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09.19.09

Patents Roundup: IBM Abuse Carries On, Patent Troll Tracker on Trial, Paltalk Bites Again, and Patent Law Challenged

Posted in Courtroom, Free/Libre Software, IBM, Law, Microsoft, Patents at 8:16 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

IBM logo twist

Summary: IBM as part of the problem at the USPTO despite opposing business method patents; opposition to patent trolls gets radically harassed; patent abuse carries on despite and because of obvious problems with the system — problems that get ignored

WHEN it comes to software patents, IBM is not a friend of Free software [1, 2]. When it comes to the patent system in general, IBM is part of the problem, not the solution. It may be opposing the Bilski patent, but the Bilski test which it created does not go far enough, probably by design. It has just gotten caught sending more of its wannabe ‘inventions’ over for the USPTO to process (the USPTO is now run by an ex-IBMer).

theodp writes “The first known use of a recorded laugh track is said to be in 1950, when the producers of the Hank McCune Show added canned laughter after the show’s taping. Almost 60 years later, IBM says it deserves a patent for ‘inventing’ adding canned laughter to conference calls. ‘A pre-selected stored sound (e.g., an interjection such as a laugh) may be generated if there is a period of silence on one of the telephone lines that exceeds a threshold,’ explains Big Blue in its just-published patent application for Enlivening Conference Calls to Make Conference Calls More Interesting for Participants. Eureka!”

More in The Register:

While tried and true, option b comes with certain drawbacks. For one, the effort could get a gentleman sued by International Business Machines one day, should the method of inserting said flatulence be mechanical.

You see, the folks at TechDirt have uncovered a rather compelling patent application from Big Blue that claims invention of delivering canned sounds over the telephone.

IBM, unlike patent trolls such as Acacia, is not attacking Free software, but it lays the foundations for patent trolls to exist, as an unfortunate side-effect, a symptom.

The Patent Troll Tracker, Rick Frenkel, called the Eastern District of Texas “Banana Republic” and he now gets grief for simply saying the truth. Obviously, the masters of that “Banana Republic” wanted to gag him using a frivolous lawsuit [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] that takes away his freedom of speech and harms his career.

Former patent blogger Rick Frenkel took the stand in the federal courthouse in Tyler, Texas, on Wednesday, and apologized for referring to the Eastern District of Texas as a “Banana Republic” in a post he published as the “Patent Troll Tracker.” But Frenkel insisted his blogging about a patent infringement suit against his then-employer, Cisco Systems, was not defamatory.

“You know, I think I was outraged over a situation … and I used words that were strong,” said Frenkel. “But I sure didn’t mean to hurt anyone by it.” Frenkel apologized for using the phrase, and noted that he took it off the blog after 24 hours. In October of 2007, about 500 people per day were accessing the Troll Tracker blog, he added.

The Boston press has some coverage of the patent aggressor known as Paltalk. We wrote about it in when it sued Microsoft [1, 2, 3] and now it proceeds to suing more companies.

Turbine Inc. of Westwood, a leading maker of Internet-based, multiplayer video games, has been named in a patent infringement lawsuit that targets several of the world’s largest online gaming firms.

The complaint was filed by Paltalk Holdings Inc. of Jericho, N.Y., in the US District Court in Marshall, Texas, one of the nation’s most popular venues for patent lawsuits. “The eastern district of Texas is considered a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction,’’ said Christopher Donnelly, a partner at Donnelly Conroy & Gelhaar LLP in Boston.

Here is some more new coverage.

Paltalk, which recently settled a patent infringement tussle with Microsoft, has launched a new lawsuit against Turbine, Sony and other MMOG makers over their alleged infringement of the same technology.

Paltalk has filed suit against the makers of several popular MMOGs currently on the market, claiming the data-sharing technology employed in their games violates patents it purchased from the defunct company HearMe in 2002.

For future reference:

According to this report, the location is familiar. Guess where the lawsuit was filed? The “Banana Republic” Frenkel spoke about.

How is this beneficial to the market?

As Tim Lee stresses with the backing of the Coase Theorem, patents harm development.

One of the most famous essays in economics is Ronald Coase’s “The Problem of Social Cost.” Its key argument, which was later dubbed the Coase Theorem by George Stigler, says that in a world with zero transaction costs, the initial allocation of rights doesn’t matter because people will negotiate toward an allocation of rights that maximizes total social utility.

Coase illustrates this principle with an example involving a farmer and a rancher who occupy adjacent parcels. The rancher’s cattle sometimes stray onto the farmer’s land and damage his crops. Coase’s claim is that it doesn’t matter whether the law holds the rancher liable for the damage to the farmer’s crops or not: either way, the rancher and farmer will reach a bargain that maximizes the joint value of the rancher and farmer’s output.

Here is another new rebuttal to the fallacy (and propaganda) that the American economy owes its progress to patents.

Some asked me if this proved patents do encourage innovation. But of course it does not. This proves absolutely nothing, in fact, except that there can still be growth despite state intervention such as intellectual monopoly grants. Correlation is not causation. I hope Obama doesn’t see this–I’m sure he could whip up a similar chart correlating growth over the last two centuries with, say, increasing taxes, increasing federal spending, increasing federal size/employment, increasing military size, increasing efficiency at mass murder, and so on.

Even front groups of proprietary software companies seem to agree that patents are counter-productive, depending on the situation (whose side is the plaintiff). Those who disagree with patent abolishers are often lawyers and patent examiners, who primarily monetise this system for personal gain — a broken system they helped create and maintain in the first place.

“Technology products typically consist of hundreds or thousands of patented components. It therefore is impossible for technology companies to investigate all of the patents, and pending patent applications that may be relevant to a new invention (product), notwithstanding their best efforts to do so.” —Business Software Alliance, Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court in eBay Vs MercExchange

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2 Comments

  1. aeshna23 said,

    September 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Gravatar

    As Tim Lee stresses with the backing of the Coase Theorem, patents harm development.

    Actually, what the linked Tim Lee article argues is that using the Coase Theorem to argue that a more efficient patent system would not benefit development. I’m not sure how you’d go straight from the Coase Theorem to making an argument that patents harm development.

    http://timothyblee.com/?p=781 may be of more interest to BoycottNovell readers.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Actually, what the linked Tim Lee article argues is that using the Coase Theorem to argue that a more efficient patent system would not benefit development. I’m not sure how you’d go straight from the Coase Theorem to making an argument that patents harm development.

    I think it’s a similar way or presenting the same conclusions, but yours is more precise.

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