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03.13.09

Patents Roundup: TomTom, The ‘Bilski Test’, Junk Patents, and Ambush

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents, TomTom at 9:18 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Truthfulness with me is hardly a virtue. I cannot discriminate between truths that and those that don’t need to be told.”

Margot Asquith

TomTom Revisited

IT IS hard treating the TomTom case as though it’s old news because ramifications may be serious and Microsoft is already spinning. Jay Lyman, a self-professed proponent of GNU/Linux, is optimistically suggesting that the lawsuit has not negatively affected the adoption of Linux in the embedded space and based on our collection of news stories over the past fortnight, Lyman is probably correct. He wrote:

I don’t necessarily see the same effect from the TomTom suit since, at least publicly, Microsoft is not making the case that it is Linux on the line. I can report that there does not seem to be any slowdown or hesitation in the embrace of Linux for embedded devices. Perhaps that is the reason that Microsoft has chosen to play down any implications for Linux and open source, rather than puff them up as it has done in the past. If Microsoft or anyone else challenges the IP integrity of the Linux OS, it is likely to reinforce the idea that the open source software is legitimate, licensed, covered by copyright, and absolutely appropriate for enterprise, embedded and other commercial uses, at least that’s what history tells us.

SD Times has already gathered some more details about mysterious anomalies that harm Microsoft’s case.

Under the original FAT licensing program, pricing was US$0.25 per unit with a cap on total royalties of $250,000 per manufacturer, according to what had been posted on Microsoft’s website from 2003 to July 2006. A Microsoft spokesperson could not explain why they were removed or whether those terms were applicable to the 18 agreements outlined in the lawsuit.

As we showed 2 weeks ago, Microsoft had explicitly promised not to sue over FAT. It therefore fails to keep up with its own licences, let alone just those promises. This is why we believe that Microsoft is fighting a losing battle and it relies heavily on the financial situation of TomTom which is rather frail right now.

“As we showed 2 weeks ago, Microsoft had explicitly promised not to sue over FAT.”Microsoft, like SCO, frequently relies on exhaustion of its opponents (or lingering the uncertainty), so it’s a test that merely determines whose pockets are deeper and who can afford more motions. It is very much the same with the European Commission, which Microsoft drives into exhaustion for many years, so by the time compliance is reached — if that ever happens at all — the documentation delivered is already irrelevant and outdated.

One reader recently told us that this is “unfortunately the nature of the law. As a lawyer, I can tell you that lawyers don’t sit around talking about justice, they talk about whether you can win a motion for summary judgment (a quick way to end cases). Law is very narrow. It is not about justice. It is about whether the law can be used to bludgeon your opponent. [...] It is increasingly becoming true that the party with the greater resources wins. That is why it is so important for TomTom to win this case.

Business law

Software Patents Can Die

Illegitimacy of Microsoft’s claims aside, the question about patentability of software post-Bilski [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14] just keeps arising. According to this article about TomTom, In Re Bilski keeps slaughtering software patents.

Due to the Bilski ruling, new software patent evaluation rules have come into existence and just recently IBM lost claim to one of its database query patents. It was rejected because the innovation isn’t “tied to a particular machine”.

The BPAI goes on to justify the rejection by pointing out that the “system” on which the innovation operates is “not recited in terms of hardware or tangible structural elements”, which is to say that the patent is rejected because the elements of the claim are “implemented solely in software or algorithms”.

Moreover, according to Law.com, the opposition to Bernard Bilski’s patent is proving invaluable.

Federal Circuit Bars Patent for Business ‘Paradigm’

[...]

“A paradigm is basically a way of doing something,” Harris said. “I was trying to define a whole new set of claims — a new style of claims.”

At the end of the day, do software patents matter anymore? Are they sufficiently valid to actually endure the ‘court test’?

Junk Patents

One of our readers has accumulated examples of new patents that are worth putting here for their hilarity value. As he puts it, Cryptomathic patents user authentication using a central server, Innovid patents in-video brand experience, Worlds.com patents virtual reality, CounterPath patents mobile to IP roaming, laundry viewing over the Internet is patented, reading barcode with camera phone is patented, F-Secure patents updating virus signatures over SMS, Prolexic patents anti-DDOS service, and automatic menu generation too is now a patent.

What on Earth is going on here?

Patent Ambush (or Patents in Standards)

Rambus’ patent trap inside a standard [1, 2, 3, 4] is highly relevant to us because Microsoft patent traps like OOXML and C#, which are wrapped with something called “standard” (never mind if sheer crime was devised to achieve the status), are a danger to Free software.

According to this early report, Rambus is getting its way with a patent ambush and this can cost Hynix as much as $0.4 billion. Yes, all of this money just for patents, which were sneakily concealed inside a standard while it was innocently being adopted by many.

Hynix has agreed to pay royalties of up to 4.25 per cent for the use of Rambus patents in devices sold between the 31st of January 2009 and the 18th of April 2010.

Ars Technica has some more details about this story.

MPEG-2 may not be a case of an ambush, but as we showed last week, Lenovo is being hurt quite badly by it. MPEG-2 is a real issue for Free software because it has spread widely and it requires patents to be used. According to CNET, Apple potentially poisons Web standards with patents, we well.

On March 5 Apple dropped a small bombshell on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards body, excluding one of its patents from the W3C Royalty-Free License commitment of the W3C Patent Policy for Widgets 1.0. The patent in question covers automatic updates to a client computer in a networked operating environment.

The author is an advocate of Apple, so he tries to convince the readers that Apple is a friend of open source when in reality it is a a big foe of open source and freedom in general. Well, fortunately, Apple suffers just like Microsoft and it shows.

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