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07.07.10

Patents Roundup: Call to “Abolish Software Patents”, FFmpeg Has No Patent Danger, and Patent WatchTroll Looks Like “Pure Satire”

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Google, Patents at 8:30 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

FFmpeg

Summary: Many news items about software patents, mostly ones that reassure software patents are kept stuck in particular geographies, thanks in part to a lobby of lawyers like Gene Quinn (Patent WatchTroll)

IT’S TOO hard to ignore the Bilski decision, even a week and a half after its release. This decision applies to just one country, but its scope potentially goes beyond that of business method patents. Here is TechDirt extrapolating to better understand the impact on software patents:

Since it’s been a week or so since the Bilski ruling, and as more people have had more time to look at and sift through the rulings in greater detail, some are realizing there may actually be a light at the end of the tunnel for those who dislike software patents. Contrary to the claims of the IEEE, the ruling did not, in fact, come out and say that software patents are legit.

The truth is, despite pressure from Stevens, SCOTUS kept the issue of software patents mostly off the agenda.

Other Web sites can be seen extrapolating to biomedical patents [1, 2]:

A day after reaching a decision in the business methods patent case Bilski v. Kappos, the Supreme Court this week remanded the diagnostic patent case Prometheus Laboratories v. Mayo Collaborative Services et al., to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals with an order to revisit the case in light of Bilski.

Timothy Lee, a rebel against software patents who was also recently recruited by Google, says that “Justice Scalia’s indecision is a victory for the patent bar” and a new UK government Web site (crowd-sourced) may seek to ensure that software patents are kept at bay, at least in the UK. From the summary:

Software patent law must be simplified if not completely abolished. The concept that a routine or function is somehow “intellectual property” is ridiculous. How many times have you had an idea and found out someone else had the same idea? Patents were designed to prevent stealing of ideas but two independent people creating the same idea are not stealing from each other.

Richard Stallman wrote about video patents (purely software/mathematics) a day or so ago and Carlo Daffara wrote this good post to clarify and dismiss misconceptions that FFmpeg's implementation of WebM/VP8 might be infringing MPEG-LA patents.

I was recently reminded by Gregory Maxwell of Xiph about the new, non-Google implementation of VP8 done within the context of FFmpeg, and many commenters on Slashdot observed that the fact that the implementation shares lots of code with the H264 part is further demonstration that VP8 is infriging on MPEG-LA held patents.

Actually, there is nothing in the implementation that suggests this, only the fact that some underlying alogrithms are similar (but not identical). For example, the entropy coder is quite similar, and it certainly helps to reuse some of the highly optimized librarties that are within FFMPEG, this is however no indication of patent infringement.

Last but not least, TechDirt feeds Patent WatchTroll (Quinn) and claims that Quinn’s arguments are so ridiculous that he was “pretty sure that Quinn’s blog is pure satire”:

We’ve already pointed out that the “don’t look” advice is spread around widely and has nothing, specifically, to do with open source. Second, developers aren’t looking to “do original work.” They’re looking to do useful work. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. Innovation doesn’t come from looking for something that “hasn’t been done.” Usually, it’s in response to a need that you are seeing in the market place, and when you see that need, it doesn’t matter if others are doing something already. The fact that you see a need that hasn’t been fulfilled means that there’s an opportunity.

In some ways, Quinn’s mistake here is simply a restatement of the mistake many patent attorneys make in confusing idea and execution. He assumes that for innovation to occur you need to have an original idea, rather than just a better way of solving a market need. And, the idea that you have to do something “original” to attract investor attention suggests that Quinn doesn’t spend much time in the venture capital world. It’s pretty well known out here in Silicon Valley that if you come to investors with something truly original, you’ll almost never get an investment. It’s just too difficult. They can’t fit that into the model they’re working with. To get an investment you need one of two things — neither of which is “finding some original space.” No, you need a story about how you’re doing something the VCs already understand, but better (i.e., the opposite of what Quinn suggests) or you’ve got a great track record of executing. That’s because most good (successful) VCs recognize the difference between ideas and execution. And they’ll bet on people who can execute over people with ideas every single time.

There’s plenty more that’s ridiculous in Quinn’s post — which is why I’m pretty sure that Quinn’s blog is pure satire that had me fooled for many years, but I’ll just respond to one more point, because it’s so amusing:

I have a real philosophical problem with those who want to copy, whether it be intentionally or without knowing. We ought to want to find the open spaces and fill them. That is what Thomas Edison did, and many thousands of others throughout our history.

As anyone who’s actually studied Thomas Edison knows quite well, pretty much all Edison did was copy others. Nearly all of his great “inventions” were actually invented by others first. Edison, on the other hand, was great at taking the inventions of others and innovating. That meant making minor tweaks to make the offerings more marketable, marketing the hell out of them… and, oh yes, using the patent system to try to wipe out any of the competition (even if they had much, much, much better products).

The best thing to do is probably not to feed Patent WatchTroll. That’s just what he wants and maybe that’s why he aggravates. Groklaw feeds him a lot.

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