Summary: Patent news from the past week or so
THIS is another long roundup of patent news that may affect software patents and patent trolls.
Patent Ambush and Extortion
Rambus, a recent pioneer in gigantic patent ambush [1, 2, 3, 4], has suddenly seen the red light, which is rare. It will not be getting its way with Nvidia.
Patent Office rejects Rambus claims against Nvidia
The additional eight claims are based on two patents that Rambus has asserted against Nvidia in litigation. This follows the USPTO’s rejection last month of 41 other claims in seven patents that Rambus had asserted, Nvidia said.
This report from Eric Savitz talks about an extortion that has actually just worked.
Research In Motion (RIMM) this morning said it will pay $267.5 million as part of an agreement to settle all existing patent litigation with venture-backed Visto, which is now known as Good Technology.
FFII’s president writes in response to this: “RIM pays 267 Millions USD to get rid of another patent troll [...] We need more patent trolls.”
What he probably means to say is that by showing how utterly broken the patent system has become will there be greater pressure for change. Patent trolls are one symptom of an ill system
Some weeks ago we saw Microsoft's patent troll extorting Intuit, which is Microsoft’s rival.
Guess who is buddies with Facebook’s founder? It’s the aforementioned patent troll, ‘born’ and raised (and funded) by Microsoft.
After leaving Microsoft, Myhrvold went into the patent business. His Intellectual Ventures works like this: Buy up patents, then use them to bludgeon large tech companies into forking over fees or making investments in Intellectual Ventures.
In the course of his short career, Zuckerberg, as a tipster reminded us, has accumulated a nice array of patents. They’re related, as you might guess, to social networking and digital media. Could he use them against his rivals via Myhrvold, raising some money for Facebook in the process?
This is something to watch out for. Zuckerberg has been meeting and having fun with Microsoft executives for quite a few years.
Microsoft is not just a patent troll (by proxy). Here it is being hit from multiple directions, as the latest news ought to suggest:
i. Patent parasites sue Microsoft over Xbox Live (Microsoft too is a patent parasite)
Peter Hochstein and Jeffrey Tenenbaum (pricks) once patented a method of “communicating live while playing the same video game in separate locations” and have been milking their “idea” since 1994. In 2004, they went after both Sony and Microsoft, and in April of this year, scored a settlement with the former over the PS2′s online gaming network. Now they want more, and are focusing on Xbox Live.
ii. Apple, Microsoft, others sued over touchpad products
A case started in a US district court alleging that Microsoft, Apple and a host of other defendants have breached a patent relating to touchpad technology.
iii. Apple, Microsoft sued over iPod, Zune controls
Apple, LG, Microsoft, and 20 other companies are being sued for patent infringement by a Texas firm that claims to have invented the touchpad.
It was disappointing to find some more “innovation” propaganda published as an article in BusinessWeek (“innovation” is almost synonymous with patents in some contexts). And guess what? Only in page two does it say who the author is: “Bill Buxton is Principal Scientist at Microsoft Research and the author of Sketching User Experiences…”
Common practice for the business press. They let corporations do the ‘reporting’ or ‘independent’ ‘analysis’. The sad thing is that most readers would neither notice nor mind. Business press: from the corporations, for the corporations, passed on to ordinary people (“consumers”) to absorb.
Slated has written two essays, one of which is a general critique of intellectual monopolies.
In fact, I have often drawn this comparison before, because I see very little distinction between the practise of physical slavery, and the equally reprehensible practise of intellectual slavery. Indeed, the latter may actually be more sinister, since it assumes ownership and control of that which touches all of us, not just an unfortunate few, and is a form of subjugation which travels silently and invisibly throughout all of society, tainting us and compromising our liberties, infecting us with the disease of intellectual monopoly, thus assuming ownership of our minds. More bluntly, Intellectual Property is a cancer.
The second essay is his proposition of an alternative to patents.
Then every company in the world would be funding all research (and any other relevant industrial development included in the budget), and every company in the world would be entitled to utilise the results of that research without any further legal obligation or financial liability. No company would be at an immediate disadvantage due to R&D costs, and the need for patent protection would be completely dispensed with.
Even better, those who benefit most from this research, profit the most, and subsequently pay the most tax. This is not only demonstrably self-sustaining, but is even fair. And of course, it keeps capitalism under control too, thus stabilising the economy, and benefiting consumers.
The result is: No patents, no profiteering, a massive and guaranteed supply of research funds, academic freedom for all, and better prospects for industrial development and mankind’s overall progress.
The only losers here, that I can see, are those who were unethically over-exploiting the current system anyway (patent trolls, and those engaged in the practise of so-called Hollywood Accounting).
There is also a new journal article about the peer-to-patent initiative. It takes an entirely different approach to tackling the real issues that are no longer just perceived ones.
The patenting of software has increased significantly. Regardless of any personal bias as to the existence of software patents, it is a trend that is unlikely to end anytime soon. As a result, the open source movement may be threatened by the proliferation of non-meritorious or overly broad patents. Peer-to-Patent provides a means for mitigating the limitations that may be placed upon the open source community by software patents, as the program allows the open source community to participate in the peer review of pending patent applications. Members of the open source community are knowledgeable, interested parties with a unique stake in the software patent debate and thus are capable of making a significant contribution to improving the current system.
USPTO Head: Patent Are Monopolies
The Mises blog asks, “Are Patents ‘Monopolies’?”
On occasion you get some defender of patents who is upset when we use the m-word to describe these artificial state-granted monopoly rights. For example here one Dale Halling, a patent attorney (surprise!) posts about “The Myth that Patents are a Monopoly” and writes, ” People who suggest a patent is a monopoly are not being intellectually honest and perpetuating a myth to advance a political agenda.”
Now it is, indeed, clear that a patent is a monopoly grant to someone that permits them to charge above-market prices; this is exactly the goal of the patent law: to provide this monopoly profit to inventors so as to incentivize them to innovate and file for patents. And it is why, for example, Blackberry paid over $600 million to NTP in a recent patent suit; and it is why consumers will have to pay more for Blackberry services than they otherwise would, etc. Did NTP have “monopoly power” as defined by the government’s antitrust scheme? I don’t know. Probably not. But did they extort RIM/Blackberry by use of the government-granted patent monopoly? Of course.
David Kappos, the new head of the US patent office (whom we mentioned previously in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]), can be seen as responding to the above with the following immortal quote:
Mr. Kappos announced his opposition to business method patents last year by stating that “[y]ou’re creating a new 20-year monopoly for no good reason.” Thus, it is unclear where Mr. Kappos will attempt to draw the line between software and business method inventions worthy of patent protection.
Yes, that’s right. Even the head of the USPTO openly admits that patents are a “20-year monopoly”. Some proponents of software patents still deny this. Kappos is considered a strong proponent of the peer-to-patent initiative mentioned above.
Pro-Software Patents Lobby (Gartner et al)
Brian Prentice from the Gartner Group is an advocate of software patents, as we noted before [1, 2]. Whether it’s part of the general policy at Gartner, well… it may hard to tell, but here he is again making it very explicit at
Gartner.com: “Why We Need Software Patents”
I would much rather we embrace software patents and water down trade secret legislation than the other way around.
Microsoft’s connection to the Gartner Group is a financial one by the way [1, 2, 3]. Gartner helps Microsoft fight against Free (libre) software.
Another Web site whose habitat remains rather similar is IP Watchdog, with the usual lobby for software patents, this time from another writer: “Is Software Patentable?”
As mentioned above, new, useful software is not always patentable. But some software must be patentable, or the long history of patents for manufacturing process and electronic devices cannot be sustained as software becomes central to these inventions.
There are more similar pieces (similar convictions) from the same site, e.g.:
i. Examiner Interview Changes Favor In Person Meeting
It seems that early last week a memo went out from the powers that be to the examiners handling Bilski-related applications, and in the memo it was explained that merely putting “computer implemented method” in the preamble of the claim is not something that will any longer work to overcome a patentable subject matter rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101. It seems that now you need to have “computer implemented method” in the preamble and there must also be positive recitation of “a computer” in the body of the claim.
ii. On the Road: Bilski Examiner Interview and CNN
I spent the better part of last week in Washington, DC conducting Examiner interviews for some of my clients that have pending software patent applications. The great news is that I believe we now have a handle on the ever changing Bilski ruling. I know it sounds like a misstatement to say that the Bilski ruling is ever-changing, but apparently, the reality of the situation is that when the Federal Circuit provides a ruling, it comes with little or no guidance for the Examiners to properly examine applications based on the ruling. The guidance comes from internal memos to Examiners from the PTO indicating how applications should now be examined based on Bilski.
As a site of lawyers, it is inclined to support more and more patents. The broader the scope, the higher the revenue. Science doesn’t matter so much to them. Engineers are “pawns in the battle”, to borrow a phrase from Microsoft evangelists.
Car Insurance Patent Trolls
There are reports circulating about patents that threaten even the car insurance businesses. [via Digital Majority]
Under a major decision handed down last fall, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit interpreted federal law to make it much more difficult to patent “business methods.”
The so-called “Bilski” decision essentially ended a decade of looser standards the same court introduced in 1998 with a decision known as State Street. That ruling opened the floodgates for business-method patents like Amazon’s one-click process to buy goods online.
See how much positive impact the decision In Re Bilski has had. Law.com has some more information about this Amazon patent in its new article, which starts by stating:
Ten years ago, Amazon.com riled the tech world when it sued Barnes & Noble with a patent on “1-click” buying. Critics cried that clicking once to order a book wasn’t really an invention — and certainly not worthy of a patent. And it became the poster child for a patent system gone overboard.
Here is another new report about the car insurance patent. FFII’s president remarks on it by saying: “Help Patent Trolls make their patents more resistant.”
A Stamford patent agent and a Massachusetts actuary have paired to seek a patent on an insurance product aimed at promoting safety among teen motorists.
Mark Nowotarski, president of Markets, Patents & Alliances LLC, said today the U.S. Patent Office could rule by late June on their patent application (No. 20090063201) filed last October for the SoberTeen Driving Insurance product.
It’s obviously a patent troll. On the “Ethics of Patent Trolling” (or lack thereof) The Prior Art blog has an article which states:
The nature of the claimed invention in these cases also raises serious questions about online rights. The Spangenberg companies, by suing hundreds of websites, have claimed a proprietary right over e-commerce itself. I’m not making that judgment based on an analysis of his patents—I’m making it based on the accusations in the lawsuits, filed against hundreds of companies that don’t have anything apparent in common other than the fact that they sell stuff online. And while Spangenberg targets only big corporations, many of his imitators have no such scruples.
Patent trolls and software patents both need to go. Patent trolls are a useful excuse for reform that eliminates the latter. █
Send this to a friend
Summary: The Gates Foundation starts funding an enterprise of sports shops
TO MR. GATES’ credit, his portfolio is very prolific. Using his supposedly-philanthropic foundation, he maintains pharmaceutical patent investments [1, 2], tobacco investments, investments in alcoholic beverages, petroleum investments, investments in experimental and controversial crops, and even investments in news/media, which of course loves thanking Gates for all that money. Glamourising this Rockefeller-esque publicity stunt is part of this gratitude and to make matters ever more optimal, Gates need not even pay tax; being such a major investor even in governments, politicians can in turn be persuaded to buy from Microsoft and have this dependence/lock-in cascade down to businesses and homes.
“In some professionals’ view, the Gates Foundation acts as a tax-exempt investment vehicle…”The above may seem like a mouthful, but the extensive evidence is all there and Gates Foundation critics — although silenced or ignored for suspicion of “jealousy” for the most — do exist and the press recognises some that are highly renowned (see The Hindu and the New York Times for example). In some professionals’ view, the Gates Foundation acts as a tax-exempt investment vehicle, where medical drugs (“charity”) are used to make returns in the form of American pharmaceutical patents Gates invests billions in. It as well may be seen as a long-term investment.
And in light of all this, we present the latest news about the Gates Foundation, which is now investing in a chain of sports shops.
The purchase is not the first by Gates in a small British retailer. In May 2008, he took a small stake in Carpetright.
The Microsoft tycoon made the acquisition through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organisation created to “help all people lead healthy, productive lives”.
How can this be spun as philanthropy? Are sports inherently about goodwill? This is just plain commerce (investment in a “retailer” as Murdoch’s press puts it).
More information can be found in:
- Gates raises stake in JJB Sports
- Microsoft’s Gates builds JJB stake
Is there something that we miss in this analysis? █
“My background is finance and accounting. As a socially conscious venture capitalist and philanthropist, I have a very good understanding of wealth management and philanthropy. I started my career in 1967 with the IRS as a specialist in taxation covering many areas of the tax law including the so-called legal loopholes to charitable giving. […] However, the Gates Buffet foundation grant is nothing more than a shell game in which control of assets for both Gates and Buffet remain the same. […] The only difference is that the accumulation of wealth by these two will be much more massive because they will no longer have to pay any taxes.”
The Gates and Buffet Foundation Shell Game
“Gates’ gimmick of becoming a philantropist repeats the Rockefeller scam almost one to one a century later.”
–Dark cloud over good works of Gates Foundation
Send this to a friend
“The danger is that Microsoft is using strategic monopolistic pricing in the education market, with the government’s assistance, to turn our state university systems into private workforce training programs for Microsoft.”
Summary: Innocence, greed or ignorance of politicians get exploited by Microsoft, which turns more citizens into Microsoft customers
“Elevate America” is a Microsoft programme we remarked on before [1, 2, 3], so we will not go into that again. But we are seeing more of the same in Iowa right now. Governor Chet Culve plays along with Microsoft’s attempt to achieve state-funded/assisted Microsoft indoctrination.
Gov. Chet Culver and officials from Microsoft Corp. have reached an agreement calling for the company to provide more than 5,000 vouchers to help Iowa workers upgrade their technology skills.
This is just a drop in the bucket.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company will provide 5,700 vouchers to Iowa Workforce Development as part of a national effort to provide free or low-cost training to up to 2 million people during the next three years.
Microsoft also uses this to market itself as a friend of education. We covered this one week ago and here is the corresponding Microsoft press release:
In an effort to help higher education institutions support economic stimulus efforts and work-force development strategies, Microsoft Corp. has committed up to $50 million in higher education resources, training and certifications through the Microsoft Education Alliance Program agreement. As part of the agreement, the company will provide resources and tools for short-term work-force training and higher education enhancements.
Will people be taught GNU/Linux with these funds? It’s a rhetorical question of course. The above is self-serving PR and self-serving ‘donation’.
According to another new press release, Microsoft is exploiting the UN to play along with the same type of plot.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Microsoft Corp. today announced a joint task force to help higher education institutions worldwide meet the growing challenge of supporting economic stimulus efforts and work-force development strategies.
Bill Gates and the UN met last year. █
Protests in India that used Boycott Novell’s banners
Send this to a friend
Summary: Even the yellow press misses the historical record of Icahn’s role
According to news reports, Microsoft and Yahoo! are still talking.
The talks between the two have been continuing off and on since earlier this year, after Carol Bartz, Yahoo’s new chief executive, responded to Microsoft’s repeated overtures for discussions.
Reuters shows that one prominent advocate of a deal is one whom we suspected and considered to be a Microsoft "proxy fighter" that the press spoke about (the press openly spoke about “proxy fight” over Yahoo!).
Yahoo board member Icahn wants Microsoft deal
Icahn declined to comment on the state of any negotiations between Yahoo and Microsoft. He had tried to broker a partnership between the two companies last year, when talks on Microsoft’s $47.5 billion takeover bid for Yahoo fell apart.
“I’ve been a strong advocate of getting a search deal done with Microsoft,” Icahn, who owns about 5 percent of Yahoo and is a director on its board, told Reuters on Friday.
He also put friends of his on the board, so his influence there may be greater than 5%. For a bit of history also see:
There is nothing final or concrete to indicates a Yahoo!-Microsoft deal materialising, which would show sheer hypocrisy because Microsoft blocked a similar Yahoo!-Google deal. This would prove cheaper than a full acquisition, that’s for sure. Speaking of which, there is one writer with the opinion that Microsoft should buy Citrix.
Why Microsoft Should Finally Buy Citrix
I’ve written a good bit here about the various ways Microsoft and Citrix overlap in the hypervisor space, ranging from topics like shared code base through competition for the desktop space.
To be clear, I am not being critical of Microsoft technologies or business practices (as any long-time readers of my blog will undoubtedly know). I am suggesting that when compared on a chart, Citrix is closer today to where the market and VMware are going for virtual platforms, and if the goal is to compete with VMware for both enterprise and cloud virtual platforms then Microsoft could benefit in leaps and bounds by acquiring Citrix for both Xen and their networking products. Microsoft would get virtual platform, application, and networking tools that they don’t have today.
Microsoft might not need Xen all that much. Microsoft has just released a new Linux patch to advance Hyper-V. While it is commendable that Microsoft is no longer entirely allergic to the GPL(v2, not v3), it ought to be strongly emphasised that this is the latest example (amongst others) where Microsoft submits an open source patch from which Microsoft Windows or another part of the proprietary Microsoft stack is to gain. Prior such examples were beneficial to SQL Server, for example. I would be more delighted if Microsoft decided to rescind its patent threats, which it uses to suppress adoption of the very same kernel it purports to be contributing to. The accompanying press release is sign that Microsoft also uses this as a publicity stunt — selling people the impression it needs for all sorts of reasons. We shall write about this later. █
Send this to a friend
Summary: News and analysis about Microsoft’s re-announcement that it has a service-oriented Office suite
THIS story can be presented as a series of self-explanatory reports.
• Microsoft Cannibalizes Itself in Fight for Revenue
Microsoft (MSFT) Office is a cash cow that provides $15+ billion in revenue to the company. Thus far it‘s been more immune to open source competition than, say, Microsoft server and mobile phone operating systems, which compete with Linux and Android (and LiMo and Symbian) respectively.
• Microsoft Sacrifices Office to Save Windows
Apple’s OS X doesn’t pose as serious of a threat to Windows as Linux does. Apple and Microsoft can happily exist as long as Apple is content to skim the cream off the top and let Microsoft have the rest. Heck, Microsoft NEEDS Apple to not appear like a monopoly. Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs probably play golf together and laugh at how people think they’re competitors.
• The Hidden Cost of Microsoft’s ‘Free’ Online Office Suite
Likewise with Office 2010 online, you can get some of it for free, but you still have to pay a premium if you actually want to make it useful. Free online Office 2010 is like getting four free tires without the car, and having to pay full price for the car (including the cost of the tires).
• Cisco Considers Taking on Microsoft’s Office Suite
Cisco Senior Vice President Doug Dennerline said on Tuesday his company may develop a service that would allow business users to create documents they could draft and share through its WebEx meeting and collaboration service.
• Microsoft Office users attacked by cybercriminals
Microsoft Corp warned that cybercriminals have attacked users of its Office software for Windows PCs, exploiting a programming flaw that the software giant has yet to repair.
The world’s largest software maker issued the warning Tuesday as it released patches to address nine other security holes in its software.
According to that last report from Reuters, “Microsoft Office users [are] attacked by cybercriminals” because Microsoft fails to patch its software on time. Moreover, Microsoft still relies on third parties to offer patches. █
Send this to a friend
Summary: Assorted links about Microsoft influences
THE ERRATIC behaviour of Microsoft is well documented, but speaking of erratic, consider the following new article.
Microsoft Goons Break Up SQL Server Meeting
Analysis: When it deployed guards to interrupt a SQL Server presentation, Redmond stepped over the line with its overzealous security.
Last night I was giving a presentation to our local SQL Server user group at Microsoft in Irving, Texas. A few minutes into my presentation, a security guard bursts in, comes up right beside me, and shouts to the entire room, “Does anybody here work for Microsoft?”
It pissed me off to be shouted over so abruptly and that Microsoft doesn’t train its security crew on how to address businesspeople in the building. It’s kinda like when the Rolling Stones had the Hells Angels as their bodyguards. Simple, well-meaning fans were beat up, noses broken, and so on just because they wanted a brief interaction with the band. You can’t do that kinda crap.
In addition to these “Microsoft Goons” (as the article calls them), there are also many "Microsoft Technical Evangelists, at least one of whom monitors this Web site (and last posted here some minutes ago). They are like Microsoft PR agents inside people’s blogs, which leads to anger among other bloggers who indicate that this is a widespread phenomenon.
You see that picture of the comment he made on a FOSS blog? THAT’S HIS JOB! That’s what a Microsoft Evangelist does. What a Microsoft Evangelist does is what the laws in the United States are rapidly starting to call “Cyber Harassment.”
Speaking of “evangelists”, look who is going to Amazon.
Former Microsoft Security Evangelist Steve Riley Heads to Amazon
Now former Microsoft security expert Steve Riley has announced on his personal blog and Twitter feed that he’s joining Amazon to serve as an evangelist and strategist for Amazon’s booming cloud services business.
Many other Microsoft people end up in leading roles at Amazon, which in turn adds Windows servers. This may be poor judgment on Amazon’s part, or maybe an indication that the management is already quite Microsoft-saturated anyway.
Former Microsoft executive Bill Shaughnessy has just joined the board of Mixpo. He quit Microsoft last year, but his potential role in antitrust violations may forever be remembered. █
Send this to a friend