Summary: Software patents disdain as seen in this week’s news
THE backlash against software patents is very clear to see. With matrices as monopolies I am unable to do my work, at least not peacefully or without worries about taking it out there to market. Mike Masnick explains “Why It’s Mathematically Impossible To Avoid Infringing On Software Patents” and he makes some good points, as usual. Mozilla, meanwhile, struggles with codec monopolies, which are also all about maths — some of which controlled by MPEG-LA. Ryan from our IRC channels wrote about the subject in a better way than most did (including another Ryan, from Ars Technica):
Microsoft and Apple, which are also criminal cartels, are also members of the MPEG-LA, and are trying to wipe out the open and unencumbered VP8 and Ogg Vorbis combination known as WebM by refusing to support it in Safari and Internet Explorer.
Mozilla and Opera have so far not implemented MPEG codecs because they would be gouged by the MPEG-LA’s innovation tax.
The problem for the user, which is caught in the middle, is that sites that are out there today and insisting on MPEG-4, such as Vimeo, won’t work in Firefox or Opera in HTML 5 mode, and require the proprietary binary blob with gazillions of security problems known as “Adobe Flash” to play their content.
Mozilla is not proposing to ship the offending codecs themselves, but to just use the ones on the system, if any. On Windows, they can hook into DirectShow, on OS X they can hook into Quicktime, and on Linux they can hook into and use anything Gstreamer can play. Of course Android, iOS, and Windows Phone (with all three people who have one) all have their own media codecs.
Despite recent mistakes, Mozilla’s opposition to software patents and to MPEG-LA (there is adherence to free codecs) was covered here before. Mozilla is truly a proponent of Open Source, unlike Google with Chrome. Here is a new video campaign from Mozilla:
Taking the message to its users, Mozilla launched a user-generated video contest to help educate how its open-source browser, Firefox, differs from the pack.
“Browsers control what’s possible on the Web,” said Mozilla CMO Chris Beard, who joined the company just prior to the Firefox launch about seven years ago. “There is a lot of commercial interest vying for that control.”
Beard called Mozilla’s strategy “grassroots,” noting that the ad campaign should be seen as an extension of the company’s strategy. About 2 million people try Firefox daily around the world. The browser supports about 400 million users.
But the more important point is that, in fact, the patent office does a really bad job at searching for prior art. In the famous patent episode of This American Life, they ask M-CAM to analyze a particular patent to see if similar concepts had been patented before. As I recall, they found the same concept had been patented dozens of times. Indeed, I’ve read that in the early years of the Internet, patent examiners were actually prohibited from using the Internet to search for prior art—even for patents related to Internet technologies.
The problem with tracking “the patents owned by your competitors and the trolls” is that you don’t know who the trolls are, or which patents they hold, until one of them sends you a cease and desist letter. There are at least two reasons for this. First, there’s no centralized registry of patent ownership, so while it’s easy to tell who was initially granted a patent, there’s no reliable way to tell if a particular patent has been sold to someone else. Second, legitimate companies regularly sell patents to trolls, or become trolls themselves. And even if you could somehow overcome these two obstacles, there are enough trolls out there now that even searching through troll-owned patents would be a serious burden.
In any event, software firms really do ignore patents when designing new products. You should read Mark Lemley’s excellent paper on the subject if you don’t believe me.
Software patents really need to go away. Nobody wants them except monopolies and patent lawyers. █