Summary: In the face of heavy Microsoft lobbying against Free software in Europe, in addition to a patent lawsuit against one Linux-based European company, backlash was inevitable
A NEW paper from IPRIA speaks about the strangulation of small players in the market which is saturated with patents. But Microsoft tells different stories using its lobbying guns and pseudo-grassroots campaigns [1, 2, 3]. It has been very busy hijacking papers and voices in Europe recently, but not everyone is willing to tolerate it.
EndSoftwarePatents.org, with backing from the FSF
and FSFE, is going to stage protests that rain on Microsoft’s self-serving parade and “schmoozing” of diplomats (Microsoft bamboozled and schmoozed Commissioner Neelie Kroes).
Here are the preliminary details:
Raise awareness of ‘Economic Parasites’, Brussels, Thursday 5th 8am
EndSoftwarePatents.org will be launching the “Economic Parasites” campaign and our first action will be to inform the attendees of Microsoft’s “Growth and Innovation Day”.
Help is needed to hand out leaflets outside the entrance before this event.
Since this is very short notice, if you know someone else who might be happy to help us, please forward them this email.
Microsoft attacked free software and GNU/Linux users with software patent claims against the Tom Tom Navigator and its implementation of the FAT file system. With widespread support for GNU/Linux becoming a reality, are these patent claims an attempt to chill adoption by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD)? Let’s remind businesses and politicians in Brussels that Microsoft is a parasite.
Microsoft’s patent aggression [1, 2] is already working quite badly against it. In fact, to illustrate the situation, here is a new TomTom cartoon. Think about the impact of Bilski [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14] because software patents may not be really valid anymore, surely not in Europe. But there are barriers nonetheless, such as this disinformation-filled page from the EPO. It’s angering a number of people who spot the propaganda language.
Why are such programs not patentable in Europe?
The EPO does not grant patents for computer programs or computer-implemented business methods that make no technical contribution. Programs for computers as such are excluded from patentability by virtue of Art. 52(2)(c) and (3) EPC. According to this patent law, a program for a computer is not patentable if it does not have the potential to cause a “further technical effect” which must go beyond the inherent technical interactions between hardware and software.
On the other hand, a CII (even in the form of a computer program) that can provide this further technical effect can be patentable, subject to the other patentability requirements, such as novelty and inventive step. In this case, it would be recognised as providing a technical solution to a technical problem.
Richard Stallman has already stated that “staff at the European Patent Office went on strike accusing the organization of corruption: specifically, stretching the standards for patents in order to make more money.” Richard Stallman, on behalf of the Free Software Foundation, has also made a call to address IETF’s monopoly enablement and he explains why.
In an e-mail message sent to various mailing lists, Mr Richard Stallman argued:
“A patented standard for software is worse than no standard, because it functions to augment the patent holder’s stranglehold over society. What everyone ought to do is resist it.
As long as the IETF allows patented standards for software, anyone can argue about any proposed patented standard that it important enough to excuse the patent. Others can argue that it is not, but since that is a question of judgment, the conclusion is never inevitable. So the risk is always broader than it might appear.”
Obviously Mr Stallman and, with him FSF, are launching an attempt to use the particular Draft standard at stake as a vehicle for launching a broader political debate on CII patenting in the wider context of the IETF.
It is important to remember whose interests are served by changing patent law so as to protect monopolies with legal means. Microsoft’s OOXML corruptions, for example, were done for an important reason (patents and control). Charles explains how these things may also relate to Microsoft’s corporate behaviour, which devolved further:
Microsoft defends itself by being Microsoft. I am not naïve and I know there were other monopolies in the recent past: But if we remember well the eighties, Microsoft used to have some charm back then. These days, it’s all about legal actions, and lobbying of international institutions. The last one is particularly shocking given Microsoft’s poor record with standardisation. But it does not stop this company to send in one of its best people, Amy Marasco, to the ITU in order to frame an intellectual property policy designed, among other goals, to hinder the FOSS sector to use standards.
By all means, Microsoft is still a monopoly abuser whose “undocumentation” (Microsoft’s own term) is not satisfactory [1, 2, 3, 4], as matter of design. So it’s disappointing to see the European Commission dropping the ball despite the clear warnings.
The EU executive appointed computer science professor Neil Barrett in 2005 to assess data provided by Microsoft — documents that he later judged as “unusable” as a manual for software engineers.
What is the European Commission thinking here?
The European Commission has relaxed the requirements of the 2004 anti-trust order against Microsoft – the software giant no longer needs its behaviour watched by a full-time “monitoring trustee”.
Red Hat hit by a patent suit
According to the court filing by Software Tree, the patent has previously been re-examined by the patent office and was granted a re-examination certificate in April 2008. The filing states that Software Tree wishes the court to award unspecified damages to them for infringement and lost profit and to permanently injunct Red Hat from distributing Hibernate, while it infringes the patent.
As David Gerard points out, “this is two competitors for the price of one: Red Hat and Java.”
To summarise with just one thought in the words of Anthony J. D’Angelo, “If you believe that discrimination exists, it will.” Microsoft is always trying to marginalise — if not altogether illegalise — Free software. Whereas Microsoft claims that it’s discriminated against by Free software advocates, it seems unable to acknowledge its own hypocrisy. █