Summary: A roundup of stories about the fight against software patents in the United States and the fight to ease elimination of extremely bad ones (even Microsoft supports this latter fight)
STRONG OPPOSITION is being formed against software patents and yesterday we mentioned Red Hat's filing. Ars Technica covers this right about now, arguing very clearly that Red Hat is pushing for the end of software patents.
When the Supreme Court heard the Bilski case earlier this year, it ruled that the specific business method patent at issue in the case was invalid and contended that the patentability of intangible methods should be reduced but not eliminated. The court declined to provide clarity on the scope of software patentability, however, which leaves a lot of important questions unanswered.
Red Hat’s submission was authored by Rob Tiller, the company’s vice president and assistant general counsel. He argues that a growing number of vague patents on software methods have made it impossible to guess whether a new product will face the risk of litigation. His statement contends that the resulting landscape of uncertainty discourages innovation in the software industry.
LWN has covered this too and the thread is being trolled by Microsoft Florian, who spreads disinformation as usual (daemonising Red Hat and just about anything that resembles competition to Microsoft). For those who don’t know yet, Microsoft Florian works almost exclusively with Microsoft software. He only pretends to be a “FOSS” guy. He also lobbies in favour of software patents, not against them. It’s like with ACT, where the lobbyist pretends to represent the very opposite side which he or she lobbies for. It’s a common and highly unethical lobbying technique in the United States. It’s so common because it’s very effective (something along the lines of the “I like Linux, but…” troll). For those who do not know, Microsoft Florian’s mission seems to be ‘injecting’ the Microsoft line into GNU/Linux-oriented Web sites (he blocks feedback on his own ridiculous posts). Right now he is spinning it just like Microsoft Nick, simply because there is common ground on the issue of invalidating bad patents [1, 2, 3], not the stance against software patents. Microsoft spinners would love to mix the issues and fool those who are gullible or do not verify the facts. The Linux Foundation and Microsoft (and at times even the SFLC/FSF) agreed on some issues and worked together when it came to software liability for example. This does not mean that Microsoft is a friend of the Linux Foundation. To Microsoft it’s just a selfish deed, intended to save the Office cash cow from i4i (c/f i4i vs Microsoft).
One more thing to be said about Microsoft Florian (there are more details in our IRC logs) is that he attempts to be omnipresent by allegedly pasting the same comments in many different GNU/Linux-oriented sites and then modifying them slightly. That counts as spamming, just like mass-mailing journalists with slight personalisation is a form of spamming. Microsoft Florian does both. And all this coming from the same lobbyist who called FSF “spammers” for merely asking supporters to write their own letters in support of abolishing software patents? People are entitled to write to their own government or patent office? What a hypocrite. As gnufreex put it in IRC, “Mueller is attacking Red Hat for comoditising, and at same time, he defends TH’s [TurboHercules'] right to commoditise.” Microsoft Florian just repeats his lies over and over again in many places (with different audiences).
“Truth is, if Oracle’s acquisition failed, Sun would be sold to pieces. James Gosling implicitly admitted that the other day. Some pieces would go to trolls. So Moglen is right.”
–gnufreexFor those who wonder where repeated messages are allegedly posted (and even double-posted in at least one case), the list includes Ars Technica, IT world (IDG), Computer World (IDG), LWN, Slashdot, and various blogs (he was banned from Groklaw). In Twitter, Microsoft Florian is promoting Mono, Microsoft repositories, and he is chatting with the Microsoft crowd, conspiring to smear all the groups and people who support software freedom. Microsoft MVP de Icaza even helps him smear some of those groups and sites. Perfect couple, eh?
“Florian’s points are all pretty weak,” explained to us a reader who brought some of these allegations (gnufreex). “But enough to fool the ignorant. So it is dangerous. Best bet is to elegantly refute his points. For example, his Moglen smears goes like this: “Moglen supported Oracle’s acquisition, so he is a sellout. Moglen also said that Oracle better home from Sun patents that Microsoft, and Microsoft never made bid for Sun. So Moglen is fear-mongering people against Microsoft/trying to make ‘em believe in bogeyman called Microsoft.
“Truth is, if Oracle’s acquisition failed, Sun would be sold to pieces. James Gosling implicitly admitted that the other day. Some pieces would go to trolls. So Moglen is right. Oracle is better than the alternative.”
Anyway, moving on a little, journalism on the subject of patents appears to be poor. TechDirt has just caught a good new example where a reporter could not tell the difference between copyright and software patents and thus misreported:
Michael Scott pointed us to a story from the Mass High Tech Business News claiming that Adobe had been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit by EveryScape. That caught my eye because it’s pretty rare for there to be copyright infringement claims between software companies, since there needs to be actual copying of the code in question (in most cases), and that’s pretty rare. And, reading the article, it didn’t sound like anyone was actually alleging copying of code. The more I read, the more I suspected that the reporter just got the story totally wrong, and that this had to be a patent infringement case, rather than a copyright one.
And, indeed, that’s what it appears to be. The company EveryScape, appears to have two patents (7,327,374 and 7,593,022) on the technology being discussed here. I get that not everyone recognizes the differences between copyrights, patents and trademarks, but honestly, if you’re passing yourself off as a high tech publication, it seems like you should be able to get the basics down.
Here is one letter which has just been sent to the USPTO to protest against software patents:
I am a US citizen and software engineer. I am a named inventor on at least three patents (numbers 7,346,839, 7,409,383, and 7,783,639) and am named as an inventor for numerous pending patent applications. I am employed by Google, Inc.; this letter represents my personal opinion and not necessarily that of my employer.
Software patents are a significant threat to innovation in the software industry and, by extension, all of America’s technology-related businesses. While I understand the theoretical case that software patents can foster innovation – by encouraging investment and advancing the state of the art through disclosure – I have not seen this to be the case in any way in the software industry.
Software patents are not wanted even by American software engineers, but can they outnumber the patent lawyers and the lobbyists of software monopolists? It usually boils down to bureaucracy and greed, not science.
“The FT on the push for an EU patent,” says James Love regarding another new article whose first couple of paragraphs (needs subscriptions to read the rest) say nothing about the long-term impact on patentability of software. They make the Community patent (there are variations to this name) sound so attractive and sane.
A political push to create a single European Union-wide patent will get under way on Wednesday evening as EU industry ministers gather for an informal meeting in Brussels.
They will be urged to back a plan for a single patent that could apply across the 27-nation bloc and would be granted in one of three official languages – French, German or English.
Several months ago we reported that a group of Australian plaintiffs had initiated litigation challenging the validity of Myriad’s Australian BRCA patents. Much like its U.S. counterpart, the Australian lawsuit represents a frontal attack on the patentability of genes.
Here in the U.S., the gene patent litigation shows no signs of reaching a swift resolution. Over the summer, Myriad appealed March’s widely-discussed district court ruling invalidating several of its key BRCA patents and claims, and the current appeal is unlikely to be the last, regardless of the outcome. In Australia, however, Myriad appears to be taking a different tack: offering to surrender its BRCA patent.
Oddly enough, there is this new article with a sentence that bothered us slightly:
The number of U.S. software patents held by women has increased 45-fold since 1985; three times the national average.
Patents are not a measure of success and people need not measure innovation by the amount of papers accompanying some lines of code. Lawyers have an entirely different perspective and patent lawyers include the “innovation” meme alive as means of propaganda. Crosbie Fitch wrote to me and said: “People correlate patents as having caused innovation, not vice versa, inexorable progress attracting monopoly as a parasite. Indoctrination has it patents are modest reward for innovation, NOT that monopoly is excused by enumerating the obvious.” █