“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.”
–Bill Gates (when Microsoft was smaller)
Summary: A roundup of news and observations about Microsoft’s exploitation of software patents
AS THE previous post showed, Microsoft and its offshoots may be paying politicians for software patents. One of the benefits (to Microsoft) which comes out of this is that it bans competition. Microsoft’s #1 competition is GNU/Linux and Free software and the company already sues this competition using software patents which is lobbies for. Microsoft views software patents as something that the GPL is naturally vulnerable to.
LWN.net has just made public its latest debate about the TomTom/FAT case, which represents Microsoft’s first legal shot at Linux. From the article:
When Microsoft filed its lawsuit against TomTom, it named two patents which cover the VFAT filesystem. That, naturally, led to a renewed push to either (1) get those patents invalidated, or (2) move away from VFAT altogether. But some participants have advocated a third approach: find a way to work around the patents which retains most of the VFAT filesystem functionality while, with luck, avoiding any potential infringement of the claims of the patent. But, as a recently-posted patch and the ensuing discussion show, workarounds are not a straightforward solution even after the lawyers have been satisfied.
Far from being the evil monopolist, Microsoft has in many ways become the cooperative giant—and it’s all thanks to intellectual property. The company’s IP czar takes us inside the corporate transformation in a new book, Burning the Ships, to show us how it happened (and to take a few potshots at Richard Stallman).
Glyn Moody responds to the shallow take contained in this book review, which seems only to defend Microsoft’s offensive behaviour. Software patents did not make Microsoft nicer; they only made it more ruthless and anti-competitive.
To call this “collaboration” is a perversion of language: it’s about *enslavement*, pure and simple. It’s just that Microsoft has become subtler.
But for many large enterprises, potential intellectual property (IP) lawsuits and lack of support staff still keep open source tools out of data centers.
Indemnification is also mentioned in Bluenog’s new press release — being a company that more or less uses the term “open source” for marketing purposes.
“Bluenog is disrupting today’s enterprise technology space with Bluenog ICE, an integrated suite of CMS, Portal and BI software that offers the benefits of open source, such as access to source code, backed by indemnification and the comprehensive support typical of commercial solutions,” said Suresh Kuppusamy, chief executive officer, Bluenog. “It is no small feat to be selected among the best and brightest companies competing to be winners of the Red Herrin
Some of Microsoft’s patents are rather outrageous. Take this newly-approved patent for example. It’s hilarious, it’s an embarrassment to the USPTO.
“On Tuesday, Microsoft was granted US Patent No. 7,536,726 (it was filed in 2005) for intentionally crippling the functionality of an operating system by ‘making selected portions and functionality of the operating system unavailable to the user or by limiting the user’s ability to add software applications or device drivers to the computer’ until an ‘agreed upon sum of money’ is paid to ‘unlock or otherwise make available the restricted functionality.’ According to Microsoft, this solves a ‘problem inherent in open architecture systems,’ i.e., ‘they are generally licensed with complete use rights and/or functionality that may be beyond the need or desire of the system purchaser.’ An additional problem with open architecture systems, Microsoft explains, is that ‘virtually anyone can write an application that can be executed on the system.’ Nice to see the USPTO rewarding Microsoft’s eight problem-solving inventors, including Linux killer (and antelope killer) Joachim Kempin, who’s been credited with getting Microsoft hauled into federal court on antitrust charges.”
Regarding this news, one reader writes to us: “Microsoft Openness, I don’t think so. It just goes to demonstrate how – they aren’t ever going to stop – until they own it all.
“This ‘patent’ a perversion of everything the technology is supposed to be about. Guess who the gate keeper of of this functionality is going to be. Not content with messing with the ever changing system calls, they now want to control the whole industry at the OS level.”
In a newly disclosed patent application, naming Allard and others as inventors, Microsoft seeks intellectual property protection for a concept described, literally, as a “MAGIC WAND.” Although it was only made public a few days ago, the application was originally filed in November 2007 — about a year after Nintendo launched the Wii, with its distinctive, wand-style controller. (Update: Timing of Nintendo’s Wii launch has been corrected since original post.)
More coverage in:
- Microsoft Just Gives Up, Files for Patent on ‘Magic Wand’
- Microsoft patents ‘magic wand’
- Microsoft claims it has the magic wand
Gene Quinn, a lawyer and proponent of software patents (the more patents, the more money for lawyers) says that In Re Bilski is not bad for software patents. The patent reform (deform), which is by all means a farce, seems to have negative impact in other places where equivalents crop up. Here is one from New Zealand:
I will begin by looking briefly at software. The bill proposes that software should be patentable; the opposite direction to that being pursued by the European Union. This is a very bad idea. The foremost theorist in this area is Richard Stallman. Stallman eloquently argues that the use of software patents stifles creativity, massively reduces efficiency, and can lead to whole areas of software usefulness remaining unexplored. Software patents are a substantial cause of software incompatibility, for example. He draws an analogy with the composition of a symphony. Suppose someone had patented particular chord progressions, sequences of notes, or combinations of instruments playing at the same time. What sort of problem would Beethoven have had? We regard him as a brilliant and innovative composer, but he wrote symphonies using a musical vocabulary comprised of very many musical ideas developed by multiple composers. Stallman argues that even a genius software programmer must draw on a standard vocabulary of programming ideas. If software patents are permitted, then the programmer cannot draw on such ideas without infringing patents. The consequences are that whole areas of software development are avoided lest software developers breach patents, and in other areas inefficient or otherwise unsatisfactory programmes remain in use because it is not technically feasible to develop better options because of this restriction. In this area patents are clearly a brake and a hindrance on innovation.
IP Enforcement As US Foreign Policy
The United States Chamber of Commerce, the largest US business group, on Monday issued a release applauding a new bill introduced into the US House of Representatives by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (Democrat, California) that would “enhance State Department resources and training for intellectual property enforcement efforts in countries not meeting their international obligations,” the Chamber said.
In essence, this is competitive strangulation using pieces of paper. As we showed earlier, Microsoft being the example, even crippling of an operating systems is now a US patent. Here is another funny new patent which is consumer-hostile:
MLB Gets A Patent On Making It More Difficult To Watch Your Favorite Baseball Team Online
Limiting access by subscription levels has been around forever. Combining the two hardly seems new and innovative. This seems like it should fail based on general obviousness, as well as the new tests under the KSR ruling (on obviousness) and the Bilski ruling (on pure software patents). About the only “good” that comes of this is that perhaps it means other sports leagues won’t use such an anti-fan policy.
Where is this patent system going? And other than selfishness and infinite greed, what is it that motivates Microsoft to support it? █