Summary: Microsoft continues to harass competition (notably GNU/Linux) through small companies and lobbyists in Europe; US patent law on shaky ground
TODAY’S post catches up with patents news from the past 3 days. We will start with the issues that affect Free software the most.
IBM, TurboHercules, and Microsoft
For background on the subject and perhaps a bit of context, here are previous posts on the matter.
- Microsoft Proxy Attack on GNU/Linux Continues With TurboHercules
- Eye on Security: Windows Malware, Emergency Patches, and BeyondTrust’s CEO from Microsoft
- IBM Uses Software Patents Aggressively
- IBM’s Day of Shame
- IBM Will Never be the Same After Taking Software Patents Out of Its Holster
- Thumbs up to Ubuntu for Removing a Part of Microsoft; TurboHercules Likely a Psystar-Type Microsoft Shell
- Why IBM Does Deserve Scrutiny (Updated)
- Patents Roundup: Fordham Conference for Software Patents in Europe, NZOSS Responds to Pro-Software Patents Lobbyists, and TurboHercules’ Ties With Microsoft Explained
- Florian Müller Seemingly Connected to CCIA (Microsoft Proxy)
- Patents Roundup: New Conferences, Oink of the Patent Lawyers in New Zealand, and TurboHercules’ Secret Home in 701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 4200 Seattle, WA 98104
SJVN responds to Müller over at his blog in IDG. Müller keeps slamming IBM 24/7.
I just really can’t see why IBM should be singled out as patent public enemy number one for open source because of this one business dust-up. I also can’t help notice, as Pamela Jones of Groklaw recently pointed out, that there’s reason to believe that TurboHercules isn’t so much an open-source company as it is a proxy, along with OpenMainframe, in a battle between IBM and Microsoft over cloud-computing.
Again, I find myself asking, “Who’s really the open-source enemy here?” It’s not IBM.
At ITWire, IBM’s actions are defended by stating that IBM is a business, just like many others.
Both sides are wrong for one simple reason: the people who run companies like IBM or Microsoft or Novell or HP, do not have friends or enemies. What they have is strategic interests. That’s all.
Telic corrects the author in the comments, calling a part of the article “unprofessional misinformation.” To quote Telic:
The GPL triggers upon public distribution of licenced code: “if you distribute copies of such a program, whether gratis or for a fee, you must pass on to the recipients the same freedoms that you received. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their rights.”
Your “only money speaks” ditty is an anthem for outlaw corruption a la Microsoft.
Indeed. One ought to concentrate on the fact that Microsoft is still using “dummy” companies to sue competitors. Microsoft should be taken to court over this.
The patent armament of GNU/Linux grows a little bigger and stronger with many additions to the OIN and the Linux Foundation recently (they are both related to each other and to IBM). Ulteo becomes a member of OIN, based on this new press release (also in Market Wire).
Open Invention Network (OIN), the company formed to enable and protect Linux, today extended the Linux ecosystem with the signing of Ulteo as a licensee. By becoming a licensee, Ulteo has joined the growing list of companies that recognize the importance of participating in a substantial community of Linux supporters and leveraging the Open Invention Network to further spur open source innovation.
Ulteo is a small company from the super-talented Gaël Duval, creator of Mandrake. He blogged about it too.
“The opinion pieces of IBM partners/apologists sometimes assume that IBM is untouchable when it comes to criticism from the Free software community.”The IBM-created/led OIN has actually been helpful in the past [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. It’s one of those cases where IBM’s involvement actually defends GNU/Linux from hostile patents (although a permanent solution would just eliminate software patents). The opinion pieces of IBM partners/apologists sometimes assume that IBM is untouchable when it comes to criticism from the Free software community. This oughtn't be the case.
Dana Blankenhorn says that “the IBM open source pledge [has been] amended.”
The real news is that Eric Raymond agrees with Mueller. The author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which did so much to define open source as distinct from Richard Stallman’s free software ideal, says IBM is digging itself into an ever-deeper rhetorical hole.
Blankenhorn also brings Jay Maynard into it. Groklaw accused Maynard of playing for Microsoft, but some of our readers deny this strongly.
Jones got into this with a long Groklaw post that has 11 updates (so far) acting as exhibits. It’s the fiercest debate there since the end of the Novell case, which is to say in about two weeks.
A summary is that TurboHercules started this mess, that IBM has not even filed a case, and that it looks like a shakedown by Hercules’ Roger Bowler and Jay Maynard. (Raymond credits Maynard with bringing him into the case.)
The thing is, Mueller may have jumped the gun on his accusations that Big Blue was giving the finger to the open source community.
Müller is more or less a lobbyist now. He even issues a ‘press release’:
Florian Mueller, Open Source Patent Activist, just released the following information. He believes that patents already used by IBM against TurboHercules are also a threat to other major FOSS projects. He now calls on the community for action.
Calling him “Open Source Patent Activist” is rather odd given that he attempted to derail Munich’s migration to Open Source. Corpwatch.org calls Müller “Open-source Advocate” in this new article and someone from Red Hat says that Müller “plays a strange role. Comes out of the blue. I smell more.”
Steve Stites writes about abolishing software patents in response to an article about IBM and TurboHercules:
I think that the best way to defend open source against software patent attacks is to abolish software patents. The U.S. Supreme Court might abolish software patents this month in the U.S.A. New Zealand is close to passing a law abolishing software patents in New Zealand. We are making progress from the days when people considered abolishing software patents just a flaky idea.
This brings us to the next subject.
Commerce Minister Simon Power says the Government will back changes proposed by a select committee that will mean computer software can no longer be patented.
Parliament’s commerce select committee proposed amending the Patents Bill, which passed its first reading in May last year, after receiving many submissions on the controversial issue.
The recommendation has attracted considerable attention outside New Zealand, particularly from the open source software community, which claims large software makers have gamed the patent system and stifled innovation.
The local solicitors (“lawyers industry”) actively protest against this (no derivatives on software? Think about the children!). This whole situation is very revealing; lawyers consistently insist on more patents, whereas developers reject them. Who again is actually producing software? Should the insurance cartel also get to define policies on medication?
As proof that the European patent system (primarily the EPO, as opposed to the UK IPO) is still relatively sane, here is the news about Amazon’s mind-blowing one-click patent getting rejected on the grounds of obviousness.
From the IPKat’s friend Kristof Neefs (Altius) comes this link to Decision T 1616/08, in which the European Patent Office’s Technical Board of Appeal ruled that the subject matter of Amazon’s controversial One-click patent is obvious. In the decision of 11 November 2009, the application to patent a “Method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network” was opposed by the Gesellschaft für Informatik e.V., Fleurop-Interflora European Business Company AG and the Förderverein für eine Freie Informationelle Infrastruktur e.V.(FFII e.V.).
This bring us to the European Interoperability Framework.
Microsoft and Front Groups
Microsoft’s pressure groups such as CompTIA are still lobbying for software patents inside European standards. Microsoft does not want to be seen doing this directly, so it has been using moles and lobbyists. Here is the latest warning bell:
Commenting on previous efforts to introduce a European Interoperability Framework (EIF), CompTIA, a global ICT industry group with member companies such as Microsoft among its members, said it was ”concerned about the proposal’s promotion of ICT standards and development models that reject valid intellectual property’.’
For more information about Microsoft’s lobbying against real standards in EIFv2, see:
- European Interoperability Framework (EIF) Corrupted by Microsoft et al, Its Lobbyists
- Orwellian EIF, Fake Open Source, and Security Implications
- No Sense of Shame Left at Microsoft
- Lobbying Leads to Protest — the FFII and the FSFE Rise in Opposition to Subverted EIF
- IBM and Open Forum Europe Address European Interoperability Framework (EIF) Fiasco
- EIF Scrutinised, ODF Evolves, and Microsoft’s OOXML “Lies” Lead to Backlash from Danish Standards Committee
- Complaints About Perverted EIF Continue to Pile Up
- More Complaints About EIFv2 Abuse and Free Software FUD from General Electric (GE)
- Patents Roundup: Copyrighted SQL Queries, Microsoft Alliance with Company That Attacks F/OSS with Software Patents, Peer-to-Patent in Australia
- Microsoft Under Fire: Open Source Software Thematic Group Complains About EIFv2 Subversion, NHS Software Supplier Under Criminal Investigation
- British MEP Responds to Microsoft Lobby Against EIFv2; Microsoft’s Visible Technologies Infiltrates/Derails Forums Too
- Patents Roundup: Escalations in Europe, SAP Pretense, CCIA Goes Wrong, and IETF Opens Up
- Patents Roundup: Several Defeats for Bad Types of Patents, Apple Risks Embargo, and Microsoft Lobbies Europe Intensely
- Europeans Asked to Stop Microsoft’s Subversion of EIFv2 (European Interoperability Framework Version 2)
- Former Member of European Parliament Describes Microsoft “Coup in Process” in the European Commission
- Microsoft’s Battle to Consume — Not Obliterate — Open Source
Indeed, Palm has a range of intellectual property assets, from hardware to software patents and its well-regarded webOS operating system.
The brilliant Feld explains why patents are bad news for small companies:
I’m sure you can already see the problem. What software startup has $5 million to burn on defending a case with no value-add? Even $500k? I’d say it takes $1-2 million or thereabouts just to get through claim construction, which will give the parties a better sense of the overall merits of the case. One patent suit with a slightly determined plaintiff could very easily end a software startup just in legal fees, let alone the impact of the suit on gathering customers in the future.
So, software startups have to settle patent cases very early, and at high settlement amounts, because they have absolutely no leverage. Invalidity takes years to litigate, so you can’t threaten to invalidate the patent; same with inequitable conduct. Non-infringement arguments are great in theory, but the plaintiff won’t have a judgment day until the middle of the case at the earliest, after claim construction, when summary judgment motions are allowed (on most schedules), and that’s several years of litigation and several million dollars away. The defendant could file for a re-exam, but once it’s filed, the defendant has no control over it, and it takes a few years to get through the PTO.
In a new article from Forbes, Reihan Salam recalls the dawn of software patents in the United States:
In the 1981 Diamond decision, the majority effectively reversed 1978′s Parker v. Flook decision to disallow software patents. As Lee has persuasively argued, software patents have proven an overwhelmingly destructive force that inhibits economic growth by crippling small, innovative software developers. In both of these decisions Justice Stevens worked to limit the power of the government to reward entrenched interests. Yet this is a kind of jurisprudence that many, on the right and on the left, object to on grounds of judicial restraint.
GT Software has just issued this press release that repeatedly alludes to software patents as though they are something worth boasting and Against Monopoly carries on wondering what the retirement of Justice Stevens will mean to the Bilski case.
There are growing predictions from many authorities that Stevens might be the primary author of the Bilski patent case which has yet to be handed down.
There are patent concerns, but Google has a very good record on patents, so I am optimistic there.
Lastly, on another more positive note, the president of the FFII says that “Abolishing the U.S. Patent System Is Coming Soon”; he points to this:
Patent Resources Group (PRG), the nation’s leading patent educator, will be hosting a panel discussion on “The Future of U.S. Patent Law” on June 11, 2010 in Washington, DC. This in-depth, one-day event, offered in partnership with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, will bring together some of the best minds in intellectual property to inform, discuss, and debate the future of U.S. patent law. The one-of-a-kind program will include brief lectures, lively panel discussions, and audience participation.
Major topics will include:
* U.S. patent reform
* Latest developments at, and tensions between, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
* Approaches to improve pendency and efficiency at the USPTO
Meanwhile, looking at Obama’s office, their document on the subject
[PDF] (which they wrote in Microsoft Word) states: “Protect intellectual property rights. Intellectual property is to the digital age what physical goods were to the industrial age. We must ensure that intellectual property is protected in foreign markets and promote greater cooperation on international standards that allow our technologies to compete everywhere. The Administration is committed to ensuring that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has the resources, authority, and flexibility to administer the patent system effectively and issue high-quality patents on innovative intellectual property, while rejecting claims that do not merit patent protection.”