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05.04.10

Patents Roundup: Red Hat on Patent Trolls; Apple Antitrust; Microsoft Attacks Theora, Which is Needed to Save Our Video Culture

Posted in Antitrust, Apple, Free/Libre Software, FUD, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Red Hat at 2:47 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Ogg versus MPEG

Summary: Ogg Theora is being smeared and demoted by Microsoft and its boosters while H.264 is pushed hard, even by Apple which now faces an antitrust inquiry for anti-competitiveness

A FEW days ago we summarised the Acacia hoopla by stating that it’s all over:

There is a somewhat belated announcement from Novell and Red Hat’s Rob Tiller wrote about it too. He is confident despite the fact that Red Hat does not always win against patent trolls [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6].

We learned many things from this experience, but I’ll note just three here. We now know for certain that those in the business of bringing software patent lawsuits are not invincible, even in the supposedly patent-friendly jurisdiction of the Eastern District of Texas. We know that Texas juries are willing to reject bogus infringement claims and invalidate bad software patents. And we know that attacks on open source based on FUD will not stand up when subjected to the light of truth.

One blogger from Dr. Dobbs says that there is growth in “Theora FUD” at the moment (also to do with patent claims).

A blogger named Hugo Roy posted a piece called An Open Letter to Steve Jobs in which he picked on Steve a bit about the openness of H.264. A few valid points were made, but most interestingly, Hugo then posted an email response he says came from Steve himself, which included the following inflammatory quote:

A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents.

If this is true, it is bad news for Theora indeed. Can the Mozilla foundation afford to hang a giant “Kick Me” sign on the next version of Firefox? Can they afford to litigate against even a single patent lawsuit, much less this consortium Steve is quoted as knowing of?

Apple’s many abuses as of late (going after bloggers, blocking third-party developers [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8], veiled threat against Ogg, etc.) do add up. The FTC has just launched an antitrust inquiry, which is not as bad as that may sound.

According to the New York Post, The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are negotiating which of them will launch an inquiry into a clause in the iPhone OS 4 SDK that bans the porting of software originally written for Adobe’s Flash, Sun’s Java or Microsoft’s Silverlight/Mono to the iPhone OS.

The FTC is usually quite toothless and the FCC nearly went after Apple once before (right after Microsoft connections were formed inside the FCC). Apple also has an edgy history with European antitrust, mostly over the music business. What the FTC really needs to crack down on is AstroTurfing, including some from Microsoft [1, 2, 3]. The FTC promised that it would address the problem — one that we covered in old posts such as:

The FTC or the DOJ may also want to investigate Microsoft for racketeering [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. Microsoft has resorted to outright extortion against its #1 competition, which is GNU/Linux. As Penguin Pete put it:

Funny how it’s always Linux which Microsoft is alleging is infringing on Microsoft’s patent portfolio, isn’t it? Not FreeBSD, not OpenBSD, not NetBSD, not Solaris (open or closed), not Plan Nine From Bell Labs, not ReactOS, not Minix, not GNU-HURD, not any of the flavors of proprietary Unix.

This whole extortion may also end when the Bilski case is once again concluded, assuming that it also kills software patents. Patent trolls/lawyers and monopolies will fight tooth and nail for software patents. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is not helping, either.

Sonia Sotomayor, or Justice Sotomayor is the newest, and maybe the most worrying judge on the US Supreme Court.

Sotomayor was previously married to Kevin Noonan,[1] a patent lawyer who is very pro-patent.

SJVN wrote about the subject, starting with a sound bite that berates lawyers:

First, we kill all the patent lawyers

Actually, I don’t think we should kill all the patent lawyers. Some of my best friends are patent attorneys — no, really. But I’d happily stick a knife into the American patent system.

In the beginning, the U.S. patent system was meant to encourage inventors and innovation. Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said, “The Patent System added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” That was then. This is now.

Today, unless the Supreme Court does the right thing and tosses out business practice and, by implication, software patents with the proper decision in the Bilski case, we’re stuck with a system designed to wreck anyone who actually tries to implement his own ideas.

You see, with many software patents there is no specific language, no hard code, but only descriptions of general processes that can be implemented in multiple ways. Now, you might think you could avoid patent trouble by looking up the appropriate patents and not using them. Good luck with that.

[...]

This is why Microsoft, despite being the loser in some whopping patent lawsuits, such as the $200 million-plus it owes i4i for violating its patents and the $1.5 billion it once owed Alcatel-Lucent, is happy to threaten other companies, especially those that use Linux or open-source software, such as Amazon and TomTom into licensing agreements.

That last example about Alcatel-Lucent includes reasons to embrace Theora, but Microsoft is strongly against Theora, as we recently explained and showed in:

Microsoft continues to justify ignoring Theora. They are using their familiar FUD to justify using something that they are covered for or paid for. As always, their friend Bott joins the attack on Theora (a pile of the usual Microsoft propaganda via ZDNet’s Bott/Foley). It’s extremely disingenuous and The Source explains why:

Oof. ZDNet’s Ed Bott attacks the FSF hard in “Ogg versus the world: don’t fall for open-source FUD“.

One issue

Mr. Bott calls out some of the points made on the PlayOgg FAQ as being “FUD”, “outright lies”, “technically absurd”, “factually dead wrong”, and maybe even downright anti-kittens-with-funny-captions-underneath.

Let’s look at one of his examples (we’ll only take the first one, but the entire article is chock-full of fallacious fun).

[...]

People like Mr. Bott who carry water for organizations like Microsoft are going to resort to hypocrisy, hair-splitting and strawman-bashing tactics.

For example, Mr. Bott seems quite content to quote the CEO of the MPEG-LA asserting that “no one in the market should be under the misimpression that other codecs such as Theora are patent free” in the very article where he is taking the FSF to task for FUD.

The MPEG-LA CEO is a patent troll. The Source concludes with: “So, be aware of that mindset when you write. There will always be someone out there ready to take a cheap shot or play integrity-free games with the point you are trying to make. You can’t stop them – because they aren’t after the truth – but you don’t have to give up free points on the goal either.”

“[P]atent trolls aren’t a pathology of [software patents], but a natural consequence of the system. Not a bug, a feature.”
      –Carlo Piana
Carlo Piana (Samba lawyer) explains that “Fighting trolls is [is not] getting rid of [software patents]. Getting rid of [software patents] is a way to defeat trolls, though.” He also shrewdly points out that “patent trolls aren’t a pathology of [software patents], but a natural consequence of the system. Not a bug, a feature.”

MPEG-LA is essentially a pool and an example of a troll/bully because of the way it coerces from the outside. As some other sources warn a lot these days, MPEG-LA is a huge risk to our culture because a lot of our videos got trapped in MPEG-LA’s so-called ‘property’ (MPEG-LA members are the ones to loot everyone and MPEG-LA is just their ‘front group’, a la MPAA/RIAA). We really need a codec like Theora and it should be defended from the self-serving members of MPEG-LA.

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