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11.16.10

When Self-Proclaimed ‘Linux Companies’ Turn to Software Patents, Just Like Apple and Microsoft

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Ubuntu at 12:20 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Hot-cold dial

Summary: An assorted analysis of patent news with emphasis on the proprietary lobby and its impact when it comes to software freedom

NOVELL loves its software patents and believes that more are needed. Here is the latest addition based on Utah’s press:

System and method for codifying security concerns into a user interface, patent No. 7,831,840, invented by Robert Love of Cambridge, Mass., and Nat Friedman of Boston, assigned to Novell Inc. of Provo.

Robert Love and Nat Friedman, eh? Well, Friedman has already left Novell. Robert Love left Novell, then joined Google in 2007 and we hope that Google stops its bad habit of collecting software/algorithm monopolies (Love’s patent was probably filed just for Novell).

Meanwhile, Novell’s friends from Redmond patent foot interface (having previously explored ‘stomping’ on SPAM, which Microsoft Windows zombies spew out). Microsoft boosters have the details:

Microsoft’s research into a “foot-based user interface” seemed somewhat novel in 2006, when I first wrote about the project. Now that the company has released its Kinect full-body motion control system for the Xbox 360, the idea of controlling a machine with your feet seems like only part of the picture.

But the wheels of the intellectual property system grind slowly, and the Redmond company won a patent on the concept just this week — under the title of “Foot-based interface for interacting with a computer.”

This just shows that Microsoft is desperate for PR and something profitable as it becomes more of a patent troll. This so-called ‘research’ is just patent farming and PR, as noted by some good journalists. The ideas which come out of it hardly make up good products. Take Surface for example. The Surface will quite likely die soon, says even a Microsoft booster [1, 2, 3], Matt Rosoff.

Microsoft is going to fit well among the trolls. Not so long ago it paid the patent troll Uniloc [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10], which is now suing a major section of the industry — a considerably high number of companies (while claiming not to be a patent troll):

On Monday, Uniloc sued 19 software companies in federal district court in Tyler, Tx., alleging that the defendants’ products infringe Uniloc’s primary patent, U.S. Patent No. 5,490,216. It’s quite a powerful patent, ’216. As we reported in September, Uniloc has already sued dozens and dozens of other companies for allegedly infringing the patent, which covers a license validation procedure known as “software activation.” (The technology requires users to unlock authorized copies of software with a digital key.)

By our count, the latest Uniloc suit brings the grand total of companies it has targeted in ’216 infringement claims to 92. Think about that: 92 defendants! (They include big names like Sony and McAfee as well as lots of smaller software firms.)

The company’s sue-’em-all strategy met with spectacular, if short-lived, success last April, when Uniloc won a $388 million verdict against Microsoft in Rhode Island federal district court for infringement of the ’216 patent. At the time, Uniloc’s lawyers at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo crowed that the verdict was the fifth-largest in patent law history. But the victory didn’t hold up: The trial judge granted a post-trial motion by Microsoft’s lawyers at Fish & Richardson and vacated the award just five months later. Uniloc hasn’t given up on vindication in the Microsoft case: It is currently awaiting a ruling on an appeal to U.S. Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit, which heard arguments on Sept. 7.

Here is a screen snapshot of the Uniloc Web site:

Uniloc Web page

Outrageously enough, “MIT’s Tech Review Comes Out In Favor Of Patent Trolls,” claims TechDirt:

Reader David Carter sends in this bizarrely uninformed column by Christopher Mims at the MIT Tech review, praising patent trolls and calling them “the secret heroes of the tech world.” Carter notes that when he first read the article he thought it was satire. I can see why he thought that as well, but it appears to be serious.

In other news about patents, watch hard-drive makers getting hit in a major way by patents [1, 2]. And let’s pay attention to this new Canonical deal with Centrify, which is a software patents proponent and Microsoft ally [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Not only Microsoft is a noteworthy patent threat to GNU/Linux anymore. Apple too is suing Linux and Dana Blankenhorn accepts the possibility that we wrote about yesterday, namely that Apple has something to do with Oracle's lawsuit against Android. Blankenhorn writes about Apple quite harshly, with paragraphs like the following: “Apple has never had any interest in the open source community. It’s a nuisance, a bunch of so-called idealists who copy its ideas and prevent it from gaining the monopoly rents it feels its innovation deserves.”

It takes a lot of Kool-Aid to believe that Apple cares about software freedom and Nick Bilton spoke to Tim Wu (Columbia law professor) a few days ago, only to confirm that Apple’s threat to freedom mustn’t be underestimated. From the interview:

Tim Wu, the Columbia law professor who came up with the term “net neutrality” in a research paper, has just written a new book, “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” published by Knopf.

[...]

Which companies do you fear the most?

Right now, I’d have to say Apple.

What about Facebook?

I think Facebook is looking for a mentor, they are looking for a role model. Right now it is choosing between Apple and Google in this great war between open and closed. It is possible that whatever side Facebook takes will have a lot to do with the future of how we communicate.

What worries you about Apple?

As I discuss in the book, Steve Jobs has the charisma, vision and instincts of every great information emperor. The man who helped create the personal computer 40 years ago is probably the leading candidate to help exterminate it. His vision has an undeniable appeal, but he wants too much control.

Apple is now said to be worth more than Microsoft. It is also more restrictive in many areas. As micu (at Identi.ca) put it yesterday, “fascist company Apple blocks Blueray from coming to Mac to sell more HD videos on iTunes. MS strikes back” (yes, even Microsoft is not as bad sometimes). Both companies currently resort to software patents as means of defending a territory and as we’ll explain in a later post, the only real solution is ending software patents.

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