06.10.11

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Europe’s Software Patents Problem Summarised

Posted in America, Europe, Microsoft, Patents, RAND at 12:52 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: Monopolists like Microsoft, based in the United States, try to transport software patents across the Atlantic, so Techrights provides a news summary and a general summary of trends to watch out for

HERE at Techrights we have been covering the situation of software patents in Europe almost since the dawn of this Web site. It was always about software patents and more people begin to understand the importance of this issue when they hear that Microsoft makes money out of HTC's Android phones. Additionally, as one reader shows us this week, “HTC paid for patents and started to use aspx.” Can someone verify this? Netcraft history does not go far back. We already know about Microsoft’s pressure on Intel to use Windows on servers because we found internal documents about it. Microsoft is bundling such deals, making agreements conditional upon migration and PR for Microsoft.

Anyway, to learn about Microsoft’s lobbying for software patents in Europe, one needs to be familiar with the proxies they use for lobbying, e.g. Association for Competitive Technology. Microsoft has ways of trying to portray itself as “European” and also use ‘Euro-washed’ firms to push its agenda there. We mostly covered these in 2008 and 2009, so we advise readers to look back (we strive to decrease repetition). It is clear that Microsoft is a major component of this problem, others being Siemens and Nokia. It should not be shocking that those in favour of software patenting are giants. Patent monopolies make giants stronger and the only small entities to whom such a system might be of use are patent trolls and lawyers’ firms specialising in so-called ‘IP’.

Last year in the United States, Bilski and his colleague shattered the US system by further legitimising software patents, at least based on some people’s analysis (inconclusive). They took it all the way up to the SCOTUS, whose rulings on the subject of patents have been rather terrible recently. SCOTUS deserves no blind respect because laws too are relative and they depend on principles one adopts in a certain civilised culture. There is no absolute justice or definition of “civilised”; the bias is ‘built in’.

Bilski’s patent was classified as belonging to the business methods category and this new report from the Wall Street Journal says that patents on tax strategies (emulating pen-and-paper methods) may soon be ruled illegal:

U.S. patent number 7,698,194 isn’t an ingenious new machine or a breakthrough medical treatment. It’s a method of analyzing the taxes associated with college-savings plans.

It’s also one of the 144 patented tax strategies and 162 pending applications, as of late May, that tax preparers say have burdened their job and made it harder for citizens to pay their taxes.

Consumer and tax groups have pushed since 2007 to get such patents banned, and their efforts are poised to come to fruition this month. The House of Representatives is expected to vote when it returns from this week’s recess on a major overhaul of the patent system that would effectively prohibit patenting tax strategies.

While there is hope that the USPTO will be reforming (in accordance with public backlash), things are not improving in Europe. Recently, for example, Mrs. Wilcox decided to usher in a scheme [1, 2, 3] that may help legitimise/change the bar for US patents (even in Europe) and to quote the sort of fallacies she is repeating: [via Benjamin Henrion]: Baroness Wilcox, the minister for intellectual property, said: “The pilot will give experts the opportunity to comment on patent applications and share their vital expertise before patents are granted. It will also mean that inventions already known in the wider community will be filtered out more readily. Peer To Patent is a step forward in supporting growth by reinforcing the patent bedrock on which innovative businesses thrive.”

Innovative businesses actually did not require patents. Look at Google for a recent example. Meanwhile in Europe we also have the worry about the RAND lobby at the Commission [1, 2]. Benjamin highlights this new page which signals more of the same. RAND is not compatible with Free software, but the Commission is guarding RAND nonetheless, after lobbying from Microsoft front groups. This relates to the first issue which we covered. Most important, however, is the current push for the EU Patent, which seeks to make litigation of larger scale easier and can also spread software patents such that they transcend borders with the mere signing of some document/s (treaty superseding the law using a ‘hack’). Consider the fact that in the United States a patent previously owned by Microsoft’s patent troll (Intellectual Ventures) is the subject of litigation seeking its invalidation. At the same time we see companies turning into a pile of patents ripe for picking by trolls. To them, patents are just means for suing, using patent lawyers. Rather than breed an industry which innovates, patents expand an industry which litigates. Consider this one firm which is “specializing in software patents, copyright and trade secrets.” The source article is here (New York Times blogs). What value can such firms actually bring to an economy? Here it is in context:

Andrew Schulman wasn’t. He’s a Lens reader in San Francisco, a photographer and — most important for the purposes of this post — a lawyer specializing in software patents, copyright and trade secrets.

Now they want to patent umbrellas too? It is not even an idea previously unexplored. About a decade ago I typed down on my PDA an idea I had for an umbrella. Many of the so-called ‘inventions’ people seek patents on have not just been thought of before but also implemented. This whole business of patents merely adds complexity to the system and slows down its advancement.

To summarise some of the key points, Europe faces new threats from lobbying (e.g. For RAND), so-called ‘unification’ (which can actually be the import of software patents), and an attempt to start from the premise that the problem is “quality” of patents rather than their type (e.g. software, tax). We must all stay vigilant. It is possible that software patents will die in the States before they manage to spread to other countries like some of kind a virus.

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