Patents Roundup: Microsoft’s Software Patents Trick in the EU Revisited and Google Patents Spellchecker
Summary: Microsoft’s deal with the EU Commission is not final yet, more hostile patents arrive from Microsoft and Google, BSA daemonises sharing
ON four occasions in the past week [1, 2, 3, 4] we have written about the agreement between the European Commission and Microsoft. Various parties agree that it is a poor agreement and fortunately it is not final. Groklaw shares some details on who to provide feedback with. It also explains the part about software patents, which ought to be illegitimate given the status of patents in Europe.
The official notice of the new draft deal between Microsoft and the EU Commission has now been posted to the EC website and published [PDF] in the Official Journal of the European Union, and it invites comments, giving all the addresses, email, fax and regular mail, where interested parties can submit their observations within a month of the date of the announcement. The date of the announcement was October 7. Comments must *reach* the EU Commission within a month, not be postmarked by then.
And the price to interoperate with Microsoft, according to that document and the proposed interoperability agreement [.doc] is $10,000, and that is the minimum, not the maximum:
3.1. Prepaid Royalties. Licensee will pay Microsoft $10,000 in non-refundable prepaid royalties, to be credited against Royalties.
3.2. Royalties. Licensee will pay Royalties for each Product containing an Implementation consisting of the Net Revenues for that Product multiplied by the Royalty Rate set forth below, provided that the Royalty per User of that Product or Provided Copy of that Product will not be less than the Minimum Royalty set forth below for the applicable Product Type:
Then there is a chart, breaking it down further. Now, $10,000 is nothing to Microsoft. A large, supported project like SAMBA could probably swing it. How about some university student somewhere? You don’t think that matters? How about a university student named Linus Torvalds, for example? Think *that* matters? Do you want a deal that excludes the next Linus Torvalds? Where will he get $10,000? This single clause exiles any innovation from the next Linus, because he won’t be able to afford to pay the toll to interoperate, thus excluding him from the general market.
Same old Microsoft.
In the past Microsoft has been held up for ridicule with some of the patent applications it has made. Perhaps most notable amongst these was the infamous Page Up Page Down patent. The latest Microsoft patent application to reach my radar will not, most likely, cause quite the same amount of sheer disbelief although it does point to something of a change in the way the Seattle giant sells us software and services.
Microsoft has filed for a patent for ‘Time-Based Licenses’ and the application abstract reveals this to be a method and system for “issuing a number of different types of time-based licenses associated with software products”.
We will probably write more about this patent, which Free software leaders are appalled by and a Red Hat employee describes as “Microsoft to patent subscriptions.” Red Hat too offers subscriptions, but not of the same kind.
Another large company called Google has just patented the “browser-based spell checker.” From the abstract:
A system and method is provided for a spell checker that includes sending a document to a spelling server which returns the document with associated spelling information, though the document could also be provided to a spelling assistant on the local machine. The spelling information includes identification of potentially misspelled words and one or more replacements words. The document is displayed to identify the potentially misspelled words in a visually distinctive manner. The replacement words are displayed near the potentially misspelled word in response to a user activity, such as clicking on the identified words. The misspelled word is replaced with the word selected by the user from the replacement words. The user may extend the area of text to be modified by clicking on extension buttons to the left and right of the potentially misspelled word.
Shame on Google. There is no reason why this should merit a software patent decades after spell checkers were invented and also used extensively. This seems to be one of those infamous “over the Internet” patents, which are worse than attempts to patent digital equivalents of prevalent actions (or objects) in the real world.
The intellectual monopolies cartel known as the BSA is known for its hostility towards Free software [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. It has connections with Bill Gates' father and here it is spreading FUD against sharing (again) while totally ignoring Free/libre software.
“Software piracy is a threat on multiple fronts. Pirated software can be a breeding ground for malware and can also open users up to crimes such as identity theft. Those who decide to acquire illegal software harm the economy and companies of all sizes. Moreover, those who engage in piracy open themselves up to civil and criminal prosecution” said Blank of BSA.
It is nice of the BSA to remind people to escape the world of patents and other monopolies. Was it really their intention? █