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04.20.11

Apple’s Anti-Linux Patent Lawsuits Give Another Reason for Concern Over CPTN

Posted in Antitrust, Apple, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 4:40 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Steve Jobs with patent
Original photo by Matt Buchanan; edited by Techrights

Summary: Proprietary software giants continue to use patents against freely-shareable software and regulatory agencies begin to react, acknowledging this anti-competitive problem

CPTN is a kind of cartel of proprietary software companies, unsurprisingly led by Microsoft. Three quarters of them have a recent, high-profile history of attacking FOSS projects using software patents and now they want Novell’s patents, too. Some of these patents may be UNIX-oriented.

We have no sympathy for Novell, which fuels Linux arch rivals. We have already alluded to the Apple lawsuit a couple of times (last time was this morning) and since Samsung pays Microsoft for Linux, we have not much sympathy for Samsung, either. Semi Accurate explains why “Apple suing Samsung is incredibly stupid”:

Apple (AAPL)suing Samsung over, well, who really cares anymore, is probably the dumbest thing that Apple could do. It could have more serious blowback than most pundits realize, including sinking the iGadgetmaker.

The situation goes something like this. Mobile phones are a brutally cutthroat business, with basically nothing to differentiate one company from another any more. There are only so many things you can do in a phone the size of a cigarette pack, and most of those have been done by someone or something in the past few years. Barring that, someone did it on a UNIX box in the 60′s, and there is a video out there to prove it. Nothing in computing is new.

Thanks to the best government money can buy, the US has a system of rather bogus software patent laws that allow things that any idiot would find blindingly obvious to be patented. Atari’s bitmap patents, Amazon’s ‘one click‘, and any of 73,000 Microsoft ‘innovations’ spring to mind. All these do is subvert the patent system in order to shut out competition, innovation, and anyone with pockets not deep enough to enrich a large legal firm. The system itself is broken and thoroughly gamed.

[...]

With that in mind, Big Fruit suing Samsung could be tantamount to suicide. All Samsung needs to do is suspend wafer starts for Apple and say, “See you in court Steve”. By the time it gets there, 2016 or so, will Apple be in business? How many months of no iAnything do you think it would take for Apple to dry up and blow away? Unlike graphics cards or memory, each ARM SoC is unique, needs a unique board, unique software, and has unique capabilities. The painful flip side of custom chips is that Apple can not make an iDevice with another part, period.

It sure seems like Linux-based platforms will dominate tablets (not just Android, maybe WebOS too) and the pathetic Apple lawsuits help validate this because we saw the very same thing happening in phones just before Android outpaced hypePhone in the United States. Lawsuits like this one are a last resort, they are a sign of desperation.

We previously explained Apple’s role in funding the world’s biggest patent troll (IV) and also its role in CPTN. Nasty stuff. See posts such as:

According to this important new announcement, regulatory bodies help in crippling the CPTN provisions, owing to complaints from the FSF and OSI (and maybe the FSFE too). In the interests of brevity, we are putting some responses of interest at the bottom of this post. From the announcement:

The Department of Justice announced today that in order to proceed with the first phase of their acquisition of certain patents and patent applications from Novell Inc ., CPTN Holdings LLC and its owners have altered their original agreements to address the department’s antitrust concerns. The department said that, as originally proposed, the deal would jeopardize the ability of open source software, such as Linux, to continue to innovate and compete in the development and distribution of server, desktop, and mobile operating systems, middleware, and virtualization products. Although the department will allow the transaction to proceed, it will continue investigating the distribution of the Novell patent to the CPTN owners.

How foolish must David Meyer feel right now, having paid attention to Microsoft Florian and published the headline “Novell patent sale clears US regulatory hurdle” some days ago in ZDNet UK. As Groklaw put it in response to these mobbyists, “I can’t resist. To my fellow journalists: did what Florian Mueller wrote about this turn out to be accurate?” His lobbying algorithm is flawed, the EPO should issue a refund immediately.

Microsoft Florian keeps ridiculing OIN this week (opposite of Groklaw, as usual). And also new from Groklaw: “Open Invention Network Takes on Mass – Facebook and HP Join”

The news today is that Facebook and HP have joinded Open Invention Network. In addition, Google is moving up from licensee to join Canonical as associate member, the second highest level.

What can the Open Invention Network (OIN) do to help against patent trolls? Groklaw ought to have some answers to these questions, especially with relevance to Microsoft and proxies such as SCO. In light of some additional text from the i4i vs Microsoft case, Groklaw is an important community site for the defence of Free software. Can anybody help us get those PACER-delivered court documents that Groklaw routinely obtains and HTML-ifies? What will the community do when Groklaw stops posting new articles? Upon closer inspection, its opponents usually turn out to also be opponent of the FSF and software freedom in general. the same goes for FFII opponents and many of our own opponents/hecklers.

The FFII’s mailing list has a new message about “Defensive patenting event [such as OIN] in Stanford”, quoting:

http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/node/6660

Stanford Law School, Room 280B
559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA, 94305
United States
Name of Speaker:
Jason Schultz and Jennifer Urban
Title of Event:
A Defensive Patent License Proposal

In other news about patents, it sure seems like people try to patent (or are already patenting) every little thing [1, 2] as this new example illustrates:

India has put in place a unique “global bio-piracy watch system” through which, whenever somebody files a patent application in any of the seven largest patent offices in the world, scientists sitting in India immediately get to know about it following which the application is checked “for prior knowledge”.

Who needs this garbage detection? Why assume this system which favours monopolisation is favourable in the first place? Even the Department of Justice is gradually realising that patents are used by cartels and need to be stopped/disarmed.

Assorted responses to the CPTN decision:

The H: Department of Justice says Novell and CPTN must change patent deal

The Novell/CPTN deal was part of the agreement created in November to allow Attachmate to acquire Novell; before the $2.2 billion acquisition went ahead, Novell was to sell 882 patents to CPTN, a holding company owned equally by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and EMC, which would then allocate and distribute those patents between the CPTN owners. In January, the Open Source Initiative and the Free Software Foundation jointly asked the DoJ to intervene in the deal saying that the confidential negotiations taking place could “be used to hide nefarious intentions”. The OSI had also written to the German Federal Cartel Office in December.

The DoJ, working closely with Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, appears to have agreed with the OSI and FSF’s view of the deal, and is requiring major changes. Most importantly for open source developers, the agreement now says that all of the Novell patents will be “acquired subject to the GNU General Public License, Version 2, a widely adopted open-source license, and the Open Invention Network (OIN) License, a significant license for the Linux system”. The announcement does not specify how these licences, especially the GPLv2 software licence, will apply to the patents. There would also be limits on CPTN, and it’s owners, from limiting which patents are included in the GPLv2 and OIN licensing process or influencing the process.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Microsoft gets Novell’s Patents rights but must share them with Open-Source Software

Well, this is almost certainly not the Novell patent deal that Microsoft and its CPTN Holding Partners-Apple, EMC and Oracle-wanted . The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) announced today, April 20th, that in order to proceed with the first phase of their acquisition of certain patents and patent applications from Novell, CPTN Holdings has altered their original agreements to address the department’s antitrust concerns. In particular, “The department said that, as originally proposed, the deal would jeopardize the ability of open source software, such as Linux, to continue to innovate and compete in the development and distribution of server, desktop, and mobile operating systems, middleware, and virtualization products. Although the department will allow the transaction to proceed, it will continue investigating the distribution of the Novell patent to the CPTN owners.”

Andy Updegrove (from the above): “This is a rather breath-taking announcement from a number of perspectives. Among others, the granularity of the restrictions imposed demonstrates a level of understanding of open source software in general, and Linux in particular, that has not been demonstrated by regulators in the past. It also demonstrates a very different attitude on the part of both the U.S. and German regulators, on the one hand, and Microsoft, on the other, from what we saw the last time that Microsoft was under the microscope. In the past, Microsoft was more disposed to fight than negotiate, and the U.S. and the European Commission were far apart in their attitudes. This announcement conclusively places open-source software on the U.S. regulatory map.”

Simon Phipps: Open Source Critical To Competition

News just broke jointly from the US Department of Justice and the German Federal Cartel Office that they have directed CPTN to change the way they acquire Novell’s software patents so that the open source community is protected.

This is landmark news for the software freedom community. The Open Source Initiative (where I am a director) and the Free Software Foundation both submitted opinions to the DoJ. Both agreed that the acquisition of Novell’s patent portfolio by a consortium comprising Apple, EMC, Microsoft and Oracle presented a threat to the ability of open source software to promote strong competitive markets. It seems the DoJ and FCO agreed with them.

To me, this establishes:

* Open source is a crucial market force, ensuring strong competition, and as such deserves regulatory recognition and protection;
* Software patents pose an anti-competitive threat that deserves regulatory recognition and action;
* OSI-approved licenses form a suitable basis for regulatory remedies;
* The collective action of the software freedom community – represented here by OSI, FSF and FSFE – can have an important effect.

Carlo Piana: via Identi.ca

Kudos to OSI and !FSFE for pursuing the #CPTN matter on the two sides of the pond. Seems quite an achievement for #antitrust #swpats

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