11.23.11

Patents Roundup: Bad System, Clear Symptoms

Posted in Apple, Patents at 11:08 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Apple is one of those symptoms

Apple with heart

Summary: A mixture of news about patents and software patents in particular

THE EVER-waning patent system gets more and more unpopular as people recognise trolling and entities close to the government have a chance to correct things. Quoting one news item, we have:

Supreme Court case could end costly patent trolling

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in December that could have major implications for the future of American business and a significant impact on companies in the Rochester area.

And sadly, however, the SCOTUS rarely helps people, it helps corporations [1, 2]. Maybe it will surprise us all for the better this time around. According to the Boston Globe independent studies provide clear guidance, unlike for example all that propaganda from patent lawyers and their clients. Even Amazon’s chief has grown tired of software patents, as we noted the other day. There is big business around taxing technology with unnecessary barb-wire and even promotional evens for those who drink the Kool-Aide. Scientists need to expel this element which is eating away at productive jobs, replacing them with excess bureaucracy.

Over at TechDirt there is realisation that Open Source is again being harmed by patents:

Potential Patent Infringement Threatens To Doom Highly Anticipated Open Source Project

John Carmack, the guy behind the Doom series of games, has alway been a supporter of open source software. He has in the past released the source code for the original Doom and Quake to the open source community. This open access has led to Doom and Quake being used in a variety of ways and has allowed numerous people to learn how to make games. It has really come as no surprise that Carmack has decided to open source the code for Doom 3. What is surprising though is that move has been held up due to an old patent infringement suit.

OSS Watch covered this as well:

Just a quick one on the subject of open source and patents. John Carmack is well known in gaming circles as the lead programmer behind such classic PC and console games as Castle Wolfenstein, Doom (and sequels) and Quake (and most of its sequels). Carmack and his company id software are the originators of the ‘First Person Shooter’ genre of game which has in turn spawned such gigantic franchises as Call of Duty and Halo. As well as being technical pioneers, id has an interesting policy of releasing their old engine technology (the software which renders the game’s video and audio) as open source under the GNU GPL v2. This allows students of gaming software development to look at how real commercial games software is written, and also allows the games to be ported to new hardware platforms by volunteers. As the art and sound assets are not included with the code, this also generates a small market for licences to old id games – games which may well not run on more modern operating systems – in order to get the game data for use with the aforementioned ports.

Coverage about this was consistently negative in the sense that authors are disappointed about patents having this effect. Those who use patents are typically companies that are unable to make decent products. According to news report, Android is kicking Apple’s behind and Apple has “Complain[ed] About “Total War” Apple Started”, which we found rather amusing. According to this:

Apple’s lawyers have accused Samsung of waging all-out patent war in the latest battleground for the world-spanning dispute between the two firms.

The tech giants are now in Paris to argue over Samsung’s attempt to get a preliminary injunction against the iPhone 4S in France, based on alleged infringement of its 3G patents.

Remember who started this. We’ll write more about Apple in a separate post.

Charles tackles some common misconceptions about innovation and patents in a blog post that says:

Innovation is not a mystery and I don’t think that you can track how it works. You can assume that a certain set of circumstances and an environment letting people code start-ups emerge and Free & Open Source Software projects grow will ultimately translate into something that someone, whether a journalist, consultant, politicians or venture capitalists will call innovation. Anything else besides that, innovation sounds more like vapor and magical boxes. This should probably express what I feel about software patents, by the way.

One last thing: Innovation is different than progress. Progress is usually applied to fields that do not necessarily belong to science or technology; it can be more a perception and may concern society as a whole. Yet the interesting thing is that while progress seems to be an even more elusive term than innovation, you can actually tell progress from regression or stagnation: people perceive it almost immediately, however relative it sometimes may be.

Apple is not innovative by the way. It’s all overblown. Patents are not indicative of innovation, either. The same goes for sales. There is that infamous patent which appears in the news again and helps demonstrate what patents really are about. To quote: “The suits were filed in the District Court of Massachusetts, asserting infringement of the ’502 patent.

“The ’502 patent is directed to novel and groundbreaking methods and systems for facilitating interaction between object-oriented software programmes and relational databases. As such, the patented technology has become fundamental to the development of numerous enterprise software applications, including business intelligence and data mining products, Amphion said.”

If this is what precludes innovation, then the word innovation lost its meaning. The SCOTUS needs to do something about it, but it probably won’t.

Potentially the Beginning of the End of Microsoft’s Patent Extortion

Posted in GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 10:45 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Barnes & Noble vs. Mindless Gorilla

Kong Toho

Summary: Barnes & Noble challenges specific Microsoft patents and other Microsoft patents are being ridiculed not just for triviality but for their daunting effect on society

EARLIER this month we became aware of an important development that could put to rest Microsoft’s racketeering-type practices against Linux/Android. Microsoft uses patent trolls and threats (under NDAs) to raise the cost of the competition while making a cash cow out of it. The injustice is clear and action is required.

Mr. Pogson adds his 50 cents to this news which we already covered and correctly points out that:

The reason B&N can do that so easily is that there is rarely anything new in software. The machines limit the possible steps to what will fit in storage. Anything is possible and if you know how to do X and Y, you automatically know how to do X+Y. It’s obvious and so unpatentable. It’s so hilarious. At one point, B&N even lists IE 1.0 as prior art preventing an invention being patentable. It’s true. M$ filed a patent application for something it had already inflicted on the public. Patents may only be issued for something novel. No matter how many hundreds of patents M$ claims Linux violates, Linux violates nothing because it’s all been done before M$ even existed and patents if any from the good old days have long since expired.

Over at IDG, decent coverage exists as well. To quote:

Barnes & Noble has fired another broadside against Microsoft in its defense of accusations that the retail bookseller violates Microsoft patents in its Nook eReader device.

According to legal observer site Groklaw, Barnes & Noble has filed a supplemental notice of prior art that contains a 43-page list of examples Barnes & Noble believes counters Microsoft’s claim that Nook violates five of Microsoft’s patents.

Barnes & Noble is being particularly noisy about the patents Microsoft is leveraging against the Nook, as it sees Microsoft as launching this lawsuit against Barnes & Noble and co-defendants Foxconn and Inventec as an effort to derail the Android operating system and device sales, as opposed to a genuine need to protect Microsoft’s innovation.

Barnes & Noble did a wonderful thing for the community (and itself) and Groklaw organised the evidence nicely for those who do not read legal documents.

Neil Richards has an interesting new article which states this:

Why Is Microsoft Missing From Good Causes?

[...]

Microsoft is one of those companies which failed to earn any respect from its users. People use Microsoft products because they are forced to use them. Every PC comes pre-installed with Windows thus you have to use it. They tried very hard in the early days to block and kill every other operating system. On the contrary Apple Mac and Linux is something people ‘choose’ to use. Same happened with IE, Bing and MS Office. The moment users started to get alternatives they switched.

Now Microsoft is using its FUD strategy and bogus claims to attack Android. Microsoft’s Android extortion scam was exposed by Barnes & Noble, and it sends a message to all such companies who are being threatened by Microsoft to not sign any such deals with the extortion racket that Microsoft is running.

All these unethical business practices make one wonder what is Microsoft, as an abusive monopoly, doing to make the world a better place? You will find Microsoft missing from the picture. When you ask what are they doing to ensure freedom and openness of the web? You will find them on the other side, helping out the ‘bad’ guys to take control of our lives and make it miserable.

Microsoft was never quite so popular. The company’s entire history is paved with stories about deceit, theft, sabotage, cheating, and obstruction of justice. Google is currently trying to catch up with the patent race [1, 2] and Microsoft lobbyists berate Google over it. It’s all part of the spin. To quote an example of it: “Despite being a very vocal opponent of software patents and how they’re used, Google recently applied for a patent on its variant of a slide-to-unlock feature. If you’ve ever participated in, or even observed, the heated debates over software patents, then you’re likely familiar with Apple’s slide-to-unlock patents (the first issued in 2010; the second issued this year). It’s a controversial topic and Google’s attempt to get into this patent space is interesting — so let’s take a closer look at what’s actually going on.”

In this case, as Google never sues with patents and is only being sued (directly or directly) with them, it is reasonable to let it slide [pun intended]. As long as Google is vocally against software patents, its patents are no worse than Red Hat’s, for example. Mike Masnick writes about the legal counter-action which we suspect is backed by Google:

Barnes & Noble Revealing Microsoft’s ‘Secret’ Patents, Which It Believes Cover Android

Earlier this year, Microsoft continued its shakedown war against all things Android by suing Barnes & Noble for patent infringement over the Nook. As we discussed, B&N is fighting back in a big way, claiming that Microsoft’s shakedown tactics are an antitrust violation. As that effort moves forward, it’s beginning to reveal a ton of useful info. While Microsoft continues to try to keep the patents it’s using in these shakedowns “secret,” B&N has been revealing them.

Given that Google recently promised to help victims of Microsoft racketeering, it seems reasonable to assume that Google plays a role. That’s good. Here is what one blogger writes about the pertinent patents:

Here’s a rundown of the five patents in question:

5778372 – A browser remotely retrieves electronic documents from a remote computer network for viewing by a user. For enhancing responsiveness, the browser initially displays an electronic document without a background image so that the electronic document is initially displayed more quickly. The browser also prioritizes downloading of embedded images of the document by their incorporation in the currently visible portion of the electronic document. Further, the browser dynamically creates additional connections for retrieving resources incorporated into the
electronic document from the remote computer network.

5889522 – New varieties of child window controls are provided as system resources that application programs may exploit. The preferred embodiment of the present invention provides a dynamic link library (DLL) for implementing the new child window controls as part of an operating system. The new child window controls include a header bar control for providing header bars in application programs. The new controls also include a hot key control that allows a user to view and edit hot key combinations. The new controls further include a tab control for establishing tabs that differentiate amongst pages in user interfaces provided by application programs. An image list data type is defined and functions are provided for manipulating the image list data type. Image lists include multiple like-sized images that are stored efficiently in a single bitmap.

6339780 – Described herein is a portable computer having a limited display area. An Internet or other hypermedia browser executes on the portable computer to load and display content in a content viewing area. During times when the browser is loading content, the browser displays a temporary, animated graphic element over the content viewing area. The graphic element is removed after the content is loaded, allowing unobstructed viewing of the loaded content.

6891551 – A computer system and method for highlighting and selecting elements of electronic documents is disclosed. In one embodiment, a selection area identifies an initial selection of data, and one or more selection handles appear on the selection area to allow dynamic resizing of the selection area to select a larger or smaller portion of data or number of items.

6957233 – A system and method for capturing annotations for a non-modifiable document is disclosed. Once it is determined that an annotation is to be created, the system determines the file position of the selected object. The file position of the selected object is stored along with the created annotation in another file or a non-read only portion of a file storing the document. Using the file position, the annotation may be properly identified with the selected object without modifying the non-modifiable document.

For patent 5778372 alone Barnes & Noble offers up an amazing 172 examples of prior art, going all the way back to the Spyglass Mosaic web browser that Internet Explorer was based on. It seems that Barnes & Noble is determined to make Microsoft’s patents seem ‘trivial’ and ‘insignificant’ and that the Redmond giant is using them to damage Android growth.

These should be easy to trash. If successful, this can derail Microsoft’s previous patent ‘deals’ and end this whole madness. Google now knows the patents and it can work on abolishing those through re-examination (taking triviality and prior art into account). This might not help end against Microsoft’s passage of patents to patent trolls, but this too is something that the complaint explicitly covers. It seeks to get regulators involved and the perpetrators get named. The Microsoft boosters who wrote about it just try to spin Microsoft out of this mess. It won’t work. Microsoft’s appalling antics are out there for the world to see. “When Barnes and Noble went public with their 43 page prior art against Microsoft claims of infringement through Linux based Android,” explains one poster in USENET, “it contained a whopping 172 separate items of prior art [...] Proving those unbelievable patent trolls employed by Microsoft are retards [...] It wiped 6 billion off the share value of Microsoft while other technology firms gained or stayed where they were at.

“Was it worth going after Barnes and Noble and Android?

“Not any more it isn’t!!!

“It immediately sank Microsoft shares $6 billion below IBM share value pushing IBM valuation to 218 billion dollars while Microsoft fell to 212 billion. Google shares in relative proportion pushed itself to 91% of the valuation of Microsoft Corporation.”

There are reports right now of table-sized Android devices which further challenge Microsoft in yet another area. Homer writes in USENET that “Microsoft did not invent surface computing,” as we also showed here some years ago (with examples). “It didn’t even invent multi-touch [either],” he adds, providing several examples. “In fact, like Apple, Microsoft has never invented anything, ever, and therefore doesn’t deserve even a single brass cent in “royalties” for any of its plagiarised and assimilated technology.

“Apple and Microsoft are not in the business of invention,” I responded, “they are in the business of marketing and branding, not even mass production (this they just delegate to companies like Foxconn). The marketing is further assisted by back room deals (bribes), litigation, and other forms of extortion.”

Following the move from B&N there was resurgence in the stock and RonB notes: “Comments, updates and disclaimers: This article was published on November 10th. Since then Barnes & Noble’s stock value has risen to $16.58.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think the DOJ has actually opened an investigation into Microsoft’s patent troll tactics in this case (yet), but maybe the writer of the article knows more than anyone else?

“But the fact remains that, thanks to Android devices, Barnes & Noble’s market in ebooks has risen to over 27% and now a company that was “on the ropes” is roaring back.

“Will be interesting to see how this antitrust case will play out. This could be the beginning of the end for Microsoft’s and Apple’s patent extortion.”

There is some other news about outrageous Microsoft patentsand the ‘Microsoft press’ covered this positively along with other Microsoft boosters — people to whom Microsoft is like a family. Contrariwise, Homer says that “Microsoft patents Big Brother thoughtcrime technology”. It is not just that Microsoft is patenting ridiculous things; these things are malicious, too.

We have touched on that some days ago and the patent was mentioned before, so we won’t go into that again. To quote, “Microsoft has filed a patent for a system that monitors the behavior of employees via computers, phone calls, and physical gestures, and alerts human resources if anyone is behaving outside of preferred norms.” The non-Microsoft sites are not particularly impressed. It is bad enough that Microsoft uses patents it never ought to have been granted to extort its rivals; but some of Microsoft’s other patents are making our society worse. Let us remember what Microsoft does with its file system patents, taking payments from everyone for inferior file systems so prone to losing data. Tuxera played along with this and it continues to help Microsoft spread its tax to Linux and Android. Homer says that “Competition” is “a word Redmond is going to have to learn in a big hurry. …and, as mentioned, competing with $0 is *really* difficult.

“Microsoft found a way to compete with zero cost: It’s called patent extortion to drive up that cost.

“Unfortunately for Microsoft, Barnes & Noble may have put the kibosh on that evil plan.”

SUSE Became a Niche Product/Market

Posted in GNU/Linux, Novell at 10:18 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Certification for SUSE
Picture contributed by a reader

Summary: OpenSUSE numbers, some other SUSE news, and a few words about the status of the product

IT HAS been just over a week since OpenSUSE celebrated a new release, which was mostly covered by FOSS writers, e.g. [1, 2] (one needs to know authors’ names). The corporate press seems to pay attention only to Ubuntu releases. Some people upgrade their desktops and servers, so download numbers may not mean all that much (e.g. regarding growth). OpenSUSE did publish numbers:

Our download redirector counted for the first 24 hours the download of 93761 media, the distribution over the various types is:

* NonOss Addon CD BiArch: 1452
* 32-bit x86: 48075 (total)
o Net: 2489
o DVD: 31840
o GNOME-LiveCD: 7392
o KDE-LiveCD: 5561
o Addon-Lang: 793
* 64-bit x86-64: 44234 (total)
o Net: 2444
o DVD: 32927
o GNOME-LiveCD: 4031
o KDE-LiveCD: 4378
o Addon-Lang: 454

This is not particularly impressive, but there will always be someone begging to differ. Many downloads are for server setups or testing. In production environments CentOS is a lot more commonplace. Apart from the release there is almost no news. The release itself was mostly mentioned by SUSE sites like this or that, or even the official blog that speaks of Google funding (moving on to other topics):

Googles Code-in is a program aimed at pre-university students between the age of 13 and 17. It starts on the 21. November, 2011. For this program we provide a list of tasks that are both fun and challenging for the students. Students who work on these tasks get a designated mentor assigned who will guide and help them. The tasks students can pick vary from writing or re-factoring code to doing marketing for the project. Simply everything a FOSS project has to do. Students can of course select tasks according to their interests.

It would be wiser to help distributions that do not serve Microsoft’s agenda.

There is some packaging news [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8] and few reviews of the distribution. There are far fewer reviews than articles that just mention the release. In fact, we found less than a handful proper reviews. Not impressive at all…

Andrew Wafaa is running for the OpenSUSE Board as a non-employee, of which there are several who are enthusiastic to just spread OpenSUSE of all distributions (as misguided as that can be). There are also some HOWTOs out there [1, 2, 3] and an installation video for the new release. Banshee makes its appearance again in SUSE-affiliated blogs and Balsam does too. The SUSE blogs are by far the most dominant sources of news because OpenSUSE is hardly mentioned outside them. Novell’s PR is pretty much defunct and once in a matter of weeks we found them speaking about Vibe; well, they said they had axed it, but recently they mentioned it again. Novell just cannot seem to make up its mind. Given that the head of PR lost his job, it must be chaotic there.

The bottom line is, SUSE or OpenSUSE are not dominant. They were quite dominant before the Microsoft deal, which turned them into “niche” — a distribution for those wishing to pay Microsoft for GNU/Linux although they needn’t.

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