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07.12.11

Why We Need to Pressure Google Into Putting an End to Software Patents

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 12:52 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

End Software Patents

Summary: Yet another call for Google to fight against the Great Patents Cartel rather than find ways of joining this exclusionary club

IN A NEW article by Dr. Glyn Moody exists a rather eloquent explanation of why Google should quit trying to play with patents and instead just put an end to software patents, despite the advice it receives from its self-serving patent lawyers. Moody explains that “Android is under serious threat”. But as he immediately points out, “Techdirt’s handy diagram illustrates, practically everyone in the smartphone space is suing everyone else. But the big difference is how the others are addressing this.

“Some are cutting deals among themselves, such as the recent, if still rather mysterious, one between Nokia and Apple. Others, with less in the way to offer in exchange, are simply coughing up licensing fees. Worryingly, that includes an increasing number of Android manufacturers.”

The summary of this which appears in Slashdot says:

“When challenged directly by Oracle over Android intellectual property, Google has proven itself a feisty opponent. So why is it sitting back and letting Microsoft shake down OEMs over its claims to own patents that Android infringes? A disheartened Tom Henderson thinks it’s because Microsoft has been smart to go after the vendors rather than poke at Google directly. Still, he wonders when Google will get into the fight.”

Can we be persuasive enough, even to the point where the PR factor will compel Google to join campaigns such as “End Software Patents”?

The problem is not just Microsoft but also Apple, which now files a second trade complaint against HTC after starting the patent assault on Android/Linux last year (see our Apple vs HTC resource)). To quote one particular report on the subject:

Apple has ratcheted up its attack on Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC, filing a second patent-infringement complaint that, if successful, could bar HTC products from being imported into the US.

The complaint was filed with US International Trade Commission (USITC) on Friday, Bloomberg reports, and was revealed in a brief notice on the USITC website.

I some cases, Apple and Google are both targeted at the same time by patent trolls. To use a similar new scenario (more in Bloomberg about software patents used in reverse), sometimes Microsoft and Google share this pain too. What’s more interesting though is the increased collusion among Apple and Microsoft, which sometimes even congratulate one another on patent strategy, having cross-licensed for a long time, then taken Novell’s patents, and most recently taken Nortel’s patent although that is currently being challenged by federal investigation, as we noted twice before (in the US and also Canada).

“Outgunned Google accuses rivals of ganging up,” says the headline from The Independent (British newspaper), noting that:

The answer, as every patent litigator in the US knows, is Google. It is the only one not in the consortium buying a portfolio of thousands of technology patents from the bankrupt Canadian firm Nortel Networks.

The winning consortium comprised the three big operating systems firms plus Sony and Ericsson, handset makers, and EMC, a data storage firm. It called itself Rockstar Bidco, though it might as well have called itself Everyone But Google Inc.

Android may be winning more ground than any other type of smartphone in the battle for consumer loyalty, but on a parallel legal battleground, Google just found itself surrounded by heavy artillery. The outcome of the auction represents the largest competitive threat to Android since its 2008 launch and threatens to derail its sensational growth.

This is the sort of thing that would happen to desktop GNU/Linux too as it grows bigger (Google has just released statistics showing a growth of 15% year-to-year). Not only “commercial” distributors like Canonical are affected. Based on this new move from Debian, such a decentralised project too is concerned and as the British press puts it, “[t]he Debian Project, which is best known for the Debian Linux distribution, has served up the Community Distribution Patent Policy FAQ, a document that tries to explain patents and patent liabilities in plain English for developers working on FOSS projects. The information was prepared by lawyers at the Software Freedom Law Center and it applies to US patent law.”

Of course, many Debian developers are based outside the US, so these ludicrous laws do not apply to them, except when they distribute their software in the US (which is a large market overall). We really need to eradicate this problem at the root and without support from a billionaire company like Google it would be hard to abolish software patents. Intel and IBM are a lost cause in this regard because, although they support Linux for parts of the business, they actively lobby for software patents and they haven’t as much to lose from them as Google has. Google’s door is therefore the right one to knock on. But it’s important to be diplomatic and polite about it.

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16 Comments

  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    July 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Gravatar

    It’s been a very long time since Google had contact information on its search page. How should one contact Google’s powers that be regarding the mutual fight against software patents?

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Many companies of the same scale are equally discreet and isolated by choice.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Try Chris DiBona [cdibona@google.com]

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    And in relation to Android (not just Open Source, which DiBona is heading), it is also worth contacting Tim Bray [tbray@textuality.com].

  2. TemporalBeing said,

    July 12, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Gravatar

    In response to a Groklaw Newspick from H-Online, I posted the following there which seems applicable here too. The article was postulating about what Google should do with the $4B USD that they would have used for the Nortel patents, to which I commented:

    Really, the best thing to do would be to take that $4 Billion USD and spend it on Congressional and the Presidential Races to get an law or amendment passed that forbids software patents. Just think – each candidate could get up to $73.5 Million USD (or $36.76 Million USD if they gave equally to both Republican and Democratic candidates). A relatively cheap way to literally buy a law that would ultimately save them a lot more, and more likely than not they would end up being the largest contributor in nearly all cases. :D

    Also posted on Groklaw http://goo.gl/eqjFn
    I would have done so at H-Online if not for their registration system.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Google could help campaigns that actively fight to educate people about the harms of software patents (and in turn make demands to their politicians). Patent antagonists have a good and compelling story to tell.

    Needs Sunlight Reply:

    Such campaigns would be relatively cheap and could be very effective. US patent law needs to rolled back to the earlier times or else harmonized with Europe.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Countries like China are accumulating many patents, so it is more likely that the US will need to assimilate to them, not to Europe. If China builds a strong deterrent, maybe the USPTO will decide (on its own) to rethink software patents and mutually agree to reduce the stockpiles in both countries. Right now the USPTO is a tail (lawyers) wagging the dog.

    twitter Reply:

    I have read of one former USPTO official who thinks the all the policies of the mid to late 90′s were a failure. The idea was to promote freedom in China through trade revenue. Control would be kept through patents and other deals. Of course, the most favorable nation status backfired. The US has become more like China than China was liberated. I can’t put my finger on it because the official kept most of his opinion behind a paywall and charged for lectures.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Competition has driven MIT to counter this with zero-cost option.

  3. Mikko said,

    July 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Gravatar

    microsoft demands $15 for every sold smartphone with android from samsung

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/06/us-samsung-microsoft-idUSTRE7651DB20110706

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Yes, news from last week. Thanks.

    twitter Reply:

    People like Florian Mueller are happy to pronounce the success of Microsoft’s attacks but just the opposite is happening. Apple is demanding $20 and Oracle is demanding $20 and we can be sure the thousands of trolls at IV will be demanding $20 for their inane method monopolies. The fact that paying off one won’t stop the others for asking is evidence that the patent troll business model is already broken and that IP won’t be the next software. Paying any troll is a waste of money because it offers no real “protection” from the next extortionist.

    If you are threatened, don’t listen to Florian.

    please ignore the advice of non-attorney commentators (such as Florian Muller @ fosspatents) because they can be shortsighted and are not qualified to provide the complex legal analysis and advice you will need. (e.g. from one of Florian’s latest posts about the Lodsys patents, any patent attorney should be able to recognize that Florian does not understand the law regarding patent infringement and numerous other issues.)

    Debian advises people to avoid research of patents, avoid speculation of inventions covered and to get help if threatened. The complexity of the area is just more evidence that the system is broken.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Right now we really need to pressure for the US to align with the rest of the world on patent law.

    saulgoode Reply:

    I recall once reading in one of their documents that WIPO’s positions on patents was that they should be limited to only commercial usage. I believe this limitation is honored by most countries, but not the United States (where there is no distinction between non-commercial and commercial use of patented technology).

    While not a fully satisfactory solution, it would be of great benefit to many Free Software projects if non-commercial practicing of patented technology were permitted.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    It’s not clear what “commercial” means though. If a company embeds code that it not “commercial”, is it then “commercial” (BSD and Apple for example)?

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