



  5. EPO Senior Management (Cabal) “Essentially Deaf to the Proposals From Staff Representatives.”

    Representatives of EPO staff feel like the management of the EPO is "deaf" and uncaring; there's hardly any meaningful progress (or none whatsoever) when it comes to truly honest dialogue with real participation



  6. EPO Management, Led by António Campinos, Attempted to Stifle or Prevent Staff From Being Surveyed

    Battistelli's cabal, which covers up a lot of fraud and corruption, is attempting to prevent the staff from expressing an opinion (for insiders and perhaps outsiders to assess) because things are really bad and autocratic measures are seen as necessary to keep the lid on issues/abuses



  7. The European Patent Office's Central Staff Committee: Office Cannot Recruit Fit-for-Purpose Patent Examiners Anymore

    One third of EPO recruits are 'locals' (Germans), 0.2% are Swiss, 1% Scandinavian; the EPO as an employer became unattractive and it's unable to attract the staff it needs (as was projected and planned when the EPC was agreed upon)



  8. IRC Proceedings: Friday, November 27, 2020

    IRC logs for Friday, November 27, 2020



  9. Links 27/11/2020: Jolla is 7, Diffoscope 162, MNT Reform Production

    Links for the day



  10. The Time Coronavirus Helped EPO Management Prevent Staff From Protesting and Going on Strike (March 26th)

    "In view of the spreading of the New Corona Virus, the planned General Assemblies have to be cancelled," the Staff Union of the European Patent Office (SUEPO) wrote in the wake of the crisis across Europe back in March (weeks ahead of a planned strike)



  11. Guarding Your Privacy With E2EE: Primer

    "As with all security, there is assumed risk no matter how careful you are. There are no security guarantees but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try."



  12. Links 27/11/2020: Systemd 247 and Cockpit 233

    Links for the day



  13. A Free Speech Deficit Harms Software Freedom

    Free software and Software Freedom cannot possibly succeed if we keep accepting or even just tolerating systematic censorship of opinionated people in our community; failing to speak out on this matter (for fear of supposedly offending someone, risking expulsion) is part of the problem — complicity by passivity



  14. Perception of Difficulty

    New poem by figosdev



  15. IRC Proceedings: Thursday, November 26, 2020

    IRC logs for Thursday, November 26, 2020



  16. Cartoon: After Gambling With Workers' Savings the EPO Can Do Real Estate

    New EPO cartoon from EPO insiders (the one on the right certainly looks a lot like António Campinos and the one on the left can be his EUIPO ‘import’ or Benoît Battistelli‘s INPI ‘import’)



  17. Free as in Freedom Should Not be Associated With Cost

    It's important to remind people that so-called 'free' services (Clown Computing, centralised spaces that 'farm' their so-called 'users') aren't really free; we need to advocate freedom or free-as-in-freedom alternatives



  18. [Meme] UPC's Pyrrhic Victory

    Contrary to what Team UPC says, what happened earlier today is hardly a breakthrough



  19. Many Thanks to Free Software, the Demise of Software Patents (in Europe and the US), and So Much More

    On a positive note we're heading into the end of November, one month before Boxing Day; we take stock of patent affairs that impact software developers



  20. Links 26/11/2020: PHP 8.0, Proxmox VE 6.3, UNIGINE 2.13

    Links for the day



  21. 29,000 Blog Posts and Recent Site Improvements

    Over 29,000 blog posts have been posted here, but more importantly we've made the site a lot more robust and resilient, accessible in more formats and protocols (while improving transparency, too)



  22. [Meme] Trump is Out. Now It's Time to Pressure the Biden Administration/Transition Team on Software Freedom Issues.

    The Biden transition is in motion and tentative appointments are underway, based on news reports (see our Daily Links); now is the time to put pressure, e.g. in the form of public backlash, to ensure it's not just another corporate presidency



  23. Boycott ZDNet Unless You Fancy Being Lied to

    ZDNet's Catalin Cimpanu continues to lead the way with misinformation and lies, basically doing whatever he was doing to land that job at ZDNet (after he had done the same elsewhere)



  24. The UPC and Unitary Patent Song

    On goes the UPC symphony, as the Unified Patent Court (UPC) is almost here, always coming "real soon!"



  25. Open Letter to the German Greens on UPC and Software Patents: Don’t Betray Your Voters and Your Promises, or You Will Regret it

    Dear Members of the German Greens in the Bundestag. By Benjamin HENRION.



  26. [Meme] One Step Away From Replacing Patent Examiners With 'Hey Hi' (AI)

    If it's not legal for 'Hey Hi' (AI) to get a patent, why should it be legal for patents to be granted by those who are invisible (and sometimes in de facto house arrest)?



  27. European Patent Office (EPO) Reduced to 'Justice Over the Telephone' and Decree by E-mail

    The EPO is trashing the EPC and everything that the Office was supposed to stand for, as it wrongly assumes demand for monopolies (typically from foreign corporations) comes before the rule of law and Europe's public interest



  28. Making Free Software Work for Users

    The latest reply to a non-developer concerned about software freedom; guest post by figosdev



  29. IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, November 25, 2020

    IRC logs for Wednesday, November 25, 2020



  30. Links 26/11/2020: AV Linux 2020.11.23 and Blender 2.91 Release

    Links for the day


RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

Recent Posts