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03.06.09

Patents Roundup: TomTom, Microsoft, Patent Trolls, Red Hat, IBM, Google, Bilski and Reform

Posted in Courtroom, Europe, Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, Google, GPL, IBM, Law, Microsoft, Patents, Red Hat, TomTom at 10:55 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: An accumulation of many important analyses/developments that have occurred over the past couple of days

TomTom Case Revisited

IN PREVIOUS POSTS about Microsoft’s lawsuit against TomTom [1, 2, 3, 4], clear motives were sought after and explanations given with regards to the TomTom choice as a litigation target. One of those explanations was echoed by Linux Magazine a couple of days ago:

I’m not sure if this tactic will stand up in a court of law nor will we be finding out anytime soon. Why? Because TomTom doesn’t have the money to fight MS.

If TomTom had refused to fight and instead just settled (perhaps due to lack of options), that would have a hugely negative effect on Linux. It makes it likely that Microsoft picked on the feeble on purpose. But a more interesting explanation may have actually come from Jeremy Allison, whom we interviewed 2 years ago. Glyn Moody summarised his argument as follows:

The question now is what Microsoft hopes to achieve by bringing this lawsuit. A fascinating explanation is provided as a comment to my original post from Jeremy Allison. He’s one of the leaders of the Samba project, and knows more than most about how Microsoft thinks and operates, since he’s been heavily involved in the EU’s efforts to get interoperability information from the company. Here’s what he wrote:

What people are missing about this is the either/or choice that Microsoft is giving Tom Tom.

It isn’t a case of cross-license and everything is ok. If Tom Tom or any other company cross licenses patents then by section 7 of GPLv2 (for the Linux kernel) they lose the rights to redistribute the kernel *at all*.

Microsoft has been going around and doing these patent cross licensing deals with companies under NDA’s so they never come to light for *years*.

That was the whole point of the Novell deal – Microsoft lawyers finally thought they’d found a way to *publicly* do these cross licensing deals and get around the GPLv2, but the GPLv3 put paid to that.

Tom Tom are the first company to publicly refuse to engage in this ugly little protection racket, and so they got sued. Had Tom Tom silently agreed to violate the GPL, as so many others have, then we’d only hear about a vague “patent cross licensing deal” just like the ones Microsoft announces with other companies.

Make no mistake, this is intended to force Tom Tom to violate the GPL, or change to Microsoft embedded software.

[...]

So it turns out that the TomTom lawsuit goes to the heart of Microsoft’s attacks on Linux, and its effort to stop people using it in embedded systems – an increasingly popular option, and one, therefore, that is increasingly problematic for Microsoft.

It is not particularly surprising that as Microsoft terrorises many companies out there, patent deals are being quietly signed. SJVN dramatises it a little too much using the headline “Linux companies sign Microsoft patent protection pacts.”

I dug this up during an e-mail discussion with Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of intellectual property and licensing, Gutierrez said, “We have a history of licensing the patents in this case through patent cross licensing agreements with other leaders in the car navigation space, including Kenwood, Alpine and Pioneer, and through our FAT LFN (File Allocation Table/Long File Name) patent licensing program, where we have 18 licensees to date.” This is being done under Microsoft’s FAT LFN File System Licensing Program.

[...]

The most important reason why the specifics of these deals are under NDA is that any company doing a patent cross license without covering its downstream recipients, i.e. users, is a direct violation of GPLv2 section 7, and is even more explicitly a GPLv3 violation. In other words, if a company admitted to signing such a deal, it could not legally distribute software or hardware using Linux, licensed under the GPLv2, or Samba the file/print server licensed over the GPLv3.

Despite all of this obvious abuse, there are always goons who are trying to bind Microsoft and Free/open source programmers together. They are very dishonest at times.

We mentioned Elizabeth Montalbano the other day, but IDG, which relies on Microsoft as a large revenue source [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], also employs others who quite often deceive, e.g. this writer.

Nancy Gohring is an IDG News Service correspondent based in Seattle, WA. She covers mobile phones, Microsoft and technology companies in the Pacific Northwest.

There is rarely sufficient investigation into the side which is not Microsoft, even when the articles are about Microsoft’s competitors or victims.

One of Microsoft’s sympathetic bloggers, Todd Bishop, tries to deflect attention away from Microsoft’s patent misbehaviour using a cartoon. It’s worth keeping track of who serves whose interests because the media is biased against Freedom, which does not pay the bills of publishers (separate from writers and editors, whose interests are likely separate and well intended).

Patent Propaganda

Stepping aside for a moment, it is worth remembering that without promotion of monopolistic values, a lot of this would not be possible and therefore would not happen in the first place. Over the years — for decades in fact — companies have been trying to rewrite laws so as to empower themselves further; by means of coercion and suppression, unions have been weakened to allow this. The media is no exception to this rule (it is, after all, just business), so there is apathy of convenience from that direction too.

As we showed last week, Microsoft is very busy rewriting laws in Europe [1, 2, 3]. It is trying to describe Free software as something “criminal”. Yesterday this led to protests and not even reporters from the Microsoft-influenced ZDNet were impressed by the bash that Microsoft had thrown to brainwash European politicians.

Why does Microsoft call its big EU lobbying-party an Innovation Day? When a big company puts on a show in Brussels to get the ear of government, it seems more like business as usual to us

Today, Microsoft gathers several hundred of the EU elite to an Innovation Day in Brussels. It seems reasonable to ask what innovation there will be there.

Yes, there’s Microsoft’s Surface – aptly satirised on Youtube by SarcasticGamer as “a big-ass table” (and perhaps not the sprightliest answer to the iPhone). But the rest is given over to a crew of Microsoft partners who – from the online brochure, are very worthy, but don’t seem to have a lot new to say (but, non-Microsoft readers, please do tell me if you’re excited by anything there).

The programme has an ironic session on Intellectual Property – ironic because Microsoft is currently using its software patents to threaten the open source world in not-very specific terms. The current lawsuit against TomTom starts to get to specifics, but seems very clearly to be directed at stifling innovation.

It’s also ironic to see EU commissioners on the programme, given the EU’s history in nailing Microsoft as a monopolist.

Transmeta’s imaginary assets were acquired by one of Microsoft's patent trolls and an informant sent us this pointer to the press release [PDF]. Despite it being old news, we are told that it “fits all in the pattern of current litigation news: Red Hat, TomTom, Google.

“And don’t forget that Transmeta employed Linus Torvalds,” says the person whom we spoke to.

Let’s look in turn at some litigation against Google and Red Hat, based on the very latest news.

Patent Trolling Against Google

Microsoft’s constant attacks on Google are very distasteful [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. For a fact, they involve Microsoft urging companies to sue Google.

Google has come to the point of publicly complaining about patent trolls and the patent system in general.

Consider this: Of the 20 patent lawsuits filed against Google since late 2007, all but two have been filed by plaintiffs who don’t make or sell any real product or service — in other words, by non-practicing entities or “patent trolls.” Most of these cases seem to feature the same small set of contingent fee plaintiff’s lawyers asserting patent claims against the same small set of companies. We’ve also noticed a more disturbing trend: in many of these cases, the patents being asserted against us are owned by — and in a surprising number of cases, are even “invented” by — patent lawyers themselves.

The Stop Software Patents initiative summarises some of the key points from the above.

Google has published a statement on their Public Policy Blog stating that 90% of companies suing them for patent infringement were non practicing entities, or patent trolls. Google goes on by clarifying that in lots of cases, the patents are “invented” by the patent lawyers themselves.

According to Google, many of these patents and laws seem to be coming from patent lawyers, not engineers. Moreover, there is a surge of lawsuits against Google, the vast majority of which come from patent trolls. May something or someone be encouraging this?

Red Hat and IBM

A couple of days ago, Red Hat was sued over patents. Yes, again. Ars Technica has some more details preceded by background and IBM too has just become a victim.

Software company SuperSpeed LLC on Monday added a claim of willful infringement to its lawsuit accusing IBM Corp. of infringing five patents related to computer data caching.

One of our readers, tacone, showed us this comment. It begs for the question: what can (or should) IBM do about a torrent of lawsuits, especially those that jeopardise GNU and/or Linux?

MS actually jumps on quite a few patents held by IBM and Novell in the Unix world.

Attempt to sue linux users, and IBM, Novell et al will quickly get the lawyers out.

Can you imagine IBM forcing a “Cease and Desist” order on ALL MS Windows sales, then demanding full source code disclosure so that windows can be ripped apart line by line, so that IBM can then dismantle all code owned by them from the windows platform?

IBM and Novell could destroy the windows platform with ease, where as the worst than can happen to linux is that all current source code is modified to remove/put outside all code that breaks patents in the US, but make it all available outside the US, where none of this matters.

The debate is a little complicated. For starters, IBM cross-licenses with Microsoft, so to sue would be almost impossible unless Microsoft somehow decided to sue IBM, not TomTom (Microsoft targets companies with whom it has no licensing). In addition, IBM is a supporter of software patents, even in the EU.

SFLC Rearms

The SFLC is looking to hire a patent lawyer, which raises some speculations right now.

The Software Freedom Law
, a New York based not-for-profit legal services organization that provides legal representation and other law-related services to protect and advance Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), seeks a registered patent attorney passionate about defending software freedom.

 

The Software Freedom Law Center is moving closer to joining the defense of TomTom, having posted a want ad for a patent attorney at its blog yesterday…

At the same time skepticism is growing over whether this is the right legal fight for open source, with Matt Asay all but accusing TomTom of high tech panhandling.

The FSF, much like the SFLC (there is glaring overlap therein), is no friend of Microsoft, but with revisionism [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] and posturing Microsoft is trying to lure people in. Matt Lee explains what Microsoft is up to.

Microsoft comes to the Boston area, like a bad uninvited dinner guest in this guest blog by Mark Northfist.

When you visit Microsoft’s web site for New England Research & Development Center you don’t get a sense that it is a part of a 30 year old multinational proprietary corporation with a bad track record when it comes to user freedom and community support. In fact, the site could be called hip and sleek, with an emphasis on small teams, the local community, and innovative research. The site shows pictures of the new office, which features glass walls that don equations painted on them. Almost weekly they are featuring meetups for the tech community at their office, and they are clearly putting money and effort into local collaborations with MIT, museums, and other organizations. And, despite laying off hundreds elsewhere in their organization, they are actively recruiting to their Cambridge office, with an advertisement campaign that takes over multiple subway stations in the Cambridge area.

But, we aren’t fooled. As one local Blogger puts it, Hey Microsoft, welcome! I know you have a history of anti-trust activities and monopolization, so why don’t you go ahead and show us your friendly new image by taking over every square inch of advertising real estate in Harvard Square!

Software Patents May be Invalid

A patent system that is corrupted beyond recognition seems unwilling to mend itself amid the arrival of a disappointing patent reform bill. We have produced an HTML version of this bill (thanks to Tony Manco) and we are at least encouraged to see that the Bilski ruling alone [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14] did more good than any ludicrous bill probably ever could.

Glyn Moody notes that software patents are being ruled out with an explicit mention of the Bilski case.

There have been a number of important cases on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the patenting of software recently. In the UK, there were two cases, both initially rejected.

[...]

If you read these, they are both trying to patent pretty obvious ideas: “groups” and a “device profile table”. Both were rejected, and now their appeals have been turned down too. That’s good news, because it re-affirms that there is, at least, a bar for this kind of stuff, and that it’s being enforced.

Judges seem to be thinking along the same lines in the US, too, following the important and by-now famous Bilski case, with a whole series of rejections based on it…

As Mike Masnick puts it, “Bilski Continues To Cause Software Patents To Get Rejected.” There are still those who are in denial:

Right after the Bilski ruling that greatly limited software and business method patents, lawyers who were in favor of such patents held a conference call, where they basically said the ruling wouldn’t change anything.

Moving forward, it seems reasonable to suggest that programming alone is not going to win in a world that is so corruptible. Google, for example, has found out the hard way that having a superior product is not sufficient when a company is scheming to “kill” rivals using lawyers and legalised bribery.

Patent law matters. It’s time to get involved.

“There is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes or makes it the official duty of a president to have anything to do with criminal activities.”

Sam(uel) James Ervin, Jr.

20 dollar bill

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2 Comments

  1. vincent said,

    March 7, 2009 at 4:23 am

    Gravatar

    Why doesn’t Linus Torvald change the license of the Linux kernel ?
    (GNU GPL v2 => GNU GPL v3)

  2. Jose_X said,

    March 7, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Gravatar

    I think we can get US software patents really curtailed if not totally eliminated via the courts.

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