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09.21.10

Novell and Affiliates Turn to Software Patents While US Senators Make Things Worse, Not Better

Posted in Novell, Patents at 10:08 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

USPTO seal shot

Summary: A roundup of news about software patents in the United States, hopefully demonstrating that matters are unlikely to improve because people who are in charge fell into the pockets of monopolies and truth matters hardly at all

MATT ASAY, a former manager at Novell, says that software patents complicate Novell’s sale. This is a good lesson on the harms of software patents. Novell previously bragged about its software patents.

A few days ago we found this article about software patents that are awarded in Maine (where Novell’s headquarters are based).

Move Networks, which was founded by Novell’s co-founder, is reportedly shutting down but not before getting some more software patents:

According to Move, the patent covers adaptive streaming, and is similar to what Akamai, Apple, Adobe, Limelight, Microsoft, Netflix, Widevine and others have deployed. Move said those firms deployed adaptive bit rate architecture “inspired by” the firm’s invention.

Might Move Networks be in preparation for a lawsuit? Just like Interval it’s a dead company with a skeleton of patents. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

The other day we wrote about something called a "Patent Reform Bill" being pushed by senators. As the editor points out in Tech Daily Dose, it is not a reform. “Just because they call it “reform” doesn’t mean it is,” said the editor. TechDirt says that “Senators Make One Last Push For Bad Patent Reform That Will Make Problems Even Worse” and Law.com’s headline says that “Senators Urge Reid to Quickly Bring Amended Patent Reform Bill to Vote”:

A bipartisan group of 25 U.S. senators wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday, asking him to bring an amended patent reform bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible.

Fourteen Democrats, 10 Republicans and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) signed the Sept. 15 letter. Intellectual property insiders say there hasn’t been this much support for a patent bill since the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999.

[...]

The amended bill, which enjoys widespread support from industry and intellectual property groups, would give the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) the authority to adjust patent and trademark fees, and it includes a procedure allowing for challenges to issued patents. Another key provision would change the U.S. patent system to award patents to the first to file instead of the first to invent. Other sections would require courts to consider only “methodologies and factors that are relevant to the determination of damages” and to multiply awards only for damages amassed after the infringement became willful.

What an insane idea. Who is this bill for? They are about to destroy the economy even more. There is this new article right now (“Germans win through sharing”) where economic historian Eckhard Höffner explains how patents and copyrights can harm progress. Previously, Höffner was slamming software patents more specifically.

Called by some a sellout to corporate interests and a surrender to Washington, Bill C-32 — the federal government’s third attempt at bringing the Copyright Act into the Internet age — has its share of opponents. So, new peer-reviewed research by German economic historian Eckhard Höffner may find some eager Canadian students. A lawyer and author of several books, Höffner’s new two-volume work, Geschichte und Wesen des Urheberrechts (his preferred English translation is The History and Nature of Copyright) contends that the German states’ 19th-century transformation from an agricultural backwater to an industrial power the equal of Britain was due in part to their relaxed attitude toward copyright and intellectual property (IP).

[...]

Höffner’s research grew out of an interest in the usefulness of software patents, which he suspects are too restrictive over the long term. Relaxed copyright’s role in the rise of Germany as economic superpower suggests proof that “longer and stronger protection has negative impacts.” More recently, the likes of China have profited from a considerably looser approach to IP than that of the developed West.

Here is an “intellectual property” cartoon (new Dilbert) which also makes fun of the idea. [via Groklaw]

The latest column from Goetz (holder of the first software patent) was debunked here and elsewhere before [1, 2] and now it’s Groklaw’s turn. Pamela Jones wrote a quick rebuttal in News Picks and it went like this:

I see pro software patent folks are quite worried about the “software is mathematics” argument, and I think they should be, because it’s true. Speaking as one die hard, as he puts it rather dismissively, I do continue to believe that software is mathematics, and hence not patentable subject matter, being “part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men”, as the Bilski opinion stated about the exceptions to Section 101, quoting from Funk Brothers. And I recall this section from the Bilski opinion that I consider germane:

“The Information Age empowers people with new capacities to perform statistical analyses and mathematical calculations with a speed and sophistication that enable the design of protocols for more efficient performance of a vast number of business tasks. If a high enough bar is not set when considering patent applications of this sort, patent examiners and courts could be flooded with claims that would put a chill on creative endeavor and dynamic change.”

And in real life we see exactly that is what happened. Can we not learn from that experiment that something is very clearly off-base? Mr. Goetz says he’d like to see frivolous patents done away with:

“In conclusion, while I am a strong proponent of software patents I am very aware, and agree with, many of the arguments against patents because of patent trolls, frivolous patents, e.g. Amazon’s one-click patent, and frivolous patent litigation that can put companies out of business. And I support changes in the Patent Law to reduce those problems.”

But I’d like to ask him this: where exactly would you draw the line to accomplish that goal if software patents are allowed at all? Can we not see that opening that door is precisely what led to the Amazon one-click patent? He argues for three things: “Innovation 2. A proper disclosure and 3. Usefulness.” So, new, useful and disclosed so that others in the field can reproduce the invention. That second is laughable. Please show me a software patent that fits that description of “proper disclosure”. As for the other two, I’m sure Amazon would argue it got over both bars. And the USPTO did issue that patent, so we can agree that the present system is broken. What precisely does Mr. Goetz suggest to fix it?

It is clear that the case for software patents looks increasingly weak over time. The problem is that lawmakers in the United States are not paying attention and the USPTO is too arrogant to understand and acknowledge its shortcomings [1, 2].

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