Patents Roundup: Microsoft Patents at Risk Due to Free Software’s Prior Art; Opposition to Patents Grows
Summary: Free software beats Microsoft to it, as usual (just without patenting); Nobel Prize winners do not like patents and other such artificial monopolies
SOFTWARE PATENTS are an instrument of control, which is exploited both by the large and the small. The large is the monopolist (oligarch) and the small is the patent troll; other than those two classes, few ever benefit from their patent systems, which grant exclusivity rights (trade secret may often be an effective enough mechanism). Failed companies may pass over their patents to large companies, or in the case of Linus Torvalds’ old employer — to Microsoft's own patent troll.
There are some signs of optimism in Europe (EPO) now that Free software defeats Microsoft at its own malicious game:
You and your readers may be interested in six oppositions currently pending at the EPO. The opposed patents are those subject to the appeal decision T424/03 cited by the president in the referral. The patents in question are EP0717354, EP1028372, EP1028373, EP1028374, EP1028376 and EP1028377 (“Expanded Clipboard Formats”) granted to Microsoft Corporation.
The principal ground for opposition is novelty and, interestingly, the prior art is open source software. These oppositions may also be of interest to the open source community who may make observations to the EPO under Article 115 EPC”.
The FFII hopefully pays attention to it.
Nobel Laureates Versus Intellectual Monopolies
A couple of days ago we wrote about Elinor Ostrom, an advocate of the Commons who has just received a Nobel prize. Ostrom turns out to be just one in a series of Nobel laureates in her field (namely economics) who feel similarly. We gave Maskin and Stiglitz as examples, but TechDirt has more:
Three Economic Nobel Laureates In A Row Recognizing Power Of Infinite Goods
With the Nobel Prize in Economics being awarded to Elinor Ostrom (as well as Oliver Williamson) this year, plenty of people are noting that Ostrom’s seminal work has to do with how the concept of “the tragedy of the commons” isn’t really true in many cases, and how that “commons” can often self-regulate itself. And, Ostrom definitely recognizes how this applies to the “commons” that is the public domain. I didn’t want to comment right away on this. While I’ve read Ostrom’s work in the past, I wanted to revisit some of it, to refresh myself on it.
Under the title “Elinor Ostrom and the Future of Economics,” a blog from Harvard speaks of her views that tend agree with Free software philosophy.
But Ostrom is a radical — and awesome — choice. Not just because of the “what” of her work, but, more deeply, because of the “how” of it. Ostrom’s work is concerned, fundamentally, with challenging Garret Hardin’s famous Tragedy of the Commons, itself a living expression of neoclassical thinking. Ostrom suggests that far from a tragedy, the commons can be managed from the bottom-up for a shared prosperity — given the right institutions. That conclusion challenges orthodox economics from both left and right leaning perspectives; it suggests that, yes, markets can organize production and consumption efficiently — but only when supported and nurtured by networks and communities.
The Against Monopoly Web site has just posted another bit of opposition to software patents.
In closing I would like to point out that if you affirm software/technical processes as patentable a firestorm of litigation will ensue, resulting in a massive and unjust transfer of resources. The resulting effect on innovation in the US would lead to the inevitable question: Why would we expose our company to the risk of crushing litigation in the United States when our markets are just as accessible through the Internet?
Development Versus Litigation or Litigation Versus Development?
3Com is a company that like TiVo and Akamai has been using GNU/Linux extensively (see [1-13] below), but all these companies are also aggressors with patents. We gave examples of this before [1, 2, 3]. Here is 3Com working its ‘charm’. [via TechDirt, which chose the headline: "Can't Innovate? Litigate! 3Com Goes Patent Lawsuit Ballistic"]
Some big names in the computer industry were sued this week by a company claiming that they have infringed on Ethernet-related patents developed by 3Com.
The company is called U.S. Ethernet Innovations, which owns the patents spun off from 3Com for the sole purpose of launching these sorts of lawsuits. Named in the suit are Acer, Apple, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, Sony, and Toshiba.
A reader of ours from Australia has also told us about the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) shaming itself with more lawsuits.
A patent battle between Australia’s CSIRO and 14 of the world’s largest technology companies has today been revealed to have already gained the research organisation $200 million from out of court settlements.
For some background, CSIRO is suing a lot these days [1, 2, 3] following the patent-in-a-standard scam [1, 2, 3]. CSIRO’s ‘business’ antics are something to be ashamed of, not proud of. █
 Bain, Huawei to Resubmit $2.2B Bid For 3Com: Report
Within the next several weeks, Bain Capital and China’s Huawei plan to reapply for U.S. approval for a planned buyout of 3Com, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The $2.2 billion transaction would still leave Huawei with 16.5 percent of the company and Bain holding the rest, said the Journal citing people familiar with the matter.
The U.S. Department of Defense uses 3Com intrusion detection products, and Chinese hackers have targeted the agency, McCotter said. “Given this and other instances of communist China’s persistent cyber warfare against us, approving this sale would be an abject abdication of CIFUS’ duty to protect America’s vital defense technologies from enemy acquisition,” he said.
Q: Has your Linux strategy helped against competitors?
ER [Edgar Masri]: We have an open strategy, which is open source based on Linux. Many networking companies are starting to do that, but I believe we have an 18-month head start. We recognize customers want open architecture and source, mainly in small and medium businesses. We also have the Open Services Networking architecture. One very large customer wanted better network monitoring and had made a clear choice about the application it wanted to use, and said we were doing it better than other providers.
As part of 3Com’s commitment to providing the platform and support for clients to implement best-of-breed Open Source solutions, the company also is launching the 3Com Asterisk Appliance, an Open Source voice-over-IP (VoIP) system based on Digium’s Asterisk Appliance.
Orcun Tezel, technical director of 3Com South Asia, explained that although 3Com routers and switches now come with pre-integrated open-source applications, its Open Services Networking (OSN) further allows “best-ofbreed” applications to run on the Linux-based platform.
The OSN infrastructure runs on Linux.
The VCX/Sametime interoperability also extends to 3Com and IBM software running on stand-alone servers. (3Com ships VCX systems on a Linux-based appliance, and IBM’s Sametime runs on a variety of operating systems and server hardware).
And that open source voice over IP system, called Asterisk, has reached its tipping point. But instead of ignoring such threats, 3Com appears ready to embrace them. In fact, I hear that 3Com plans to address the Asterisk market within the next few months.
The manager politely danced around the question, then indicated that 3Com planned to address Asterisk without necessarily competing with the open source system. Sounds like 3Com is piecing together a strategy to embrace Asterisk. Could there be a partnership or acquisition around the corner?
Supporting Asterisk would propel 3Com?s open platform strategy forward.
3Com’s OSN module is a Linux-based server blade that fits into the company’s 6000 series routers. It is designed to run applications that benefit from being close to the network layer, the company says.
Launched at the end of last year, OSN is basically an effort to bring some server capabilities into network appliances by using a Linux-based server blade, as well as to allow users to plug open-source modules into the appliance.
Interestingly, there is a twist in 3Com’s adoption of open source: Its founder, Metcalfe, was once known to be anti-open source. Fortunately, Metcalfe has since become a convert in line with the OSN.
A more technically interesting solution that 3Com has just rolled out is a Linux blade running in its high end switches.
“Imagine a switch or router with a little bit of extra hardware running Linux. We are inviting our partners to put their stuff on there, essentially a Linux PC on a blade. It’s not about replacing servers, it’s about putting an app into the network, like WAN optimization, packet analysis, netflow, security, things like this,” he said.