Summary: USPTO needs to change in order to restore approval from citizens whom it supposedly serves
HOW MUCH does the USPTO want to be hated? More and more people speak out against it these days, simply because it cannot make a case in its defence when those who benefit are not scientists but lawyers and franchisees. A little while ago, TechDirt — a longtime patents critic — did some decent investigative work to demonstrate a contemporary chaining of patent trolls, working at someone’s behest a lot of the time (Nathan Myhrvold uses this trick extensively). To quote later parts of the detailed analysis:
Unfortunately, that’s about where the sleuthing runs out… and it really doesn’t tell us that much. We already knew that Vertigo was the parent company, and who owns/runs Vertigo is secret. We did learn that another company owned by Vertigo is using more patents from the same inventors to sue more companies, but that’s about it. Either way, as a basic exercise, it certainly teaches you a fair amount about the sneaky and hidden nature of how patent trolls operate, with layer upon layer of shell companies, changing patent assignments and licenses, all of which hide whoever is actually pulling the strings. It really does make you wonder how this kind of thing does anything whatsoever to improve innovation.
Michael Trick writes about “More patent madness!”, putting forth an example of something that was patented long after it had really been ‘invented’:
Limited discrepancy search has been around since 1995 and occurs often in research (Google scholar is showing 465 references). It is a pretty simple idea: if you are doing a tree search and you have a good idea that, say, all the variables should be 1 (but might not be in the optimal solution), you first search the “all 1″ side of the branches, then try the “all 1 except one” then then “all 1 except two” and so on. Call it twenty lines of code to control the tree search in this manner. Seems like a reasonable approach, but patentable? You have got to be kidding!
Patents (and companies trying to enforce them) make creating open source software much, much more difficult. How many developers would know that if you embed a method from a 1995 paper in software, you may run afoul of a patent claim?
Patents exist to encourage innovation. The current system, with nonsense like this, serves only to stifle it.
“Inglourious Software Patents” is another good new post which goes around the Web at this moment. It says:
The patent system exists to provide an incentive for innovation where that incentive would not have existed otherwise.
Imagine you’re an individual living in the 19th century. Let’s say the patent system does not exist and you have an idea to make a radically better kind of sewing machine. If you invested the time to develop your idea into a working invention, the existing sewing machine companies would just steal your design and crush you in the marketplace. They have massive distribution and production advantages that you wouldn’t be able to compete with. You wouldn’t be able to monetize the initial investment you made into developing that invention. Therefore, you wouldn’t have invented the radically better sewing machine in the first place.
From this perspective, patents are actually a rather clever hack on society to encourage innovation. By excluding others from using your invention for a fixed amount of time, you get a temporary monopoly on your invention. This lets you monetize your invention which makes your initial investment worthwhile. This in turn benefits society as a whole, as now society has inventions that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Quite the opposite. Software startups are thriving nowadays in spite of software patents rather than because of them. Instead of helping startups get off the ground, patents are a cost. Startups must build “defensive patent portfolios” and worry about getting sued by patent trolls or businesses trying to entrench their position. Instead of patents being a protective shield for a startup, they’re instead a weapon that causes economic waste.
Vivek Wadhwa, consistently a critic of software patents despite having some which he now regrets [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] advises China not to compete on the basis of patents:
The Times quotes David J. Kappos, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as saying that the leadership in China “knows that innovation is its future, the key to higher living standards and long-term growth. They are doing everything they can to drive innovation, and China’s patent strategy is part of that broader plan”. Kappos seems to believe that, with patents, China is unleashing a golden age of innovation.
Kappos is wrong.
The reality, as I explained in my BusinessWeek column China Could Game the U.S. in Intellectual Property, is that patents will neither make China more innovative nor benefit the global economy. Just as the vast majority of China’s academic papers are plagiarized or irrelevant, so will its government-sponsored patents be tainted. In contrast to the tiny proportion of Chinese academic papers that serve to expand the world’s knowledge base, however, Chinese patents will serve as land mines for foreign businesses. They will allow China to demand license fees from companies that do business there or to shut them out entirely. (And these will hurt China’s own startups.)
Kappos did not bring the change we had hoped for [1, 2, 3]. People who actually make products hope for change… real change. Is there a chance of In Re Bilski making a comeback in light of conflicts of interest?
Apparently two of the SCOTUS justices, Scalia and Thomas, were deeply involved in “conservative” (not sure what they are conserving but it’s not impartial justice) political events. That brings to mind how they ruled in Bilski. Did these two justices have a hidden agenda and should they have recused themselves or should they be impeached?
It’s too easy to find some reasons to sack a SCOTUS justice (e.g. Kagan for allegedly being gay). The problem is likely to be the USPTO, which is still run by people who simply treat is like business as opposed to an establishment dedicated to the goal improving innovation. The patent system has been hacked. It’s vulnerable and antiquated. █
“People naively say to me, “If your program is innovative, then won’t you get the patent?” This question assumes that one product goes with one patent.” —Richard Stallman
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Summary: Phones running Linux (Maemo/MeeGo) or Symbian are once again attacked by Apple patents
According to Nokia Update:
Apple sues Nokia in London over touch-screen scroll patent
This bit of news is accompanied by news about Apple patenting something for a mouse to “include a multi-touch display”: [via]
Apple has shown interest in adding a display to its multi-touch Magic Mouse, adding interactivity and functionality to the wireless mouse for its Mac line of computers.
“We’ve always been shameless about stealing great ideas,” said Steve Jobs as shamelessly as always. Is Apple getting a monopoly on something innovative here? Gordon (from TechBytes) wrote: “from the company that brought you the mouse for people with one finger, or mittens on http://bit.ly/fIoaj3 new complex mouse patents” █
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Summary: Proposal of replacement for Unity that is dependent on the Mono-based Docky; reminder of Microsoft’s ‘API tax’
The codebase of Unity was being shifted from Vala to C, which puts it further away from C# and the likes of .NET clones such as Mono. We give Canonical credit for making this foundation of Ubuntu Mono-free, but yesterday, by contrast, we found this new suggestion of using Docky (Mono based) to replace Unity. Docky and Unity happen to be developed by the same person actually. The bigger problem would be an underlying platform being based on Mono, in addition to Mono-based applications like Banshee and Tomboy (highlighted above).
The Mono-based programs are a danger to Ubuntu because Microsoft looks forward to using Mono as an excuse not just to promote .NET but also to charge rivals like Canonical for using clones. Right about now in Europe, EIFv2 is showing the ill effects of Microsoft lobbying for software patents in formats/APIs/protocols [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Brian Kahin, a senior fellow of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), defends what Microsoft and its front groups (e.g. BSA) have been pushing for. He writes:
This seems to say that RF is no more open than (F)RAND, although RF is in fact an especially open subset of (F)RAND. Unless there are unusual special requirements, anything licensed royalty-free is commonly considered to be available under “free, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory” terms.
And what does “in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software” mean? Does it only apply to “royalty-free basis” (since the test distinguishes between “terms” and “basis”)? In any case, (F)RAND terms conflict with some open source models and not others. They are not a problem for permissive “BSD-style” licenses, but are for the more common General Public License (GPL). The GPL imposes constrains on distribution if a royalty must be paid. Is possible of implementation under a permissive license sufficient (at least if there is a distributor willing to pay for a patent license on the side)?
There is enough uncertainty here to give lawyers a field day. In fact, this is a fundamental problem with the (F)RAND itself, because it is difficult to define what is “fair,” “reasonable,” or even “nondiscriminatory.”
This helps show that given the conditions of Mono usage, Microsoft may ask for some “fair” and “reasonable” royalty payments from all Mono distributors and users. It would therefore be wise to abolish it as soon as possible. █
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Summary: Microsoft loses chairs (although none are thrown) and Ballmer’s chair too is doubted
Moments ago a reader mailed us some pointer to important news. It was earlier today that Jon Brodkin covered for IDG the story of Microsoft exodus in January of 2011. It is about 3 departures that we wrote about separately about one week ago. Bad news, eh? Microsoft will probably need to start hiring more lawyers (Microsoft is a lawsuits company), but then again, Microsoft’s legal team is being shifted to India for savings and the patent strategy is misguided yet damaging to everyone. Steve Ballmer is not a lawyer, but his company recently promoted some, positioning the monopolist more properly for an existence as a patent agitator and troll.
What Microsoft needs right now is not an eccentric CEO but some kind of a person more ruthless than Ballmer — one who is willing to carry on relentlessly despite realising that s/he serves a malevolent agenda. Many executives perhaps leave because they come to this realisation, or perhaps they foresee further layoffs and collapse of this employer. Either way, a strong Apple proponent slams Microsoft watcher Joe Wilcox and alleges that Ballmer does a terrible job:
If Muglia were the first executive to be let go at Microsoft this year, one might guess he was indeed a bad apple or a poor fit for the job. But in the context of Ballmer’s housecleaning of Xbox and Zune leader J Allard, Entertainment & Devices Division head Robbie Bach, Office Division head Stephen Elop, as well as chief software architect Ray Ozzie (who had joined Microsoft in 2005 to take over the vision role of Bill Gates, and who was supposed to be holding the company’s divisions together in a coordinating role), throwing out the Server and Tools head within the same year-long period seems to be a rather intense and extended amputation on the level of “127 Hours” climber Aron Ralston.
Wilcox’s praise of Baller makes it sound like he’s a court musician, struggling to find rhyming lyrics that best flatter the crowned emperor who sits on his throne naked and glassy-eyed, eating a greasy turkey leg as his country is overrun by invading Huns outside.
Earlier this month, Robert Pogson pointed out that Ballmer’s vote of confidence had sunk. This was hardly reported, but it helped show that even within Microsoft there’s tiredness of Ballmer. Is he on his way out? █
“Government attorneys accuse Microsoft of using its monopoly position to bully, bribe and attempt to collude with others in the industry, while illegally expanding and protecting its Windows franchise.”
–The antitrust case: a timeline
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Summary: With the Burton Group inside of it and with Microsoft contracts in the pipeline, the Gartner Group carries on with its belittlement of ODF (including the obligatory FOSS bashing) while it is promoting Microsoft lock-in like OOXML
Andrea Di Maio from the Gartner Group is at it again. We previously wrote about him in [1, 2, 3, 4], even in relation to the OOXML blunder in Australia last week [1, 2, 3, 4]. As a very quick refresher, Gartner threw FUD at ODF after an unrelated verdict against Microsoft. The Gartner FUDmeister was proven to be wrong shortly afterwards. His claims were utterly false and they injured ODF’s reputation nonetheless. Just before that, another FUDmeister from Gartner (one who works closely with Microsoft) promoted OOXML and insulted ODF [1, 2]. These people from Gartner (3 examples given in this case) are being paid for it, this is not a public service. In the latest FOSS-hostile piece from Andrea Di Maio (this guy has many) he includes this bit which says:
Gartner Research and Gartner Consulting are two separate organizations, although both part of Gartner
Yes, it figures. So the same firm and same people (Gartner) basically serve a company one day and pretend to just do “research” another day. No room for bias there, eh? We have shown many crude examples of bias and there are even lawsuits about the conflict of interest. All those attacks on ODF help show how Gartner works (favouring the clients who pay) and what a corruptible company it really is. Gartner bought the Burton Group, which was one of the leading smearers of ODF at the time [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] (Microsoft paid for it and later employed some staff from the Burton Group).
Needless to say, ODF proponents are extremely unhappy with what Gartner is doing these days. Rob Weir has just told Bob Sutor (both are IBM’s main ODF people):
Ironic that of all the things open source has done, DiMaio narrowly focuses on their rhetoric
Yes, Gartner also likes to smear Free/libre software because the paradigm offers no contract work to Gartner. █
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Summary: Cult mentality harms not just people who choose to be part of it but also students who merely go to school and have it enforced upon them
THE company which takes regular PCs, puts a new logo and restrictions on them, and then overcharges for the outcome should not have been too much of a threat. As long as people were not forced to buy Apple (many are forced to buy Windows along with any new PCs), then the harm is limited to self-inflicted punishment by the gullible customers. Punishment? Yes, punishment indeed. From the original report:
CONTROL FREAK FIRM Apple doesn’t want owners of its precious Iphone 4 to fiddle with their internals, so it is locking the devices shut with oddly headed screws.
Some Americans who have sent in their devices for repair will not be able to open them up in the future, said repair firm Ifixit. This is because Apple, in a move that some would describe as breathtakingly arrogant and sneaky, is switching the screws for tamper-proof ones.
Who would choose this type of treatment and even pay a premium for it?
To quote an opinion on the above, Apple is “Screwing the Customer”:
The latest issue is screws on the iPhone. Apple is swapping screws to a kind not used by anyone else to prevent tampering like changing batteries. They are even doing it on devices sent in for repair. They are doing it on some new manufacturing.
Now, one would say, “just avoid Apple.” But what happens when one goes to a school that “requires students to own iPad” (requiring particular hardware, not just software)? Yes, that’s what the new headline says:
It’s something many children have begged their parents for. Now, one Tennessee private school is requiring all fourth through 12th grade students to have an Apple i-Pad for classes next year.
As stated at the beginning, the hypePad is regular hardware with an Apple branding and a lot restrictions on top. People are being overcharged since advertising had them believe that they are better than everyone else because of some logo. What kind of lessons are schools giving here? Apple’s gadgets and accessories do not belong in the classroom; as Albert Einstein once said, “[t]he only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Well, in this case, the only thing that can interfere with children’s learning is a toy that promotes artificial scarcity and limitation while stifling — by design — the act of sharing. People who fail to share often perish in science. █
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Summary: “Fraud plagues global health fund” and Techrights is not surprised
WELL, obviously not enough news outlets have been bought by the Gates Foundation, which loves to pay them millions of dollars to just say a lot of nice things about the Gates family and its investments. Based on this new article mailed to us this afternoon by an esteemed European activist, not only Bono's charity turns out to be somewhat of a sham. Those lobbying campaigns from Bill, where he requests patent payments from governments (i.e. taxpayers) to pharmaceutical giants he has vested interests in, turn out not to be so effective:
A $21.7 billion development fund backed by celebrities and hailed as an alternative to the bureaucracy of the United Nations sees as much as two-thirds of some grants eaten up by corruption, The Associated Press has learned.
Much of the money is accounted for with forged documents or improper bookkeeping, indicating it was pocketed, investigators for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria say. Donated prescription drugs wind up being sold on the black market.
The fund’s newly reinforced inspector general’s office, which uncovered the corruption, can’t give an overall accounting because it has examined only a tiny fraction of the $10 billion that the fund has spent since its creation in 2002. But the levels of corruption in the grants they have audited so far are astonishing.
This article mentions “(Product) Red”, which is sentimental blackmail that’s intended to sell more Microsoft products. We wrote about this several times before, going as far back as 2008. █
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Summary: Black Duck, a proprietary software company, organises the Open Source Think Tank 2011, which helps grease up lawmakers
Proprietary software companies with Microsoft commonalities or staff overlap are ‘diluting’ the message of the ideological competition, notably Free (libre) software. Given enough spendings it is not so hard to derail this competition, whose profit margins are a lot smaller.
Microsoft is trying to tell people what to think and how to feel about “open source” (and Free software). It pays professors who help achieve this goal [1, 2, 3]. The idea is, if Microsoft can become an authority in F/OSS — either directly or by proxy — then it can control the behaviour of its competition. Just watch Sam Ramji, who worked for Microsoft as the “open source” insider whose goal was to harm GNU/Linux [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13], defending Lanier’s attacks on Free software and hacker culture last week. It is rather revealing.
“Microsoft is trying to tell people what to think and how to feel about “open source” (and Free software).”Mr. Galoppini says that “The Open Source Think Tank (agenda) will be held April 7–9, 2011,” but he also helps remind us that those who run the event are now acquired by Black Duck, a proprietary software company with software patents. It is holding the Open Source Think Tank under its thumb, at times using funding from Microsoft as we saw before. There are other Open Source “think tanks” that Black Duck has been getting into very recently. What’s wrong with that? Well, as we warned years ago, it is pretending to be an authority in open source even though it is a proprietary software company. These deceptions have helped mobbyists and lobbyists of Microsoft pretend to represent the opposite side while in fact doing it a disservice if not attacking it.
There is another story which is more or less related to the above. One reader of ours has just drawn our attention to what the Apotheker-led HP is doing with Microsoft right now:
Among the flood of computing vendor announcements that marked the start of the new year was one that might have been easily overlooked: Microsoft and HP unveiled converged application appliances for small businesses, business intelligence, analytics and email serving.
Only a few months ago HP got itself a leadership from Microsoft allies [1, 2], replacing Hurd [1, 2, 3, 4]. Is Apotheker still serving SAP/Microsoft or is it all about HP (which increasingly adopted GNU/Linux under Hurd’s reign)? █
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