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10.15.10

With Patent Quality This Low, Who Needs Any?

Posted in Apple, Europe, Microsoft, Patents at 6:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Bar signTime to raise the bar of patents, not lower it

Summary: Another new batch of embarrassingly-trivial patents (the bar is set too low), Twitter’s reluctance to have anything to do with patents, and news from Europe and Apple

“Breaking: Amazon 1-click invention is patentable subject matter, says Justice Phelan of the Cdn. Fed. Ct. Reasons,” claims Yuri Chumak who points to this new decision [PDF]

They can’t be serious, can they? One-click shopping is a patentable “innovation” now? Someone, somewhere, please revisit the charter of the USPTO. This is becoming somewhat of a farce of international proportions. And it gets worse. Rollover image is now a patent too, according to this report.

“Dear website owner, congratulations on your excellent site, which includes features covered by our registered patent, #5,251,294. As the description indicates, many of the components on your pages, particularly your menus, rollover images, and shortcuts, are detailed in our claim. We would be delighted to lease these to you at a reasonable royalty rate of $80,000. Please call our offices at your convenience to arrange a payment schedule.”

Nuts, right? We wish. Meet the Webvention Company, which appears to exist largely for the purpose of collecting money from companies whose online sites include commonly used features that can be construed as part of patent 5,251,294.

It’s not a joke. It’s an actual patent granted by the USPTO and Microsoft’s Traul Allen has similar patents which he sues everyone with. Then there’s the infamous JPEG on a page patent covered in [1, 2]. It’s tied to Niro, the father of patent trolling [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. The exact nickname of the patent is “The JPEG-on-a-website patent”.

Just how far is the USPTO willing to go? There are more software patents being announced with great pride this week. What does that really contribute to technology? Have we learned nothing about the harms of monopoly? Just consider the harms of Microsoft bundling and its effects on progress in computing. As one blogger has just put it:

This is a nice phrase to startle computer sellers in most stores. Why is it that most computers come with Windows preloaded? To satisfy the users?? I guess that the price reductions on Windows licenses for OEMs –and price increases if they dare to sell equipment without Windows preloaded–have nothing to do with it. Nor does Microsoft’s interest in fair competition and fair play.

So…if Windows comes with the computer, does that mean that Windows is part of the computer?

Clearly not. Microsoft licenses mean that the software is neither part of the computer nor yours. For the vendors, the licenses mean they have the permission to install it. What is yours is the permission to use it in your system. Do you own a copy of Windows? No, you don’t. All of them belong to Microsoft, but they give you the privilege of using it–for a *small* price, of course! This resembles communism so much if you ask me. The differences are the entity that owns the goods and how people are granted the permission to use them. And still some say that Open Source equals communism??!!

Going back to the subject of patenting, BNET says that Twitter — despite its near-monopoly in its area — is not interested in patents:

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams predicted yesterday that the social media company will hit a billion users in time. It seems like wishful thinking if you look at the company’s traffic trend lines, but there’s no question that Twitter is big in social media. That’s why I find its patent strategy curious. Check US Patent Office records week after week and you begin to notice that Twitter doesn’t appear to ever file an application, let alone receive a granted patent.

Contrast that with Facebook, whose Microsoft-loving management has begun hoarding software patents [1, 2, 3, 4].

Over in Europe it’s an entirely different story. Patent trolling is very scarce there, it hardly exists in fact (patent trolls utilise software patents, which are broad and impact a wide range of companies). The Geneva-based WIPO has been kind enough to give Free software proponents a room in the discussion over patent law and the nearby reporters from IP Watch covered the proceedings: [via]

Patents aren’t what they used to be at the World Intellectual Property Organization. Discussions to come up with a work plan at the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP) this week and in recent meetings point to the possibility of a sea change in thinking over what matters about intellectual property policy and law.

This article also speaks about royalty-free standards:

“Seeing as royalty-free standards can be implemented by anyone, where exactly do you see a barrier to trade in that?” added Karsten Gerloff, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe. The FSFE position on patents and standards is here.

The FSFE and the FFII have both been effective at exposing attempts to push software patents into Europe. Microsoft and its front groups try to do this via pseudo-standards and protocols/APIs (F/RAND), aided by corruptible or innocently misguided politicians. Apple does not appear to have real presence among the lobbying groups, but its actions too are a deterrent to innovation in the EU. Yesterday we wrote about the so-called 'anti-sexting' patent from Apple. A more professional name for it is “text message filtering” and it still brings memories from last month’s censorship of SMS transmission by a large US carrier (done without user consent). Apple apologists may say:

Apple’s invention, which may or may not ever find its way into an actual product, aims to stem the scourge of offensive texting.

Last month we saw such software being used not by actual customers but by the babysitting carrier. One day it may be just “offensive texting” (or “terrorism” and “child porn”) and as time goes by, political dissent, just as an hypothetical example, can be automatically intercepted too. See this video which we posted earlier today.

Hugo Roy, the FSFE member who famously got in touch with Steve Jobs, shares news about another new patent from Apple. This article says: “A batch of approved patent applications from Apple issued by the U.S. Patent Office this week include descriptions of significant multi-touch innovations, such as pinch-to-zoom and knob controls.”

Keep it classy, Apple. If Apple gets sued more often, maybe then it will stop amassing software monopolies.

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