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Patents Roundup: Microsoft’s FAT Ambush, RPX “Protection Racket”, and Life-threatening Patents

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, Law, Microsoft, Patents, TomTom at 5:16 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

EPO backlash

Summary: The nastiness of patents puts itself up on display and herein we share the truth about this ill system, based on the latest news alone

THIS is a collection of news items that affect Free software by means of law.

Microsoft and Rambus Ambushed the Industry

Microsoft’s de facto PR machine is working to create another patent scare. Mary Jo Foley’s role was mentioned earlier and Ina Fried follows with promotion of exFAT patents.

The File Allocation Table (FAT) format is also licensed out by Microsoft, although its patents there have been the subject of contention, particularly since many distributions of Linux include the FAT formats.

This is also covered by the Microsoft bunch at Ars Technica (Emil) and other Microsoft reporters.

In February 2009, news broke that Microsoft had filed a patent infringement lawsuit against TomTom, alleging that the device maker’s products, including some that are Linux-based, infringe on patents related to Microsoft’s FAT32 filesystem. In March 2009, Microsoft and TomTom settled their controversial patent dispute, TomTom licensed the patents from Microsoft, and stated its intent to remove from its Linux kernel the code that is covered by the patents.

We have covered the TomTom case very extensively and also explained why Microsoft had ambushed the market with FAT. Microsoft is not alone though.

Rambus used submarine patents (or an ambush) in order to penalise all of its competitors [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]. Rambus was brought to court over this type of abuse and right now it is trying to escape punishment in Europe.

The American memory chip designer has been fighting allegations that it intentionally concealed that it had patents and patent applications connected to DRAM chips, which later became an industry standard. It’s accused of charging abusive licensing rates for the technology once its “patent ambush” was sprung.

In an hypothetical industry that prioritises progress, Rambus and Microsoft deserve to have the patents in question rubbished and all royalties previously paid to them refunded over time. If the patent system becomes a tool of deception, then The Christian Science Monitor is probably right and the patent system (including USPTO) deserves to be rubbished along with all those patents. To quote Richard Stallman (regarding EPO earlier this year [1, 2] ): “The European Patent Office is a corrupt, malicious organisation which should not exist.” Stallman argues that if it stands in our way, then we should “get rid of it too.”

RPX: Return of the Uber-Patent Harvester

We previously wrote about RPX in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. In short, it’s a useless behemoth that only accumulates patents and then offers “protection”. Georg Greve has just described RPX rather politely by writing “When your business plan is a euphemism for “protection racket”…”

Greve is the founder of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and he links to what he describes as a “Good article on the reality of software patents.”

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is well known for the venture capital it brought to great innovations involving computers, health and energy. One of its latest startups is based on an entrepreneurial idea that may or may not be great but is very interesting: helping companies hand over money for mostly bogus legal claims involving patents.

This particular startup, RPX, doesn’t describe itself that way. In fact, it makes a good case that its goal is to help companies, many of them in the tech industry, make the best of the bad situation that is the U.S. patent system. The fact that patent holders and lawyers will end up with money they don’t deserve reflects nothing about RPX but a lot about a system filled with rot.

If you think patents protect plucky innovators and their groundbreaking inventions, you haven’t been paying attention. Patents have evolved into an extortion scheme that hurts real inventors far more than it helps them.

Of course it does. Patents are about protecting monopolies, not protecting innovation. It’s a protectionist measure where the “protected” subject is revenue, not science. It is about investors, not inventors.

There is this new transcript of Richard Stallman on software patents:

The Danger of Software Patents

This is the transcript of a talk presented by Richard M. Stallman on 8 October 2009 at Victoria University of Wellington.

There are also videos of previous Stallman talks which cover the same subject.

Patents Versus Survival

On a couple of occasions earlier this week we wrote about the harms caused to the environment by patents. Check out this new report:

Preservation of IP: One of Many Goals in Copenhagen


The Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) has been front and center in this debate, and our position is clear: if governments are serious about addressing climate change, and all agree that new technologies are a vital part of the answer, then IP laws and rights need to be protected in any Copenhagen agreement. Indeed, in our view, a Copenhagen Summit with NO mention of IP at all is a successful conclusion. Current international laws and norms are working, and need to be preserved.

To which Glyn Moody responds with:

Got that? Stuff the environment, we’ve got to protect the *important* things in life, like intellectual monopolies…

Indeed. Here is a touching report on the subject.

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A Single Comment

  1. Yuhong Bao said,

    December 11, 2009 at 10:57 pm


    Yea, on Rambus, anyone remember the i820 chipset from a decade ago? As I remember, it did not perform well due to the Pentium III bus. Intel came out with the MTH that translated SDRAM to RDRAM, but that was even slower and because of reliability issues later had to be recalled. It affected the Timna project too, which in the end had to be cancelled. In the meantime, the competitor VIA had it’s Apollo Pro 133(A) chipsets that supported PC133 SDRAM. Intel had to in the end release the i815 chipset that supported PC133 SDRAM too. Later with the P4 came the i850 chipset, where Rambus fits much better due to the P4 bus. But still Intel ended up releasing the i845 chipset later with PC133 SDRAM and later DDR SDRAM support.

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