08.12.10

Rob Tiller and A.J. Venter Explain Why Software Patents Are Bad, Apple Clarifies Patenting Other People’s Software Ideas

Posted in Apple, Patents, Red Hat at 3:11 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“We’ve always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

Steve Jobs, Apple

Summary: Latest evidence of software patents disdain and patent news about Yahoo, Apple, and Palm

In today’s earlier post about patents we showed a lawyer, Professor Eben Moglen, opposing software patents. Rob Tiller from Red Hat is a similar case of someone who protests against software patents this week, despite him being a legalese type and not a developer. From his short article:

There’s abundant evidence, though, that software patents serve this objective poorly. For example, as Bessen and Meurer explain in their book Patent Failure, the cost from litigation based on patents in some industries, including software, is several times the profits from patents. This means that for the software industry as a whole, patent costs exceed their benefits. This fact is still not common knowledge, but it is slowly sinking in, as patent litigation continues to grow.

Patent lawsuits (even meritless ones) can cost millions of dollars to defend. This reality creates an economic opportunity for non-practicing entities (a/k/a patent trolls) whose only purpose is to threaten and bring patent lawsuits. The large costs of defenses drive many defendants to settle by paying patent aggressors substantial sums taht are still less than the cost of defense. Such settlements may make business sense, but they divert resources that could be used for more productive purposes, like innovation.

There is another new piece from South Africa — one which compares software patents to monopolies on numbers. Here is part of a long explanation:

So there you have it – not only is every program a number – they are all simple integer numbers that can be counted, and all the great skill and artifice of the programmer is really just a much more efficient way of finding the number we want – rather than counting through them all and checking if it is the one we want (which could take centuries to be honest).

You cannot ask for a more simple piece of proof that a program is in fact a number – that software is discovered rather than invented. The fact that we have very effective methods of discovering them does not change this and doesn’t change that you should not be able to patent numbers.

I still highly recommend reading the article I linked – especially if you are a lawyer or activist involved in the software patent field as it explains the underlying theories very clearly. Effectively it tells you how it came to BE that these numbers are useful, and how we derive their particular useful meaning from them. That process of derivation is what computer hardware does, and a better tool to do that with is patentable (which is why you should indeed be able to get patents on computer hardware), but go in with this basic understanding. That every computer program really is just a number, that those numbers can be reached by simple counting – I’ve proven this to you here, and all of computer programming – as wonderful and delicious and artistic a field of endeavor as it is – is really in the end – just a faster way to count to a number that we like.
This does not reduce from programming any of it’s artifice, if anything it adds to the merit of the field because the processes by which we count are complex and fantastic and beautiful and we are always looking at ways to count even more effectively so we invent new programming languages and ideas like agile programming to help us do it even better – but in the end, the results is just a number that anybody could have counted to – and that is NOT an invention you can patent.

The company once known as “Yahoo” (now a shell of Microsoft with troubling history as “de facto pyramid scheme,” according to a fascinating new piece from this prominent former employee) has just beaten a parasite and won a case involving software patents:

ITS A PATENT WIN for Yahoo this week as the web portal opens the champers after winning the Bright Response patent case.

Bright Response sued Google and Yahoo for nicking its ’947 patent, which covers the invention of an automatic message interpretation and routing system.

Further to the FutureTap story [1, 2] (Apple potentially threatening a company that produced an application for its platform), there’s “damage control” from Apple:

Apple Confirms They’re Not Trying To Kill Third-Party Apps With Patents

Reading over the comments on our post (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) about the Apple patent diagram fiasco last week, you would have thought Apple was the most evil company in the world. Many believed that Apple was attempting to patent ideas that third-party developers came up with. Essentially, the thought was that Apple was trying to steal from their own developer community — and were doing so that blatantly. I mean, people actually believed that.

As we noted at the time, this was not likely the case. Instead, Apple was probably just using diagrams of existing third-party apps for examples of other things they were actually trying to patent. Lo and behold, today comes word from the third-party developer at the center of all of this confirming this to be the case.

Why did Apple patent that if there is prior art and there is no interest in offence? Apple has, after all, decided to attack Linux-based phones using software patents. Apple sued over Android and it has already intimidated Palm (over WebOS) using patents. It turns out that Palm (HP) is now patenting what may have remained from Foleo.

That’s where Palm’s freshly-filed patent for “Compact removable voice handset for an integrated portable computer system/mobile phone” comes in. It takes the ill-fated Folio concept to a whole new level by turning the pre-netbook into a dock for the phone that acts as an input device, larger screen, and other magical things. The patent notes that while the connection is decidedly physical, the phone and computer could also communicate wirelessly.

It will be interesting to see what Palm does now that Hurd is out and Microsoft is in (in the form of a Vice President responsible for software). In any case, under HP’s wing, Palm needn’t fear Apple’s patent artillery anymore. Apple is a patent aggressor whose patents are very often imitations of other companies. Earlier today we found this suggestion that governments should ban the Apple hypePhone. Linux on the contrary should be preferred for the ability to inspect code. As the author puts it:

Android on the other hand is secure by design as it is based on the most advanced kernel’s in the world — the Linux kernel. This is the reason most mission critical businesses now use Linux.

Unlike Android which is open source, the closed source nature of Apple technologies like iTunes makes it impossible for end users to know what is happening to their information and data.

As we showed days ago, Apple is also negligent when it come to patching its operating systems, all of which are proprietary.

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