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11.27.11

Patents Roundup: Broken System as the News Attests to the Failure

Posted in Apple, Law, Microsoft, Patents at 3:14 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Brick wall

Summary: Some bits of news that seem relevant to the patent wars which affect Linux and Free software in general

THE US patent system is as broken as it has been since the start of this year (and probably more broken than ever before).

Lodsys the patent troll extorts a company, proving just how ridiculous things have become and The Economist says: “The number of patent applications in the world rose from around 800,000 in the early 1980s to 1.8m in 2009, according to the World Intellectual Property Report 2011, newly published by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).”

This is not a good thing and it also shows that patents are not indicative of innovation. Innovation did not just double in a couple of decades. What we see here is a world that gets increasingly troubled and disturbed by patent monopolies.

When patent trolls like Intellectual Ventures are the ones rising while other companies — real companies that make products — declare bankruptcy, then innovation is truly doomed.

The corporate press continues playing along with this whole “IP” extravaganza and The Register shows Apple trying to get monopolies in the field of Computer Vision, which is a field I work in. According to this article:

Apple secured a patent yesterday on software to create and identify 3D models of faces, animals, aircraft, military vehicles and tumours in one of the more unusual tech patents to be awarded in recent months. This came to light after the US Patent and Trademark Office published a series of newly awarded patents.

Shame on Apple for claiming monopolies on mathematical methods. That’s what Computer Vision is about, mostly manipulation of matrices. There is no excuse for granting exclusive rights on use of geometry. Whose laws of nature are these anyway?

Over in New Zealand the Pirate Party does good work that tackles the patent question (like the Pirate Party in Australia) and in its latest move we find more evidence of that:

Party president Tommy Fergusson said the key issues for the party were the “three strikes” copyright regime that came into force in September, under which people can be fined up to $15,000 for downloading copyright material, software patents and a filtering system set up by Internal Affairs to block access to child pornography sites.

The part relevant to us is about software patents. Other parties do not talk about it. Over in Europe, regulators get involved and one source says that “The European Commission ‘s vice president for competition, Joaquin Almunia, has for the first time publicly voiced his concern about how certain high-tech companies may be using intellectual property rights unfairly to thwart rivals and distort competition, reports Reuters.

“Almunia’s decision to speak publicly could signal that an official investigation is in the works.

“In particular, the European Commission is looking into the spate of smartphone patent battles between Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Samsung Corp. , but it has not yet launched an official probe. The EC requested information from Apple and Samsung, but Almunia said he has not received answers. (See Euronews: Vodafone Guns for UK Govt Deals.)”

How does any of this patent confrontation which Apple started benefit the European buyers? Here is what Murdoch’s press quotes in relation to this:

“The patent system is very seriously screwed up,” says Ed Black

Ed Black was paid by Microsoft and even he is able that the patent system lost its way.

Some of the better examples of the patent system being broken come from the smartphones sector. Here is a new article about this which says:

Smartphone sector in a patent arms race

[...]

Specifically, an eruption of patent lawsuits has occurred between almost every major developer of smartphone hardware and software in the industry. In many respects, companies are buying insurance against future legal action, injunctions, etc.

Microsoft is currently using Nokia as a patents weapon, probably against Android (through MOSAID). The president of the FFII writes: “Nokia patent lawyer gives no solution for SMEs attacked by trolls, left them in the cold by dark software patent system”

The Pirate Party in New Zealand has also just stepped in (yes, again) and gotten involved in the news again. No other party seems to be doing anything substantial about it. Those who do simply struggle to get funding and those who do (like the German Pirate Party) sell out by taking money from supporters of software patents. Here is what happens in New Zealand:

Internet users in Hamilton East and Wellington who are concerned about the “Skynet” copyright regime will have a chance to make a protest vote at the election tomorrow.

The Pirate Party failed to garner the 500 members it needed to contest the party vote in the election, but is fielding candidates in the two constituencies.

What we desperately need in all nation is a political presence that realises what patents are really about. Not some online petitions which give a shallow impression of the public being listened to; we need real action. The Against Monopoly Web site cites a new article that tackles an issue related to software patents and remarks as follows:

The New York Times ran a surprisingly long and tough piece from Reuters titled Making Sense of Patent Law link here. It opens, saying “The United States Supreme Court has a chance to reverse the mission creep in patent law. The system is supposed to reward inventors but not stifle innovation. Fuzzy and overly broad concepts like thought processes generally are not protected. Yet one company, Prometheus Laboratories, reckons it owns a method for interpreting how patients react to a drug.”

It then traces the history of patent law covering ideas which consistently forbade such patents but by 1994, was patenting “any software with a practical purpose.”

What example can be cited of a software patent bringing real progress and lowering costs? Innovation is supposed to be about benefits, not the hoarding of paperwork and legal fees that accompany this.

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