05.02.09

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General Electric Joins Microsoft’s Fight Against Free Software

Posted in America, Europe, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, Patents, TomTom at 8:06 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Europe’s software patents cartel is rearmed

General Electric

Summary: Another look at the TomTom/FAT case, GE’s new role in Europe, and growing opposition to software patents

ACCORDING TO this report, General Electric has joined a group of American lobbyists who are trying to impose American software patents upon Europe. Red Hat is the exception [PDF].

Microsoft has teamed with General Electric to petition European regulators on a fundamental principle that will continue to drive a wedge between the company and open source supporters.

The duo filed an amicus brief arguing that regulators should believe in the existence of patents in software and that these patents should then be enforceable in European Union courts.

This article comes from a Linux-hostile person and it actually stirs things up using FAT patents. Over in Europe, TomTom paid less than €500,000 to Microsoft. The laws in Holland are worth learning in order to understand the cause, but basically, what Microsoft wanted from the TomTom case is PR. And indeed, the company issued a press release to celebrate this settlement at the time, so right now it must be going from door to door waiving it and demanding money for the Linux kernel. That’s why OIN has responded and Linux developers are already working around the patents.

“…Microsoft wanted to keep this number under the radar (out of the public eye) and that’s why they asked for less than €500,000.”In reality, given the nature and scale of the case, €500,000 is a very meager amount, so Microsoft will not want it to be publicly known. We have it confirmed that Microsoft wanted to keep this number under the radar (out of the public eye) and that’s why they asked for less than €500,000. It has something to do with Dutch law (tax in particular). Can any of our Dutch readers look into this?

To say more about Europe, patent filings are falling there as well (just like in the United States). It’s a reason to be delighted because patents merely restrict research and development. They promote immovable monopolies that are nothing to be jubilant about unless you work for Philips or Siemens or SAP. They too are lobbyists for more patents simply because they are in a position where they can elbow competition out of their way.

Preliminary figures from the European Patent Office (EPO) reveal that the number of applications for new patents is down 7% in the first two months of 2009. This is the first reduction in patent applications in over a decade, sparking fears that Europe’s knowledge economy is under threat.

As the deadline for submission to the EBoA is reached, a few more reports trickle in. From those who are in favour of software patents (lawyers of course):

Of these, some are very interesting, some are fairly pedestrian, some are horribly wordy and full of legal ‘analysis’, footnotes and references, some are fairly predictable ill-informed anti-patent rants, while others are merely irrelevant. The IPKat (who still can’t see what on Earth TRIPs has to do with the EPO) will let his readers decide which are which.

More from the same source: [via Digital Majority]

There have also been problems in the UK, where the Intellectual Property Office has issued four different Practice Notices relating to computer-implemented inventions in the last five years. CIPA is not in favour of such frequent changes, as patents have a lifetime of up to twenty years.

The EBoA (for EPO) is also receiving some more hostile responses.

(B) IF QUESTION 2 (A) IS ANSWERED IN THE NEGATIVE, IS A FURTHER TECHNICAL EFFECT NECESSARY TO AVOID EXCLUSION, SAID EFFECT GOING BEYOND THOSE EFFECTS INHERENT IN THE USE OF A COMPUTER OR DATA STORAGE MEDIUM TO RESPECTIVELY EXECUTE OR STORE A COMPUTER PROGRAM?

Congratulations. That is more creative for circumventing the law.

IBM may be fighting to protect Linux from FAT (c/f first report), but it is by no means opposed to software patenting. Being a veteran monopoly, it sticks to diplomacy and keeps quiet about it while patenting a whole load of rubbish. Latest example:

theodp writes “In 2006, IBM boasted it was ‘holding itself to a higher standard than any law requires because it’s urgent that patent quality is improved.’ On Thursday, the USPTO revealed that IBM was seeking a patent for Controlling and Using Virtual Universe Wish Lists. The product of six IBM inventors, Big Blue explained that a ‘virtual wish list device determines an item in a virtual universe that is desired by an avatar.’ Led by Chief Avatar Sam Palmisano, IBM is still drinking the virtual world Kool-Aid, dropping $80,000 to host a recent Second Life-based conference for 200 or so members of the IBM Academy of Technology. IBM indicated the virtual venue was chosen to avoid sending ‘the wrong kind of message’ (pdf) that something like a $400,000 real-world meeting might send during troubled economic times.”

IBM must realise that its patent hypocrisy is not helping GNU/Linux. It ought to show some determination to exterminate barriers to Free software; and not just about Linux, of which it is a prominent user.

IBM’s patent department is actively lobbying Europe to legalise software patents. They have invested millions in fighting example cases to leading European lawcourts such as the EPO’s Technical Boards of Appeal and the German Federal Court in order to soften and eventually remove European restrictions on patenting software. They have also threatened European politicians that IBM might close down local facilities if software patents are not legalised in Europe. IBM has also prevented the US government from conducting studies on the value of software patents for the national economy. In the wake of the Opensource hype, IBM’s rhetoric has become relatively moderate, but nonetheless it is supported by real pressure. IBM has acquired approximately 1000 European software patents whose legal status is currently unclear. Given the great number of software patents in IBM’s hands, IBM is one of the few software companies who may have a genuine interest in software patentability. Once software patents become assertable in Europe, an IBM tax of several billion EUR per year may be levied on European software companies.” [Read more]

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2 Comments

  1. Dave said,

    May 2, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Gravatar

    Micrsoft licenses the FAT patents for 25 cent per sold item or for a one time 250k payment. So paying 500k dollar is not cheap whatsoever.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Do you happen to know the exact amount they shelled out?

    Thanks.

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