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10.30.09

Free Software Sued by Red Bend, Patent Reform Called for Again

Posted in Apple, Europe, Free/Libre Software, Google, Law, Patents at 7:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Chrome logoSummary: Chrome comes under software patent attack, Apple to fight back against Nokia over patents, a new (if any) model for protectionism is needed

RED Bend, a patent-loving company that is located in the same city as Novell, has decided to sue Free software, or at least Google’s proprietarised version of it (Chrome is not Chromium, but Chromium too is affected by the lawsuit). This was covered by TechDirt, which also corrected some misinformed reporter.

Specifically, Red Bend claims that Google’s Chrome browser violates this patent by including an algorithm, called Courgette, that lets Google push compressed software updates. Of course, plenty of companies have come up with various ways to push compressed software updates over the years, so I’m at a loss as to why it requires a patent… but that’s a different issue. The problem here is the reporting on this lawsuit by Mass High Tech and reporter Galen Moore. First, he claims that this lawsuit suggests Google’s “open-source Chrome browser isn’t so open source after all.” Huh? I’ve read that sentence over and over again and I can’t figure out how a patent dispute would mean that Chrome isn’t open source. This kind of reporting suggests that a patent simply wipes out the type of license covering a software.

Interestingly enough, Red Bend does not even make Web browsers. It describes itself as “the leader in Mobile Software Management (MSM)” and speaking of mobiles, Apple is now responding to Nokia’s lawsuit:

Apple will “vigorously” defend itself against Nokia’s patent infringement suit, according to Cupertino’s SEC 10-K annual-report filing (PDF) issued Tuesday.

We previously wrote about this in [1, 2].

Anyway, this whole mess leads to wondering about the impact of software patents on advancement in science and technology. The patent system has reached the point where it achieves exactly the opposite of what it was set up to do. Copyrights should be sufficient. As a followup to this older piece, an editor at Information Week writes:

[C]opyright protection “is available only for a particular expression of an idea, not for the idea itself”–not for procedures, methods of operation, concepts, and principles, the stuff of thin software and business process patents.

Lora Bentley remarks on the above as follows:

When I talked to technology attorneys early this year regarding the patent system, most agreed that the system as it exists now is broken, but they all differed regarding how it should be fixed. Matthew Schantz, a partner in the Indianapolis-based law firm of Bingham McHale, told me in March that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is underfunded and understaffed. That’s why the patent process takes so long and is often prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, Bruce Abramson sugggests neither copyright nor patent laws should apply to software, but that Congress should come up with a completely separate set of rights for intellectual property.

In Heise, a new article has just been published to establish a case against software patents.

Software evolved in a climate free of patents, but a relaxing of the rules by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has lowered the bar for patent claims. During the last two decades, thousands of software patents have been issued on business methods, data structures and process descriptions that take no account of how software is developed – and this effect has been enforced around the world through the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Because software deals in language and the expression of mathematical constructs and ideas, advocates of free software have argued that code should be treated in the same way as the written word, which is subject to copyright. Patents on software are, in effect, a tax on ideas. We are obliged to search and exclude the idea that someone else may have claimed ownership to, or pay the price for having the same idea. Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) takes the view that: “Software patenting has been a scourge in the global technology industries,” and that “computer programs should be as ineligible for patent protection as mathematical equations or precise descriptions of physical laws.”

It ought to be remembered that Heise is printed in a country where software patents are illegal.

“Small enterprises generally adopt a rather negative position towards the current increasing granting of patents for software and algorithms because they fear that these will hamper or eventually even impede their work (more than 85%).” —German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Study of the Innovation Performance of German Software Companies, 2006, p. 86

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