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03.25.12

More Calls, Hopes to End Software Patents in the United States

Posted in Patents at 6:18 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

USPTO building

Summary: News about software patents in the US, with the real possibility of simply eliminating all of them

THE thing about software patents is, a lot of people are against them. The apathetic do not understand the subject and those who are informed are almost always against software patents.

The legal meta-industry does not care what the public wants. This fake ‘industry’ just monetises litigation, disputes, and paperwork. The SCOTUS is again asked to review a software patents ruling, but we don't hold our breath when it comes to the SCOTUS. As The H put it:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) civil rights organisation, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), and open source company Red Hat have urged the US Supreme Court to provide further guidelines on the patentability of software and computer-based inventions. They have asked the Supreme Court to clarify the point at which an idea becomes too abstract to be patented, saying that current legislation in this area is inconsistent, confusing and impedes progress in the internet and computer fields.

Rob Tiller from Red Hat sees the possibility of software patents losing their teeth in the US. In a new article he states:

The Supreme Court’s new opinion on patent eligibility is an important step in the right direction in addressing the problem of software patents. It shows that the Court is mindful of the risks that patents can hold for innovation, and will provide a useful precedent for the next big software patents case.

The case, Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., concerned the validity of patents of Prometheus relating to diagnostic testing for autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The patents set forth levels of metabolites in the bloodstream that would indicate whether a particular drug dosage should be increased or decreased.

Meanwhile, the corporate press in the US joins the call to end software patents, citing CATO:

But what if we left morality out of it entirely? As a new paper by Cato’s Timothy B. Lee and Yale’s Christina Mulligan details, there are far more severe practical problems with our current approach to software patents. Say you’re developing some software, and you want to make sure you’re not infringing on anyone else’s work. How would you even go about doing this? There’s no easily searchable database for software ideas — it’s not like cross-checking chemical formulas, which are easily “indexable.” In fact, Lee and Mulligan argue that there’s no good way to create a convenient database for software patents. Which means that trying to check for infringement is all but impossible for developers.

To get a sense for the scale, Lee and Mulligan estimate that if every firm in America that uses software — from maintaining a Web site to using an Internet-based invoice system — wanted to check its code for infringement, it would take 2 million patent attorneys, working full time, to pore over the records. That would cost about $400 billion in lawyer’s fees. And, for reference, there are only around 40,000 software patent lawyers currently employed in America today. That’s why most developers don’t even bother checking for infringement. The costs are prohibitively high. Instead, they plow ahead with development and hope for the best.

This, of course, is excellent news for patent trolls. As a trio of Boston University researchers — James E. Bessen, Michael J. Meurer, and Jennifer Laurissa Ford — recently found, infringement lawsuits filed by companies that aren’t even using their patents (known as “non-practicing entities”) have skyrocketed since 1990, costing the economy $500 billion over that timeframe and depressing innovation.

Derrick Harris asks, “Can big data fix a broken system for software patents?”

The answer is no; the solution is to eliminate this whole category of patents, not search for prior art.

As long as companies buy software patents with intention of litigation (see “Savtira Expands Patent Portfolio, Looks to Protect Growing Proprietary Cloud IP”) or blocking competition, we are moving backwards. To quote:

Innovate/Protect is the owner of patent assets acquired from Lycos, one of the largest search engine websites of its kind in the mid-late 1990s, with technologies that remain critical to current search platforms.

All those patents become toxic waste, doing nothing but hold back progress. Those Lycos patents are not going to improve search or provide Lycos with an incentive to innovate, not at present anyway.

Software Patents in Israel and the Effect on Europe

Posted in Europe, Patents at 6:02 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Disturbing new developments from last week in Israel involve the European Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBoA)

FOR quite some time now we have looked at the patent situation in the EU. European patent lawyers stalk blog posts such as this one, which help them push their agenda (software patents in Europe). This one post speaks of an appeal:

This appeal was filed against a decision to refuse a European patent for lack of inventive step.

A few years ago we got involved in the EBoA inquiry. We’ll return to discussing software patents in Europe some time later this month.

In the mean time, it seems as though Israel too is being besieged by software patents, with parasites like Emblaze (not exactly patent trolls but close to that) getting money to go ahead with their lawsuits:

Cash continues to be king at Emblaze, the Israeli technology firm which is suing Apple for alleged patent infringements.

What’s actually worse though is that according to the pro-software patents crowd, Israel is getting software patents:

On 15th March 2012 the Israeli patent registrar has issued new guidelines to determine patentable inventions by clarifying the definition of “technological invention”, as defined by Section 3 of the Patent Law. Until recently, software inventions were treated according to case law, which did not provide clear guidelines and was interpreted differently by different examiners. This resulted in applications being treated differently, making it practically impossible for an applicant to predict whether its application would be accepted.

The long-awaited guidelines clarify the Israeli approach regarding software inventions in an attempt to make all Israeli examinations consistent. The guidelines are far more convenient for applicants than the Patent Office’s previous practice to date, and represent an attempt to address the fact that Israel is a leading authority in high-tech and software-related innovation.

According to the new guidelines, a claim will be considered as a whole when determining technological inventions and will not be separated into features for such determinations.

In order to be considered a patentable invention, the claimed process or system should comprise a concrete technological character or a concrete technical result. The guidelines refer to Decision G0003/08 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office in order to define a “concrete technological character”. This is also an attempt to make the new Israeli guidelines compatible with the European approach.

We wrote about this before [1, 2, 3]. This has the potential to affect Europe as cohesive central policy relies on member nations or nearby countries stepping in line (which is why the Unitary Patent is very bad too).

ISO Helps Patent Cartels, Monopolies; Mozilla Surrenders, Fedora Will Not

Posted in ISO, Patents, Standard at 5:33 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

MPEG LA logo

Summary: Criticism of ISO and a few bits of news about Free software projects and their response to MPEG-LA

THE PR wires teach us that the corrupt ISO is still up to no good, this time floating the MPEG cartel, as usual. Mark Ballard, a fantastic British journalist, shows us just how incompetent — if not corrupt — ISO really is:

The International Standards Organisation has admitted it doesn’t know what an open standard is, despite trying to have the UK’s open standards policy quashed.

The situation has left ISO and its franchise partners, such as the UK’s British Standards Institution, looking a lot less authoritative. While open standards are being branded onto statutes around Europe, and after more than half a decade of controversies so great it caused street protests against ISO’s treatment of the open standards issue, the legal authority on standards now refuses even to acknowledge its existence.

Yet ISO and its partners had so successfully lobbied against the UK open standards policy last year that the Cabinet Office withdrew it. And its lobbying, like that of all those who opposed the policy, concerned one specific question: what is an open standard.

ISO and its partners said the UK had got the answer wrong. So what then should it be? That’s what Computer Weekly has been pressing ISO to say since January.

“ISO does not have a definition of ‘open standard’,” is what ISO said finally this week.

It sounded incredible. But it exposed how frail ISO’s position had become.

If the ISO does not get its act together, it deserves to become obsolete. Fedora, for example, still ignores the MPEG maze that ISO is endorsing. Mozilla, much to our regret, says that “mobile matters most” when it excuses itself for selling out, leading to defeatism among those who underestimate the importance of this issue.

Mozilla’s choice was covered here before and the importance of the matter is explained in this new article from Free Software Magazine:

Whether we like it or not, H.264 is “the” de-facto standard on the Internet. Every time you visit Youtube, you are watching a video encoded using the H.264 standard. The video quality is great, the compression is astonishing. And so is the price. H.264 is subject to a huge number of software patents. You need to pay hefty licensing fees if you want to create H.264 files today. We, the users, are not feeling this as we are not paying a cent. However, the freedomes allowed by this format are limited, and vague at best: here is why. (Note: this piece originally had a different title, “The bomb called H.264 is set to explode in 2015. Are you watching?”. However, I have been pointed out that the terms have indeed been extended. The problem, however, is still there)

We wrote several articles about it last year. MPEG is still very nasty poison, and it should be avoided vigorously.

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