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07.09.10

Patents Roundup: Bosch Security Systems Patents Signals, NetApp Bullies ZFS Providers, New Zealand Infiltrated by Foreign Lobby ‘NZ’ICT

Posted in Europe, Patents at 3:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Computer room

Summary: Software patents continue to cause trouble and New Zealand’s law is under attack by a lobby of multinationals

Bosch Security Systems

IN THE previous post we showed how software patents are being used to suppress innocent developers. Based on this new report, Bosch is also patenting software (not the Bosch which is based in Germany).

The software’s patent-pending digital signal processing technology enhances the performance of receivers when interpreting these signals by more than 75 percent.

This looks like yet another patent on mathematics/multimedia, just like the example we gave half an hour ago. This has got to be stopped. Video is at stake too [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] and based on some new benchmarks/comparison [1, 2], it can probably be resolved by moving over to WebM. From the summary:

Moscow State University’s Graphics and Media lab have released their sixth MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video codecs comparison. Also of note is a recently added appendix to the report which compares VP8, x264, and Xvid. The reference VP8 encoder holds its own against x264 despite the source material offering x264 a slight advantage. The VP8 developers comment in the report: ‘We’ve been following the MSU tests since they began and respect the group’s work. One issue we noticed in the test is that most input sequences were previously compressed using other codecs. These sequences have an inherent bias against VP8 in recompression tests. As pointed out by other developers, H.264 and MPEG-like encoders have slight advantages in reproducing some of their own typical artifacts, which helps their objective measurement numbers but not necessarily visual quality. This is reflected by relatively better results for VP8 on the only uncompressed input sequence, “mobile calendar.”‘

MPEG-LA patents are US patents, so the problem can also be resolved by ending software patents in the US — a task which SCOTUS neglects to achieve for the time being.

United States

An American VC, Brad Feld, recognises that software patents are a travesty and he actively works against them. A friend of his has just explained “Why Bilski Really Means That Software Companies Should Leave the US”:

My friend Sawyer was as disappointed in the outcome of Bilski as he was in the ending to LOST. In fact, he asked if I’d change his pseudonym to Joseph Adama of Caprica but I vetoed this over extreme nerdiness. Nonetheless Sawyer let loose on Bilski and helps clarify both his perspective on why the Supreme Court took such a milquetoast approach as well as what one of the unintended consequences of their action – or lack thereof – will be. And for those of you who have forgotten Sawyer’s background, he’s a patent attorney that is channeling his opinion through me. And we’ve been discussing setting up a very large data center on an island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Paul Kedrosky has just co-authored (with Brad Feld) the following article titled “Software Patents Need to Be Abolished” (also here):

The U.S. Supreme Court just blinked. In the landmark Bilski v. Kappos decision announced yesterday, the Court had a chance to right a patent wrong. It didn’t. Instead, in a cautious and internally contradictory decision, it further fuzzified the mess that is the U.S. patent system — and it will have sad consequences for innovation in this country. It was terrible timing for a loss of legal nerve.

[...]

Far from encouraging innovation and advancement in the “useful arts,” as the Constitution originally envisioned and Congress wanted, software and business method patents have become a quasi-legal poison pill. Sometime it’s from patents obtained years after application via circuitous paths and bankrupt companies, and sometimes it’s straight-up planned extortion. Either way, these “patent trolls” lurk in the shadows, waiting for someone to unknowingly infringe. Then they sue in patent-plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions (of which there are ranked lists – we kid you not), forcing defendants, often small, unsophisticated companies, to settle rather than face the cost and uncertainty that defines litigating a patent case against a well-capitalized troll.

The costs associated with this are immense, as is the innovation penalty. Software companies now must file defensive patents just to make sure that they are not later submarined by useless patents originating with patent attorneys themselves or at failed software companies. We have officially exited economics and entered Kafka’s courts.

“Patent Office Says No to Supreme Court and Software Patents,” suggests this curious new report:

Under the machine-or-transformation test, a business method (read as software) must be tied to a particular machine, rather than run on a general machine like a computer, or transform something from one state into another. The subject of the transformation can be data, but, as you might expect, transformation can largely be in the eye of the beholder.

The PTO has faced a major management problem for years: the flow of patents in vastly exceeds its capacity to process them. Additional money and headcount haven’t really helped, so over the last few years, the PTO seemed to try raising hurdles to discourage applications. Given the volume of software patent applications, reducing them would clearly help slow the incoming volume, which is something the patent office would love to do.

Yesterday we mentioned the attack of NetApp against the California-based Coraid. What was Coraid’s offence? Distributing free/open source software (ZFS), apparently. Here is a new article that’s dedicated to the subject.

Storage startup Coraid may face legal action from NetApp if the company does not cease plans to sell the Coraid EtherDrive Z-Series NAS appliance based on the open-source Zettabyte File System (ZFS).

Coraid issued a letter to its customers this morning in which CEO Kevin Brown announced the company has temporarily suspended the general availability of the EtherDrive Z-Series.

Software patents have become suppressors of software freedom. They need to be stopped, or at least their expansion ought to be stopped. A predominantly US-based lobby is trying to spread these patents to other countries.

New Zealand

Down in New Zealand it becomes a political debate (we last wrote about this yesterday). “NZCIT [sic] is a proxy for software multinationals, not Kiwi businesses,” emphasises the president of the FFII who also points out that “they will fall into the EPO trap of “as such”…”

Here is the latest report which shows the process being politicised.

The software patent debate is opening old sores associated with the change of government and government’s interface with the ICT industry.

A question that runs through or subtly underlies comments on the controversy in several online forums, is to what extent the NZICT Group represents New Zealand’s ICT industry and customers.

The Labour-led government set up the Digital Development Council (DDC) and Digital Development Forum (DDF) as an umbrella for ICT developer and user communities – TUANZ, InternetNZ, the NZ Computer Society and so on.

Again — NZICT is not representing New Zealand’s ICT industry and customers [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Just because it has the letters “NZ” in the beginning doesn’t mean it’s pro-New Zealand. NZICT is more like an invader. It should be pushed out or at least excluded from debates about New Zealand’s laws.

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