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07.08.10

Patent Bullies Roundup: Intellectual Ventures, NetApp, and HP’s ‘Donation’

Posted in Free/Libre Software, HP, Oracle, Patents at 4:35 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Nathan Myhrvold

Summary: Patent aggression vectors are named; HP is criticised for taking away what’s public and then ‘donating’ it back

THE Bilski decision’s interpretations regarding software patents continue to arrive [1, 2], but we won’t delve into them because it’s becoming too repetitive. It also applies to just one country, which happens to be home of the world’s largest patent troll, Intellectual Ventures.

Despite all its abuses (racketeering), Intellectual Ventures is said to have just received a “superplug”:

I enjoyed Levitt & Dubner’s “Freakonomics”, and picked up the followup “Superfreakonomis” recently at an airport. The last chapter, however, was astonishing. The entire chapter was devoted to a glowing advertisement for Intellectual Ventures, pointing out that they own 20,000 patents “more than all but a few dozen companies in the world”, but of course “there is little hard evidence” that they are patent trolls.

But this bunch of wacky genius billionaires have solved global warming (much of which they dispute anyway) and can control malaria and prevent hurricanes from forming. Unlike the rest of the book which covers analysis of well-known facts and disputes them with insightful economic research, this chapter is so breathless and gushy that it makes me question the rest of the author’s work.

I first came across Intellectual Ventures when The Economist reversed their 100-year opposition to patents, and the only reason I could find was a similarly cheerleading piece about this company. (I had naively expected new research revealing some net positive of patents, or some such revelation).

The PR from Intellectual Ventures appears to be working whenever anyone describes this parasitic bully as something worth keeping around.

Speaking of trolls, NetApp happens to be one among the few companies that sue Free/open source projects using software patents [1, 2] and it is doing it again:

NetApp has threatened Ethernet and ZFS storage supplier Coraid with implied legal action unless it stops selling its EtherDrive Z-series NAS. Coraid has buckled under the threat and temporarily withdrawn the product.

The back story here is that NetApp sued Sun in 2007 for infringing its patents with the ZFS file system product which it used in its 7000 storage system and which it made available to the open source community. Sun counter-sued NetApp to destroy the validity of the patents in question by showing that there was prior art – existing IP – rendering the patents null and void.

The two legal actions were combined, with the case ongoing in a northern California court. Oracle has inherited the case with its acquisition of Sun. A letter from Coraid’s CEO, Kevin Brown, to Coraid users and partners says NetApp and Oracle are trying to resolve the dispute out of court.

Now we see a significant hardening of NetApp’s stance as it directly attacks the open source community using ZFS with this offensive against Coraid. This could be part of a negotiating tactic against Oracle.

One last news item which is worth addressing is this PR move from HP, which takes away from the Commons and then sells it back. It’s like ‘donating’ what you took away in the form of a monopoly, just like IBM and like Google:

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) announced late last week that HP will join the likes of IBM, Nokia and Sony in making some of its patented technology freely available under the Eco-Patent Commons scheme. The scheme, launched in January 2008, is a joint effort between the WBCSD and IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony.

Why are they allowed to acquire monopolies on these ideas in the first place? Those who are already cynical about the patent system will only be inclined to strengthen those beliefs of theirs. The better solution is to just reject all patents of this type at the USPTO level. Certain things are beneficial neither to the economy nor society when they become a government-protected monopoly.

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