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02.26.10

Patents Roundup: Google Versus Patent Trolls, Patents Unrest, Microsoft’s Friend Fraunhofer to Report on Software Patents in Europe

Posted in America, Asia, Europe, Free/Libre Software, Google, Law, Microsoft, Patents, RAND at 6:31 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Fraunhofer

Summary: Lawyers masquerading as innovators lose their case against Google; many new reports from the US show a patent case against search engines; Europe still faces risks of UPLS and India’s CIS protests against software patents

THERE is a lot of patent news we haven’t found the time to cover, so here it is very quickly.

United States

Google’s important patent trial involves “a pair of entrepreneurs with one failed business idea [and] almost no computer programming experience,” to use the words of the president of the FFII, Benjamin Henrion (or as TechDirt put it, “Google Fights Back And Wins Against Bogus Patent Lawsuit From Guy Who Couldn’t Even Code His ‘Invention’”). Here are some of the details:

This week: the software giant’s hard-nosed strategy for dealing with patent-holding plaintiffs gets put to the test—and proves successful.

Late last month, Google won its first patent infringement lawsuit to go to a jury trial, in the Eastern District of Texas. The plaintiff was Function Media LLC, a patent holding company owned by husband-and-wife inventors Michael Dean and Lucinda Stone. Unlike like many of those who file patent suits in the plaintiff-friendly venue, Dean and Stone actually live in the Eastern District, residing in Tyler.

“A “disturbing” number of the lawsuits come from companies controlled by patent lawyers, sometimes asserting the lawyers’ own “inventions”,” says Henrion. But Google has also just been sued by a real company whose implementations Apple and Microsoft famously copied:

Last Friday, Xerox filed a lawsuit seeking compensation over patent-infringement claims. The copy giant claims that Google and Yahoo have been using its own technology for search queries and data integration. A spokesman for Xerox said that, following failed jaw-jaw, it was time for war-war.

Google is no innocent victim though. Hadoop’s patent issue is one that we wrote about last week when we called Google to stop patenting of software. Google perhaps insists that Hadoop is “safe”, but this is not a legal guarantee and there is no reason for one company to be put at the mercy of another because of the burden of patents.

In mid-January, Google won a patent for MapReduce, the distributed data crunching platform that underpins its globe-spanning online infrastructure. And that means there’s at least a question mark hanging over Hadoop, the much-hyped open source platform that helps drive Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft’s Bing, and an ever-expanding array of other web services and back-end business applications.

Hadoop is based in part on a MapReduce research paper Google published in 2004, about six months after it applied for the patent.

Here is an opinion piece just published by IDG. It calls for elimination of software patents.

Software patents make no sense. Like music, art, and other creative pursuits, software is almost always derivative work. There is not a chance in hell that Facebook invented this idea. I am certain there have been social news feeds around for at least a decade or more. I am not going to spend the time finding all the prior art, but I am sure there are patent lawyers doing that already for various social networks who are now potential subjects of patent litigation from Facebook.

The Washington Post has another new opinion piece that speaks of “dangers of over-zealous intellectual property cops” and says:

The industrial inventors of the nineteenth century, too – heirs to the heroic ideal of James Watt – would have understood today’s enforcers. They complained loudly that patents needed to be easier to police and longer-lasting, denouncing rival industrialists as piratical. Their campaign to secure patentees’ prerogatives had many implications, one of which was the passage of Britain’s first modern patent law.

But it also sparked a counter-campaign to abolish patenting altogether. Led by Victorian Britain’s principal arms manufacturer, it denounced the very idea of a patent as monopolistic, retrogressive, and philosophically absurd – and it identified the practice of enforcement as a serious impediment to the nation’s progress. Although it came very close to triumphing (and a parallel bid in the Netherlands did triumph), the campaign against patenting eventually failed.

[...]

In principle, there is no reason why not. Conflicts over intellectual property in its various domains — gene patenting, GMOs, pharmaceuticals, and digital media, to mention only a few — are an everyday presence. Criticisms and piratical practices in any of these realms have the potential to ramify into major challenges to the conceptual structure of modern intellectual property itself. What has been missing so far has been a sufficiently general trigger. The practice of policing could supply it. It would be ironic if the greatest revision of intellectual property’s nature in 150 years were to be set in train by the very measures adopted to preserve it sacrosanct.

“A counter-campaign to abolish patenting altogether, it denounced the idea of a patent as monopolistic retrogressive absurd,” adds Henrion to the above.

This patent system has been hijacked by lawyers who do not invent anything but instead just feed on the system. "Patent Watchtroll" (lawyer/lobbyist for software patents, Gene Quinn) says: “Patent attorneys have always been at least one step ahead, and even if the Supreme Court tries to kill software patents we will figure out a way to characterize it so that it will be patentable.”

“This patent system has been hijacked by lawyers who do not invent anything but instead just feed on the system.”Here is Black Duck’s CEO Tim Yeaton (former marketing person at Red Hat) explaining or at least justifying [1, 2] the application for a software patent that his company received rather than acquired. It’s the usual excuses. Red Hat is not innocent, either. In fact, it participates in Peer-to-Patent and Henrion says that “those who invest in projects like Peer-to-Patent are part of the conspiracy.”

Here is Activision getting slapped for game patent violations [via]:

The immense popularity of musical video games such as Guitar Hero, Band Hero and DJ Hero appears to have generated some unwanted attention for Activision Publishing, Inc. (“Activision”). In particular, on February 12, 2010, Patent Compliance Group, Inc. (“PCG”) filed a qui tam action against Activision, alleging that Activision has falsely marked many of its video games including Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero, DJ Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits (collectively “Activision video game products”) as patented or patent pending.

BerryReview wonders if the BlackBerry flashlight application can be patented too.

Now I am curious what you all think. Even if it were possible should developers be able to patent a way of performing a function programmatically on your BlackBerry? I personally think that would be ridiculous and I know for a fact that it is VERY difficult to get a software patent. From what I understand at most developers can get copyright for the written code but that is only relevant if another person copies the actual code which is hard to prove…

There seems to be this silent consensus that the patent system does not serve the interests of the right people. “The USPTO grants patents for business methods, so that you can exclude your competitors from doing business the same way,” adds Henrion with some timely proof.

Europe

Software patents may become a problem in Europe unless they are fought against. Henrion has collected a lot of new evidence that includes his observation that the “European Commission awards study on software patents and standards to Fraunhofer, OOXML proponent and Microsoft proxy”; to quote the relevant part:

V.3) NAME AND ADDRESS OF ECONOMIC OPERATOR IN FAVOUR OF WHOM A CONTRACT AWARD DECISION HAS BEEN TAKEN:

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung e.V. as legal entity acting for Fraunhofer Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung, Hansastraße 27 c, 80686 Munich, GERMANY.

Fraunhofer consistently serves Microsoft's interests. Henrion has also noticed that “BusinessEurope [is] pushing for patent harmonisation with Free Trade Agreements” and a “conference in Starsbourg [PDF] [will cover] the UPLS central patent court and software patents via the backdoor”; then there is what he considers “the European Commission’s report [PDF] [which is] hostile to Free Software, promoting software patents in standards and the undefined RAND term”

We at Boycott Novell are very grateful to Henrion, who caries on along the footsteps of Hartmut Pilch. As Pilch put it at one point, Microsoft is part of the problem; it has been a major part of it for a long time.

India

Over in India, Microsoft and other companies are trying to legalise software patents (Microsoft is unique among the lobbyists). CIS has just issued this lengthy statement opposing software patents.

CIS believes that software patents are harmful for the software industry and for consumers. In this post, Pranesh Prakash looks at the philosophical, legal and practical reasons for holding such a position in India. This is a slightly modified version of a presentation made by Pranesh Prakash at the iTechLaw conference in Bangalore on February 5, 2010, as part of a panel discussing software patents in India, the United States, and the European Union.

As we showed in an earlier post, ACTA strives for an overhaul on an international level. It’s important to keep an eye open.

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