09.24.09

Patents Roundup: Microsoft Patents Customer-hostile DRM, Refuses to Obey Patent Law; Apple and eBay Sued; Patent Troll Tracker Set Free

Posted in Apple, Courtroom, DRM, Microsoft, Patents at 8:40 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: As the title suggests, this is yet another roundup of patent news of interest

THERE IS a lot of news to go through today, so here is just a gist of developments in the patent world — in particular issues that affect Free software. The Inquirer was one among several sources that noticed Microsoft’s latest patent that harms people’s rights and freedom. It’s about DRM, which Microsoft almost pioneered and certainty welcomed.

SOFTWARE IMPERIALIST Microsoft has been awarded a patent for a distributed DRM system that works over peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

Patent number 7,594,275 is entitled, “Digital rights management system” and uses encrypted public and private keys as the licensing mechanism.

Encryption is for security, not for prevention of access to one’s own files. But this is what Microsoft not only does here but also strives to have a monopoly on. To their defence comes the familiar anti-GNU/Linux brigadier whom we wrote about here. One person at Linux Today responded to him as follows: “No sorry its not “stealing” please cut the crap.”

Sharing cannot be “stealing” where only copying (duplication) is concerned. DRM can never really prevent “stealing”, unless it acts as a deactivation mechanism that reduces desire for theft, e.g. of a cellular phone. But encryption too has been patented, so Apple and eBay get sued. From Heise:

For some time, Vendor TQP (Telequip Corporation) has been filing lawsuits against various US banks over its patent for changing keys during encrypted data transmissions. Now the list of defendants also includes Apple and eBay. The claim is about the alleged violation of a patent which was applied for in 1992 and granted in 1995. It describes a method in which symmetric keys for a sender and a recipient are created using synchronised pseudo-random number generators and may be changed during transmission.

This is a very fundamental idea in cryptology. How can that be a patent? Patenting this only reduces security and acts as a barrier to those who are trying to make the world a safer place.

Microsoft has perhaps realised that deliberate infringement is acceptable [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] because patent laws do not apply to Microsoft. To Microsoft, annulling the ban on Word was not an interim verdict that’s sufficient; the company goes further and attempts to shoot down the entire monetary penalty.

Microsoft protests $290m Word judgment

[...]

A federal judge fundamentally misinterpreted a patent asserted against Microsoft Word, an error that should require a $290m infringement penalty to be overturned, attorneys for the software giant argued Wednesday.

[...]

i4i has claimed that Microsoft deliberately set out to destroy its business while publicly proclaiming the two were allies. Microsoft’s inclusion of custom-XML editing in Word from 2003 usurped its own invention and relegated its patented technology from a mainstay in the mass market to a niche player in the pharmaceutical industry, it has said.

In other news, the USPTO is overflowing with patent applications which cannot be processed in a timely fashion and patent lawyers — rather than acknowledge that there is a fundamental issue with scope of patenting — believe that throwing more people at the problem is the way to go, apparently.

The IPKat thinks that making the system more efficient is all very good, but wonders how far this will go in reducing the backlog.

Over at TechDirt, a warning gets sounded regarding these attempts to popularise the changing of hands on patents, which only elevates patent trolls like Microsoft's Nathan Myhrvold.

The auction will be run by Pluritas, a patent broker based in San Francisco. Robert Aronoff, its managing director, says Zoltar has strong, court-tested patents that apply to a huge industry, at a time when there is an increasingly brisk market for intellectual property. “They are entering into this vastly changed marketplace with a hot property,” he said.

If such auctions become the norm, then patents become ownership of opportunistic lawyers rather than actual inventors with morals. Who is this system really for then?

Some days ago we wrote about Patent Troll Tracker, who has been fighting this rotten system and put at stake his career in the process [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. The good news is that the case is now settled.

None of the lawyers involved in the case would comment on the settlement Monday. Cisco issued a statement Tuesday morning in which it said the dispute between the parties “has been resolved to their mutual satisfaction, and Rick Frenkel and Cisco apologize for the statements of Rick Frenkel on the Troll Tracker blog regarding Eric M. Albritton.” Frenkel is now of counsel at the Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

Sadly, as TechDirt puts it, even with Rick Frenkel set free, Patent Troll Tracker is unlikely to ever come back.

The real question is whether or not this means Frenkel will start blogging again. Some of his statements in the past (and having to go through this entire ridiculous process) suggest that he may not blog again. However, I’m hopeful that he’ll get back to it, though obviously not anonymously any more. His work in highlighting some of the more nefarious actions of patent system abusers is still sorely missed.

Will someone succeed Frenkel’s work? Let’s hope so.

Patent Troll Tracker - Rick

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