Patents Roundup: Oracle Lessens Android Demands, Red Hat Suggests Cure to Trolls, Debian Adopts New Patent Policy
Proprietary giants and their trolls cut the Linux cake
Summary: Patent news which applies to Linux or other vital parts of the Free software world
THE hype of patents is everywhere in the news [1, 2] (more so than in prior years), but more and more cases are “[r]equesting a government evaluation of whether a patent was properly issued,” as part of a process “known as reexamination [which] is cheaper than a lawsuit and has an easier standard for discrediting a patent than what is allowed before a judge or jury. With a success rate of about 90 percent, companies have almost doubled requests in the past five years, turning the patent office into a reliable forum to shoo away competitors’ claims of patent infringement.”
What this tells us is that many patents get granted which should never have been granted in the first place. There is clearly a bubble. This system is not working, except for lawyers.
“This system is not working, except for lawyers.”According to this important bit of news, Oracle changed its tune because its patent assault is failing. This is covered here, citing Pamela Jones, who writes: “Oracle has told the court it wishes to withdraw its last claim of the ’476 patent, claim 14, no doubt having read Google’s letter to the judge asking for permission to file a motion for summary judgment of invalidity of claim 14. This is the last claim of that patent still in the case. The USPTO in December issued a final rejection of 17 of the 21 claims of this ’476 patent, anyway, including all seven of the patent’s independent claims, and while Oracle has until February 20 to appeal, the handwriting is on the wall. Whatever it decides about an appeal, claim 14, and hence patent ’476, is no longer in this litigation.”
This comes amid more updates on the copyright case of Oracle, which might even be easier to toss out because, just like in the SCO case, unless there are lines of code to be shown, this whole case is weak and hinged on the question of APIs.
Here is the report on damages:
Last Friday Google filed a motion to substantially strike both the third damages report submitted by Dr. Cockburn on behalf of Oracle and the conjoint analysis report submitted by Dr. Shugan on behalf of Oracle. (718 [PDF; Text]) If successful, this motion will virtually preclude the Oracle damages experts from testifying at trial. PJ did a fine job covering the flaws in these reports identified by Google. Now we consider the likelihood of success of the motion.
Oracle’s case against Android is not the only case, but many of the others involve Apple, Microsoft, and their patent trolls. They strive to elevate the cost of Android. Here is the unofficial Red Hat message regarding fix for the common troll (not for software patents in general)
First, create a compulsory licensing mechanism for patents whose owners are not making competitive use of the technology in those patents. Patent owners should be required to declare the areas or products that incorporate the patented technology. All other non-practiced areas should be subject to a compulsory license fee. (A non-practiced “area” would be a market or technology sector or activity in which the patent owner is not using or licensing the invention rights, though the owner may be using the patent in other “areas.”) Licensing rates for patents could be set by patent classification or sub-classification based on industry average licensing rates for each such technology. Again, this would only apply to applications where the patent is not being practiced or voluntarily licensed by the patent owner.
Given the vast number of patents issued, an accused party should have a reasonable, set time after receiving notice of a patent within which to pay for the license going forward. Compulsory licenses are authorized by the treaties we have entered into, and we have significant experience with compulsory licensing of copyrighted works from which to develop an analogous patent mechanism. Uniform rates could be set.
Second, cap past damages for trolls at $1 million per patent and eliminate the possibility of obtaining injunctive relief for infringement of patents that are not in use, or are not used commercially, by the patent owner.
Third, a mandatory fee shifting provision should be put in place where the plaintiff is required to pay the defendant’s reasonable defense fees if the plaintiff does not obtain a better recovery than what was offered by the defendant. (Presently, there is such a cost shifting mechanism in place; however, the relevant costs typically are a tiny fraction of the legal fees in a case.)
Fourth, for U.S. domestic defendants, require that suits be brought in the venue where the defendant’s primary place of business is located.
Fifth, if a party wants more than limited discovery from the opposing side, particularly for electronically stored information (ESI), the requesting party should pay the cost of production. For large technology companies, ESI production alone can cost into the seven figures.
Red Hat aside (it has legal mechanisms that others do not), Debian sets a new software patents policy:
A new software policy from the Debian Project seeks to minimize its exposure to patent litigation. But could the new policies create friction with other projects within the community?
At first, you might think a statement from the Debian Project denouncing software patents was as obvious as “the sky is blue,” or “Richard Stallman will make you write GNU/Linux 500 times if you call free software ‘open source,’” but nonetheless, I thought the policy itself was rather interesting.
The policy is rather brief, which makes it very clear and concise. Consisting of only five clauses, the policy outlines how the Debian Project wants to handle patents associated with software: namely, it wants nothing to do with them. The meat of the policy is in the first three clauses:
For users of Debian there is no indemnification, so it they don’t choose Red Hat, then they are left in a different legal position. SJVN has this new article advising CIOs in case of patent lawsuits:
The recent Bilski Supreme Court decision has made it far, far too likely that your company may face a patent lawsuit at some point.
You may think that the last thing on earth that could happen to your company would be that your business might be sued because it used a particular software program. You’d be wrong.
In the aftermath of the Bilski Supreme Court decision, the Supreme Court did nothing to stop software or business method patents. As a result, not only software development companies but all businesses are now in more danger from patent lawsuits than ever before.