08.14.11

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Tablets, Phones, Linux, and Android Are Dragged Into Patent Mayhem by Microsoft, Apple, and Their Allies

Posted in Apple, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 6:13 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: As Linux grows ever more dominant on devices that grow at the expense of desktops, the proprietary software giants — along with their cartels and patent trolls — bully and blackmail Linux-supportive competitors

WE HAVE been receiving a lot of mail about patents recently. It increasingly seems as though patents, not technical merit, help determine winners and losers, or at least that’s what Microsoft and its cartel members hope for. Google has publicly complained about a Microsoft-Apple conspiracy and for its defence it ended up buying IBM patents and it might be buying InterDigital's patents, as still indicated in the news (“Patent Wars Heat Up as Google Courts InterDigital”). To quote one explanation: “Consistent with our previous note on Google’s rivals scooping up Nortel, a weak patent portfolio could adversely impact profit margins for Google. The margin decline could mainly happen due to higher licensing fees and royalty-based costs for patents that Android uses but does not own. Additionally, expensive patent lawsuits would only serve to distract the company from its daily operations and can hamper Google’s innovation-led practices and product development.”

As we recently saw (e.g. Apple-imposed embargo in Germany, Lodsys versus British developers), Europeans are very much affected by the illness of the USPTO and the anti-competitive practices it enables. “How the US patent mess affects European tech and startups” is a new article that touches on the subject:

If you’ve paid even the slightest bit of attention to technology news of late, you can’t have failed to have noticed that patents are a hot story right now. However, much of what is being discussed relates to US companies; what’s the situation on the other side of the Atlantic?

Software patents have been at the core of a number of high-profile battles lately. We’ve seen a number of companies banding together to buy up swathes of mobile patents in a move that could bring down Android as a popular operating system; it seems like just about every smartphone manufacturer is suing someone, if not all the others; meanwhile patent holding company Lodsys has threatened a wide range of targets, including small independent iPhone and Android developers, over alleged infringements of its patents, threatening their livelihoods.

Over in IRC and in E-mail we have been digesting a lot of information. It is material from people close to Apple and Microsoft, people who are personally familiar with the conspiracies because they were present. The whole tablet hype, for example, is wrongly being attributed to and associated with Apple, which knowingly ripped other people off and is now exploiting the gullibility of journalists. The real investors are frustrated as they receive neither money nor attribution. Forbes has a piece titled “Turn The Tables On Patent Trolls”, which ought to really portray Apple — not just patent trolls — as a leech and an exploiter. We will hopefully write a lengthy and well-researched post about the subject very soon (our informant is gathering the details, stressing that Apple and Microsoft are the major aggressors here). Quoting Forbes:

Practicing companies know this and are careful about initiating litigation. Traditional patent litigation is very expensive (often millions of dollars). It’s risky. And it’s dangerous – a defendant might counterattack with its arsenal of patents. As a result, patent litigation between companies that compete with each other is less frequent than it could be, a point that is often lost in the headlines.

Successful trolls have found ways to remove these traditional obstacles to suit. Most obviously, not making anything immunizes them against counter accusations of infringement. A liability in every other context, having nothing to sell is an asset for trolls. This is why patents are often worth more when a company is dead and has nothing to lose from patent counter suits, than when it is alive and does.

That definitely is the case with Microsoft too. The company is unable to sell Windows for tablets, so it is reaching out for patents and now blackmails those who succeed at selling tablets, primarily with Linux on them.

As we discussed yesterday (and we got interesting feedback about it), Motorola is claimed to have gone hostile, but sources tell us that it might be a daemonisation. It’s all based on a single verbal remark. To quote another source:

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has enough of a headache dealing with the painful situation involving Android and the pace at which its partners are being sued for patent infringement. But imagine if members of the Android community turned against each other over patents, something that Motorola (NYSE: MMI) Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha appeared to threaten Thursday during remarks at a financial conference.

Jha made a note during Motorola’s last earnings call—which showed it struggling to keep up with other Android partners like Samsung and HTC—to emphasize Motorola’s patent portfolio. Given that it’s the company that invented the mobile phone, Motorola has an arsenal of mobile patents that other Android partners probably can’t match, which is one of the reasons why it has chosen to fight Microsoft and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) in court as opposed to settling or signing licensing deals.

Motorola might in fact be looking to be acquired by Google or something along those lines. It is not unusual for companies that size to brag about their patents. According to one writer, Jeff Bezos “filed a patent with VP Greg Heart that covers tiny airbags that would deploy if you drop your cell phone, the Register reports (via Geekwire).” Does that mean that Amazon will sue companies? So far, we have not seen Amazon using patents too offensively, even though the company lobbies and lusts for software patents.

The EFF is increasingly getting involved in this area which is perceives as a threat. “If you thought bogus patent lawsuits were crazy now, just wait and see what might happen if a court rules the way two companies are arguing they should,” says one Web site. “The EFF has filed an amicus brief in two cases in which patent holders are arguing that they can drag third parties into patent lawsuits if those third parties do one part of a claim, while someone else does the rest. If you think about this, and are aware of current patent lawsuits, this is a horrifying prospect. Think Lodsys on steroids, where individual consumers could be sued for patent infringement, merely for making use of what a service provider offers. For example, in one of the two cases, Akamai is claiming patent infringement, and the issue is one claim in the patent. All of the steps of that one claim are handled by a third party… except for “tagging,” which is done by users. If Akamai’s argument holds, then users of Limelight’s services who do “tagging” could be liable for patent infringement without having any idea at all that they’re at risk, and without them even violating the vast majority of what’s claimed in the patent.”

Patents are not intended to promote anything. They are a protectionist measure. They slow down innovation and reduce competition.

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