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12.29.09

Microsoft’s Racketeering with Patents and Abolition of Software Patents Reexamined

Posted in Asia, Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, IBM, Kernel, Law, Microsoft, OIN, Patents, TomTom at 4:47 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“That’s extortion and we should call it what it is. To say, as Ballmer did, that there is undisclosed balance sheet liability, that’s just extortion and we should refuse to get drawn into that game.”

Mark Shuttleworth

Ballmer on patents

Summary: Why Microsoft’s “extortion” is a serious offence that mustn’t be overlooked; How Free software deals with software patents at present

CHIN Wong from the Philippines is an excellent journalist, but in his latest column he seems to have gotten soft on Microsoft. In writing about Steve Ballmer's potential departure he asserts the following about software patents:

Would you fire Steve Ballmer?

[...]

A US federal appeals court upheld a $290-million judgment against Microsoft Corp. and ordered it to stop selling MS Word unless it removed code that violated the software patent of an obscure Canadian company, i4i, that sued it in Texas and won.

The ruling is ironic, given Microsoft’s use of software patents earlier this year to bludgeon TomTom, a Dutch maker of car navigation systems, into settling over its use of the Linux kernel. Ballmer has bellicosely proclaimed that the kernel violates several Microsoft’s patents and has threatened to sue developers and users alike over its use. The company’s suit against TomTom in February was the first time it tried to enforce these patents against the Linux platform.

The author focuses on the TomTom case but misses the more important point about Microsoft using racketeering tactics, which ought to send people like Steve Ballmer to prison (and bring Bill Gates back to court for crimes that he too had helped commit and initiate).

Over in India, a new article from Shree Lahiri makes the decent proposition that “Freedom of software [should be treated as] our birthright” and he also acknowledges Richard Stallman, crediting him in part for the protests against software patents. Lahiri writes:

Freedom of software is our birthright

[...]

Tracing the history of free software, Abhijit said, “In 1984, Richard Stallman started the Free Software Foundation and spent most of his time advocating for free software, as well as campaigning against both software patents and what he sees as excessive extension of copyright laws.”

Speaking of Stallman’s contribution to saner law, where are OIN, Linux Foundation and other IBM fronts when it comes to just abolishing software patents? They have other strategies in mind. The FSF and FFII seem to be among very few who are actively committed to the cause. The EFF’s squashing strategy and Peer2Patent’s gardening or voluntary peer review process are still considered somewhat controversial. Here is a new article from The Register that in some way legitimises software patents for the same reason; by labeling them “good” and “bad” (mostly bad) it tacitly claims that some of these patents are acceptable. OIN very explicitly takes this point of view, whereas for Peer2Patent it is still just implicit.

The best (of the worst) patent claims of 2009

[...]

El Reg is always eager to lap up the sad, eerie, and unusual of the bunch as they fall into our sights. We’ve gathered up a few of our 2009 favorites published in honor of the year’s end.

A patent is a monopoly, based on the words of the head of the USPTO. Schools rhetorically teach that monopolies are harmful to capitalism, so what gives? More importantly, why is there no police involvement when these monopolies are (mis)used for racketeering [1, 2]? To ignore this is to accept that Microsoft is above the law.

“IP is often compared to physical property rights but knowledge is fundamentally different.”

IP Watch on Professor Joseph Stiglitz

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