03.10.10

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Extortionists With Software Patents

Posted in Apple, Bill Gates, Microsoft, Office Suites, OpenOffice, Patents, SUN at 5:05 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Goodfellas

Summary: Bill Gates’ personal role in racketeering is revealed by the CEO of Sun Microsystems; Steve Jobs is not any better

NOT so long ago we showed that Bill Gates was scheming to use software patents in order to fight against OpenOffice.org. How about that? Using software patents rather than creating products. Comes vs Microsoft exhibits show this very clearly.

The outgoing CEO of Sun Microsystems is finally spilling the beans about what was happening behind the scenes. Check the following portion of his new text:

As in life, bluster and threat are commonplace in business – especially the technology business. So that interaction was good preparation for a later meeting with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. They’d flown in over a weekend to meet with Scott McNealy, Sun’s then CEO – who asked me and Greg Papadopoulos (Sun’s CTO) to accompany him. As we sat down in our Menlo Park conference room, Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.” OpenOffice is a free office productivity suite found on tens of millions of desktops worldwide. It’s a tremendous brand ambassador for its owner – it also limits the appeal of Microsoft Office to businesses and those forced to pirate it. Bill was delivering a slightly more sophisticated variant of the threat Steve had made, but he had a different solution in mind. “We’re happy to get you under license.” That was code for “We’ll go away if you pay us a royalty for every download” – the digital version of a protection racket.

Bill Gates can carry on pretending to be charitable with his patent foundation that he uses to make even more profit and monopolies. At the end of the day, he is just another bully in a sweater, wearing glasses.

But wait. Steve Jobs, the patent bully who is attacking Linux at this moment [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], is no better. From the same post as above:

I feel for Google – Steve Jobs threatened to sue me, too.

In 2003, after I unveiled a prototype Linux desktop called Project Looking Glass*, Steve called my office to let me know the graphical effects were “stepping all over Apple’s IP.” (IP = Intellectual Property = patents, trademarks and copyrights.) If we moved forward to commercialize it, “I’ll just sue you.”

People should understand that when they buy something from Microsoft or from Apple they are paying money to racketeers.

Update: There is more coverage of this in Groklaw and BTL.

Microsoft and Insecurity: Vulnerabilities, Botnets, and a Whole Lot of Nerve

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Security, Windows at 4:29 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Hand on glass

Summary: Windows insecurity a matter of persistence, Windows botnets a lost cause, and Microsoft’s staff interferes with security policy

From One Critical Vulnerability to Another

THE security problems in Windows are a never-ending problem. Those patches that we mentioned last week arrived on Patch Tuesday, as usual. Here are some of last week’s articles about it [1, 2, 3, 4] and indication that Microsoft may be silencing researchers again:

Microsoft Exploits Talk Dropped From RSA Agenda

An RSA Conference presentation on Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT) application hacks and exploits that was originally slated for Tuesday was canceled, although it’s unclear why.

An RSA Conference spokesperson told Channelweb.com on Tuesday that the session appears to have been canceled in early January, but didn’t offer a reason for the cancellation. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on whether the session was canceled at Microsoft’s behest.

Whether Microsoft was behind this or not, the company definitely had been doing such things before. There’s security through obscurity and security through gagging. And in other news, “Microsoft resumes XP patch distribution; says rootkit remover coming soon”

In mid-February, Microsoft halted automatic distribution of one of its Windows patches, blaming the interaction of the patch with already-present malware on users’ systems for a rash of blue-screen-of-death reports among XP users.

Microsoft would love to just blame “a rootkit”, but this was caused by lack of security in the first place. It is a circular trap that still has Microsoft deserving at least some of the blame. This problem was also covered in [1, 2].

In other news, we soon learn that “patchy Windows patching leaves users insecure,” according to Secunia.

Windows users need to patch their systems an average of every five days to stay ahead of security vulnerabilities, according to a study this week.

The numbers come from a company called Secunia which just happens to be developing an all-in-one patching tool to reduce update headaches for consumers.

Stats from the two million existing users of Secunia’s free Personal Software Inspector tool show the average home user needs an average of 75 patches from 22 different vendors to be fully secure. The complexity of patching means that most users are not even in the race, meaning that hackers hoping to exploit software vulnerabilities to infect vulnerable systems stay well ahead of the game.

Matters are further complicated by the variety of different update mechanisms applied by differing suppliers.

Secunia says that “The core of this patching issue is that the software industry has, so far, failed to come up with a unified patching solution that can help home users on a large scale; that is, encompassing all software programs” and as our reader put it, “Doesn’t Linux have a one-stop-shop for the distro? As long as you stick with the official “repository”, everything can be automatically updated, including the apps.”

From One Windows Botnet to Another

Microsoft has a new zero-day vulnerability in its hands and the attempt to suspend Windows botnets is of course futile. There are just too many Windows botnets out there.

Spamhaus: Microsoft’s botnet cull had little effect

Microsoft’s takedown of the Waledac botnet has not been effective, according to some security researchers.

The throttling of Waledac, which Microsoft claimed to have achieved by means of legal action last week, has led to no appreciable reduction of junk mail coming from the botnet, anti-spam organisation Spamhaus told ZDNet UK on Tuesday.

We wrote about the Waledac takedown in [1, 2, 3]. Here is more new information about it:

Well, criticism has come from two main areas: Firstly, as Jose Nazario of Arbor Networks Inc. , a security solutions provider, told The Wall Street Journal, the Internet addresses that Microsoft’s lawsuit brought down could be a small percentage of those used by hackers to control the network. “The botnet will survive in many cases,” said Nazario.

And Richard Cox, the chief information officer at anti-spam service Spamhaus told ComputerWorld: “If this did affect spam, we haven’t noticed… Waledac was not a high threat; it’s less than 1% of spam traffic.”

On the face of it, Microsoft Windows may rely on Free software to secure the Web from itself.

From Microsoft to Apple

Apple is suing Linux (we covered this in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]). Apple becomes more of a fighting company (an aggressor), not a pacifier.

Apple is also hiring from Microsoft, based on this report about Window Snyder.

Window Snyder’s first day at Apple was Monday, according to PC World. While it noted that Apple was the “third browser-maker in the past five years that has employed Snyder,” it did not indicate whether she would work on the Safari browser or some other technology for the Cupertino, Calif., company.

Microsoft was spreading lies about Firefox (and sometimes GNU/Linux too), but even Snyder, who had worked for Microsoft, told them off for it*. It all happened when she worked for Mozilla, but she luckily left after using her Mozilla hat to praise Microsoft. She is going to Apple now.

From US DOJ to Microsoft

Microsoft’s fairly new hire from the US DOJ is upsetting many people. Scott Charney’s remarks [1, 2, 3] led to some strong reactions. “Blow me,” says this one article from iStockAnalyst to Microsoft:

In short, these machines are infested (not infected, infested) because their operating system has historically been full of security holes (this has improved, especially in Windows 7, to be fair.)

So what does Microsoft propose?

So who would foot the bill? “Maybe markets will make it work,” Charney said. But an Internet usage tax might be the way to go. “You could say it’s a public safety issue and do it with general taxation,” he said.

That’s nice.

Sell an insecure operating system and then get someone else to pay a tax because they bought an arguably-defective product you sold?
How about this instead Microsoft?

For each computer infested, the publisher of the operating system sold to that user is assessed a fine of US $100,000 by the Department of Justice.

Here is what The Atlantic argues:

Most opponents of a tax would say that software companies should be responsible for paying, since it’s their responsibility to develop a safe product. Indeed, some criticize Microsoft for advocating a tax as an excuse to spend less of their own money developing safer software.

Also see:

Microsoft’s Ideas for Making PCs Safer

Microsoft’s Scott Charney Calls For Disrupting Cybercrime Activities

Microsoft Security Chief proposes taxes to protect the Internet

Microsoft moots digital healthcare tax

Microsoft’s Ideas for Making PCs Safer

Microsoft and the Incredible ‘Internet Usage Tax’

Say It Ain’t So, Microsoft

Maybe Microsoft Vice President for Trustworthy Computing Scott Charney wanted to see if his audience was really awake. Maybe he entered a time warp and thought it was April 1st. Maybe someone gave him a funny cookie. Or maybe he really didn’t think it would be sheer lunacy to suggest levying an Internet tax on Americans to pay for cybersecurity.

[...]

What Were You Thinking, Scott?

Not satisfied with blaming and seeking to punish the victim, Charney then went on to suggest the imposition of a tax on Internet users to ensure cybersecurity.

“You could say it’s a public safety issue and do it with general taxation,” he said.

Really, Scott? Why should we the users pay for the ineptness of software vendors? And please, don’t give me that tired routine about the bad guys being out there always looking for flaws.

Let’s take an analogy from real life. When you’re a kid your parents tell you the rules for living safely. Don’t talk to strangers or take candy from them. Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t walk down dark streets or alleys at night. Never walk between a parked van and the wall, especially at night. Keep your doors locked.

Even some Microsoft boosters disagree with Microsoft on this, whereas most are unable to sincerely criticise it [1, 2, 3].
______
* Microsoft hates real numbers, so it manufactures its own.

Patents Roundup: Lawyer Takeover, Failed Reform, and Policy Laundering With ACTA

Posted in Europe, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Law, Microsoft, Patents at 3:20 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Brussels
Brussels, Belgium

Summary: What the latest news tells us about the use of law — not improved products — to compete in the market

THIS post mostly looks at policy-making around software patents, which are being used by Apple and by Microsoft at the moment in order to stifle their "most potent operating system competitor". That would be Linux, sometimes with GNU. The issue of software patents is far more important than GNU/Linux-oriented Web sites typically indicate.

Question of Bias

The EPO nominates some people for what it calls “European Inventor Award 2010″.

Twelve candidates from nine countries are competing this year for the European Inventor Award 2010, a highly regarded innovation prize presented annually by the EPO together with the European Commission.

The prize, which is purely symbolic and involves no material recompense, is awarded in four categories: Lifetime achievement, Industry, SMEs/research and Non-European countries. The four winners will be chosen by a high-ranking international jury and will be presented with their prizes by EPO President Alison Brimelow in Madrid on 28 April 2010.

Professor Peter Landrock is in that list and it may all seem fine, except for the fact that the president of the FFII points out that the “EPO [is] nominating a software patent proponent and enforcer [by] the name of Peter Landrock (Cryptomathic)”

“FairSoftware is not a software company. The name is deceiving.”This page says: “We have invested heavily in secure, mobile signature solutions based on two-factor authentication which offer high security as well as ease and convenience to the end-user. Our approach is based on research and development carried out over many years, and we feel strongly that we deserve fair acknowledgement from companies and organisations using our patented technology,” said Professor Peter Landrock, Executive Chairman of the Board of Cryptomathic. “This core technology contributed to Cryptomathic earning a nomination as one of the 40 most innovative companies in the world at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2003. We prefer to resolve such issues through commercial discussions without litigation but have so far been unsuccessful with BBS. Hence we are left with no alternative but to file suit.”

So, it’s another one of those European supporters of software patents. There are also people such as this guy, who describes himself as “the founder of FairSoftware, a venture dedicated to helping entrepreneurs find co-founders for their web or iPhone app.”

FairSoftware is not a software company. The name is deceiving. The company strongly promotes software patents.

Here is something from the news which reminds us that lawyers — not engineers — favour software patents (the more, the merrier to them because it means legal business).

Kimberlee Weatherall, who teaches intellectual property law at the University of Queensland, puts the controversial issue of software patents into perspective.

Here is the new perspective of a software developer:

I’ve considered the arguments by Stallman, John Gruber, and Tim Bray on software patents, and I side with Stallman in that software patents are inherently problematic and are a net loss for society.

The major difference in their arguments is that, while all three mention the realities and dysfunctions of the patent system, Stallman focuses strongly on the difference between what it’s intended to do and what actually happens. He also illustrates the reality of trying to develop any nontrivial software in a patent-filled landscape.

[...]

As a working software developer, the thought of accidentally and unknowingly stumbling into someone’s patent is terrifying. There’s no question that it has hurt our industry in the past and will continue to artificially restrict progress indefinitely, and there’s little convincing evidence that the supposed benefits exist in practice at a large enough scale to maintain the status quo.

Reform

Patent reform in the United States is a subject that we wrote about some days ago [1, 2]. Basically, those in control of the system do not want to truly fix this system. From Senate.gov we now have “Leahy, Sessions, Hatch, Schumer, Kyl, Kaufman Unveil Details Of Patent Reform Agreement”:

WASHINGTON – Leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday announced details of an agreement on long-pending legislation to make needed reforms to the nation’s patent system.

This is the third consecutive Congress in which Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the panel, and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a former committee chair, have introduced patent reform legislation. A bipartisan majority of the Committee advanced the legislation last April. In the months since, Leahy, Hatch, and Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the Committee’s ranking Republican, and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) have continued to work toward an agreement to make the legislation ready for Senate consideration.

“[The] US Patent Reform [is] promoting cheap patents,” argues the president of the FFII, “good rebate for patent trolls, 75% price reduction.” It sure seems reasonable to argue that the patent reform is a lost cause. Those in control of this system are mostly lawyers, not engineers. According to this patent lawyer blog (floridapatentlawyerblog.com), software patents are still (currently) allowed, even post-Bilski.

In one of its last decisions of today, the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI) reversed a Patent Examiner’s 35 U.S.C. §101 non-statutory subject matter rejection of a key Invatron Systems invention. As a Miami Patent Attorney, this case was interesting because I haven’t seen any BPAI decisions regarding 35 U.S.C. §101, much less a decision that invokes Bilski, in a while.

At issue was an Invatron Systems claim pertaining to a scale for weighing items, wherein the scale included a computer that performed a series of steps, such as providing a coupon. The Examiner found the claims recite a method of purely mental steps, not tied to another statutory class. The Appellants contended the claimed method recites steps including providing a coupon to the customer and that these steps cannot be performed purely mentally since there is no way to provide a coupon without the coupon being physically inputted into the weigh station display.

[...]

As such, claim 17 required a specific structure that captures, stores, and displays specific data. This specific structure ties the recited method to a particular machine, in that the method recites how to operate a weigh station with a weigh station display. Since there is a particular machine required, claim 17 satisfies the machine prong of the machine-or-transformation test and the transformation prong need not be evaluated.

[...]

The lesson learned in this case is that although a claim may not explicitly and positively recite a structural element, the claim may require a specific structure to perform the steps of the claim. If that structure satisfies the machine prong of the machine-or-transformation test, an Examiner’s 35 U.S.C. §101 non-statutory subject matter rejection may be reversed under Bilski.

ACTA

The ACTA encompasses patents, as we last showed about a week ago. It’s just policy laundering for the big companies. The “European Parliament reserves its right to challenge ACTA in front of the European Court of Justice,” shows the FFII’s president, who also found out that “DeGucht tries to keep the European Parliament happy on ACTA” [1, 2]. He cites this article from IP Watch about ACTA. Check out the following part:

IIPA drew commentary from internet rights groups and open source software proponents by saying that government procurement policies encouraging or mandating the use of open source software were akin to piracy. The IIPA suggested Brazil, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam be put on USTR watch lists for policies favouring open source software, saying it limited the ability of proprietary software to compete.

Philip Morris said the increasing number of countries proposing to adopt plain packaging for cigarettes, or having heath warnings covering more than 50 percent of cigarette packaging is worrisome, as it might infringe trademark rights, and encourage “illicit trade in tobacco products.” The cigarette maker called for their IP rights to be protected and enforced in a number of countries, arguing that “these initiatives, which are not based on any solid scientific evidence that they contribute to legitimate public health objectives, would effectively constitute an expropriation of some of the world’s most valuable trademarks without the payment of adequate compensation to manufacturers.”

The Free Software Foundation called for an end to digital rights management software, which they said prevents users from freely enjoying their purchases and are almost always incompatible with free software.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) said that IP rights were wrongly considered to be mainly the concern of sectors such as pharmaceuticals, software, and entertainment. International counterfeiting and piracy is a “mainstream and Main Street issue for US manufacturers,” they said. The specific focus of NAM in 2010 is “four Cs”: counterfeiting, customs, cooperation internationally and China.

Agricultural technology company Monsanto complained about patent backlogs in Argentina and Brazil, which it said delays their ability to enter the market and enforce rights on their products, and about government procurement that favours locally owned or registered IP in China. The European Union’s recent trend to “unduly broaden breeder’s exemptions” will undermine IP rights on plants, Monsanto said. Breeders exemptions are intended to protect plant varieties while not restricting follow-on innovation by people other than the original rights holder.

Watch what Monsanto — with all of its sickening business practices [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8] — is doing there. Also see the role of IIPA. It is related to what we wrote in [1, 2, 3]. “IIPA suggested Brazil, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand be put on USTR watch list for policies favouring open source,” writes the president of the FFII.

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