04.01.11

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Software Patents FUD a Sign That Microsoft is Losing, Linux is Winning

Posted in Microsoft, Patents at 6:06 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Victory is nigh

Victory

Summary: The Obama administration is said to considering a “fundamental rethink of software patents” just as Microsoft bets heavily on software patents

WHEN SCO attacked Linux it did not take long for everyone to find out that Microsoft had quietly paid SCO. People have generally known since then (and beforehand) that in line with the leaked Halloween Documents, Microsoft will do anything is can to get Linux distributors sued. The same strategies remain, but the types of imaginary monopolies change and also the sources of litigation. Motorola shows the limits of Microsoft’s hastily-thought through strategy; Microsoft cannot just cycle through every single company which sells Linux because sooner or later products like Xbox 360 risk a ban from the market. If Microsoft is willing to go down this lane, then it sure is a sign of desperation and Groklaw had a good article about that yesterday, claiming pretty much the same thing because Microsoft is now running even to antitrust regulators, hoping that they too can rescue the dying monopoly (nobody violates antitrust law as much as Microsoft).

Fortunately we know that this week’s academic FUD is in fact secretly funded by Microsoft. Microsoft Florian, who admits being a campaigner for hire (he tries to avoid the word “lobbyist”), parrots Steve Ballmer today, in response to dents that I made in Identica. This is so telling that it’s not even funny and the 451 Group asks, “Is Android FUD a forebearer of Linux-like success?”

I’ve seen some criticisms of Android and Google indicating it is clear or should be clear what is open source and what is not. I would argue, however, that is has become quite unclear what is open source and what is not in all circumstances and particularly in smartphones, as we covered in our special report Mobility Matters two-and-a-half long years ago. There’s no denying the constant pressure for Android and Google and others in the ecosystem to be true to the spirit and letter of open source and its licenses, however painful, serves to strengthen its open source aspects. However, the statements and signals crying foul against Android are quite similar to the complaints, threats and, yes, FUD we saw swirling around Linux a decade ago. And let’s not forget the lesson of open enough, which becomes even more significant given cloud computing and the capabilities it is extending to smartphones and other mobile devices.

Bottom line, developers, handset manufacturers and consumers are heavily more focused on new releases every six months than who is suing whom in the IP infringement claim game and software patent ’system.’ To predict where Android is headed and what is likely to happen as a result of the FUD, we can look at Linux, which emerged stronger, more competitive and more enterprise-ready after the infamous SCO threats and lawsuits.

Microsoft has has put too many eggs in one basket because rather than create new products it kept its workers busy writing patent applications — patents being just another monopolistic paradigm which relies on pieces of paper rather than bundling in the channel. The government could, in principle, pull the carpet from underneath Microsoft’s feet by passing a patent reform that’s better than the one we’ve mentioned a lot recently. Obama plans fundamental rethink of software patents according to a new report and more articles that are being published right now provide justifications for such a move:

Based on the current status, you essentially can not write an app that doesn’t somehow infringe on someone else’s patent. One might think this is an exaggeration, but let’s take a look at the following list of legal no-no’s:

1) Pop-up note

Yes, the patent for a trusty old mouseover pop-up, used by most applications out there, was granted to Microsoft. If you want your app to be legal, you can’t use them.

2) In-game messaging

That’s a tough one for game developers – Yahoo holds a patent that basically covers sending in-game messages. And they are not afraid to use it.

3) Online games

Why not ban all massively multiplayer online (MMO) games altogether? That’s what Sheldon Goodberg could do, as he holds a very broad patent for “networking gaming system”. He had enough sense not to go after World of Warcraft, and he’s targeting online solitaire for a start. Who knows what will happen If he succeeds?

4) Progress bar

It seems that IBM is the only kid on the block cool enough to use a progress bar!

5) One-click checkout

This one goes to Amazon, because the idea of storing client’s information is so innovative. However, it shouldn’t matter to you, because you are not allowed to conduct internet sales anyway. Just check the next point.

When/if software patents are invalidated en masse, Microsoft’s house of cards will fall. So let us spread the message about software patents a little further.

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