03.25.09

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Microsoft’s “Burning The Ships” is Corporate Patent Propaganda (and How Novell Helps It)

Posted in Europe, Law, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Red Hat at 3:37 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Preliminary remarks on the motives of a new book and some more patent news

Stupid Book

EARLIER ON IN THE DAY we wrote about Ina Fried's little Microsoft placement, which glorified the company’s patent strategy against Free software. Now that Mary Jo Foley (who is usually more moderate and less of a Microsoft mouthpiece) has finally looked at Microsoft’s book and had time to make up her own mind, this turns out to be just what one ought to expect: a 186-leaf ‘whitepaper’.

While Microsoft may not have directly funded this book, it gave the authors access to its execs — everyone from Gates to Senior VP and General Counsel Brad Smith, to a number of Microsoft public-relations folks. Phelps still works at Microsoft as Corporate Vice President for IP Policy. So calling this book “unauthorized” is quite a stretch.

[...]

I haven’t read the full 186 pages of The Ships yet. But what I’ve skimmed so far makes me feel like I’m reading yet another Microsoft white paper or press release, not any kind of a behind-the-scenes tell-all. I’d be interested in hearing how some of the OEMs and other licensees of Microsoft’s patents feel about the way the authors characterize the IP licensing deals mentioned in the book….

Speaking of “other licensees,” Microsoft has just signed up another ActiveSync victim, just like it did with Xandros. It even mentions Xandros by name in the new press release about Gecad.

Over the past few years, Microsoft has entered into Exchange ActiveSync licensing agreements with Apple Inc., Big Bang System Corp., DataViz Inc., Google Inc., Helio LLC, IXI Mobile (R&D) Ltd., Nokia Corp., Palm Inc., Remoba Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, Symbian Software Ltd. and Xandros Inc.

Andy Updegrove wrote a good article last week. Therein, Updegrove explained how Microsoft had been stringing such patent deals together to justify them and persistently pressure the next victim until submission. This string of patent deals was kick-started by Novell and then marketed widely by both Microsoft and Novell. Soon enough, Microsoft found some new victims like Xandros, Linspire, and Turbolinux. It’s part of a bigger plan

“This string of patent deals was kick-started by Novell and then marketed widely by both Microsoft and Novell.”The book just published is therefore intended to continue the marketing campaign whilst Microsoft lobbyists sing praises of Microsoft’s mighty “IP” and how everyone must respect it despite the fact that Microsoft never respected anyone else's ideas and inventions.

We’ve learned that the publisher of “Burning The Ships” also sends SJVN a complimentary copy of the book. But why? Steven will hopefully not be brainwashed by it.

The newly-published book is likely to be filled with spin or saturated with revisionism because a truthful book would concentrate on and describe failures of Phelps to sign the patent deal Microsoft really needed -- the one with Red Hat. Peer reviewers of this book appear to be Microsoft executives — primarily those who think of terms of law and have professional background in the subject.

Lastly, the book also sells the impression that Microsoft is changing. Just think about the title of the book. It’s a serious lie to say that Microsoft has changed or evolved (or is “burning old ships”). Microsoft uses Novell to market itself and sell the false perception that it encourages interoperability (whilst suing TomTom over FAT in Linux).

Yesterday in the news we found this from a Microsoft executive who uses Novell to market Microsoft technologies and sell the bogus image Microsoft craves to deceive the public with.

[Microsoft's] Paoli: We also collaborate with our competitors — EMC, Novell, SAP and Sun, for example— to help solve the interoperability challenges of our mutual customers. Take Novell, for example. Microsoft worked with Novell to enable Moonlight, an open source implementation of Silverlight for the Linux operating system. Moonlight gives Linux-based users access to Web experiences that incorporate video, animation, interactivity and stunning user interfaces. It will be provided as an open source plug-in for the Firefox Web browser. In fact, an early version of Moonlight was used in January to stream President Obama’s inauguration ceremony.

Stupid Patents

It is reassuring to see that patent unrest is growing. IEEE Spectrum, for example, has just published “The Death of Business-Method Patents” and it mentions software patents too. [via Digital Majority]

The problem is that all software ultimately reduces to mathematical operations, yet only some software controls actual stuff, like the baking of rubber. If the rest is merely math and therefore unpatentable, does that mean we must deny patents to all software that runs nothing but itself?

Over in the South African press, the idea of patenting in general — and software in particular — is being slammed based on a famous corollary from Newton and the success of the World Wide Web, being a spectacular reference example of a democratising force.

Berners-Lee himself was motivated by the desire to be able to share and collaborate on ideas with other scientists and researchers. He worked on the notion of combining the concept of hypertext with the Internet, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The interesting thing about all of this in today’s world of digital rights and software patents is Berners-Lee let his creation loose on the world, with no intention of claiming ownership, royalties or patents. Thanks to this, others were able to build on his ideas and give us the WWW we enjoy (and profit from) today.

Had Vannevar Bush claimed “prior art” for his ideas or Berners-Lee felt a tad greedy, we might be looking at a very different technology landscape in 2009. Most technology, whether it’s a hammer with a claw attached or a nail-file-clipper combo are converged versions of several ideas. With the ongoing debate about who’s using whose code and whether or not they should be paying for it, maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at the mentality of the guys who got us here today. Driven by a desire to share learning and collaborate with others, they saw a bigger picture. Maybe we should do the same.

Stupid WIPO

Glyn Moody keeps abreast of these matters as well. He too realises that software patents are a hot topic right now (and not in a good way).

Finally, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is also looking at the whole area of patents. Particularly significant is the explicit consideration of “Exclusions from Patentable Subject Matter and Exceptions and Limitations to the Rights”, which mentions programs as one such area that might be examined.

It’s hard to tell whether good or bad will come out of these initiatives, but it’s clear that software patents are a hot topic at the moment.

The FSFE is doing what it can to make impact on (mis)understanding of software patents inside WIPO, which considers Free software to be illegal. [via Glyn Moody]

FSFE believes that its systematic considerations should be taken into account for and put in perspective to the reports. In particular the economic rationale for the patent system should be taken into account and reflected for the considerations of document SCP/13/3, the report on exclusions from patentable subject matter and exceptions and limitations to the rights.

We wrote about WIPO many times before [1, 2, 3, 4]. It is run by companies in the sense that funding and people come from companies, so to assume there are purely ethical and logical considerations at play would simply be naïve. But that’s exactly the Geneva-based establishment which the FSFE is addressing here. Coincidentally, FSFE was conceived in Switzerland (see correction at the bottom) and so was ISO, which got corrupted by Microsoft.

Last but not least, regarding the patent 'reform' bill that's a farce, there is something happening right now which may impact and probably reinforce this broken ‘reform’. Results from the Tafas v. Doll appeal come into play.

The conflict stems from a set of rules that the USPTO tried to put into effect in 2007. These would have limited patent applications to five unique claims and 25 total claims per invention, versus the historic lack of limit. Among other things, they would also have restricted the number of requests to reconsider a decision to reject a patent application as well as the number of continuations, or chances to effectively amend a patent application already in process. (Additional continuations would have been theoretically possible, but only with special permission and filing of additional paperwork that experts say could open the patents, if granted, to additional avenues of attack from competitors.)

Stupid Future

In a perfect world, engineers — not lawyers — would choose their own destiny. But as long as many administrative roles, governments included, are mostly occupied by lawyers, it will simply be too difficult to ignore, let alone to change the rules. Remember the Golden Rule: those with the gold will make the rules.

“Geeks like to think that they can ignore politics, you can leave politics alone, but politics won’t leave you alone.”

Richard Stallman

Woman novell

Correction from Georg Greve (26/03/2009): “FSFE was not incorporated in Geneva or Switzerland. FSFE was initially incorporated in Hamburg, Germany – and has always been a charitable registered German association. See http://fsfeurope.org/about/legal/constitution.en.html for the legal statutes registered in Germany.

“That said, we do have an office in Zurich, Switzerland, which also constitutes the basis for our charitable status in Switzerland. This is a useful base for the Freedom Task Force, and allows me to go to Geneva with a simple train ride.

“Another reference that’s potentially useful – FSFE’s project page for the WIPO work is at http://fsfeurope.org/projects/wipo/ and contains lots of materials and references about the work we’ve been doing.”

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