Summary: Leakage of dirty tricks from Microsoft in the UK, promoting patents to impede Free software and standards
THERE was a debate recently about whether lobbying is always a form of corruption or bribery at times (we linked to that at the time). As we saw a few years ago, Microsoft pays people to change legislation. Here is a reminder.
Amid the UK’s open standards consultation, Glyn Moody told us: “I’m sure you know about this, probably already made a submission. But it would be really great if you could encourage your readers to do the same.
“Microsoft’s fear and the primary threat is real choice in the market.”“I’m hearing from multiple sources that things are going really badly – Microsoft’s lobbying is working, and the government is moving towards adopting FRAND licensing for RF. We need to get lots of people explaining why this is bad idea for open source and thus bad for the UK government in terms of achieving their goals of promoting a level playing field and saving money.
“Any help you can give would be appreciated. Deadline for submissions is 3 May.”
Microsoft’s fear and the primary threat is real choice in the market. People are not fond of Microsoft products, but many are left without choice. By meddling with paper Microsoft is hoping to just obliterate competitors, as it has done for decades. One out of IRC regulars recalls what landed Microsoft in the federal courts. Before Microsoft came there was real choice:
So when exactly did this all start? The first reference I can find for Microsoft Windows is from 1993 when Radio Shack introduced windows to it’s customer catalog. Of course before that there was the rise of Microsoft DOS, used by almost every “PC” starting from the original IBM PC released in 1981, the infamous model 5150.
Naturally there is a far older history that doesn’t get talked about much from when computers used kilowatts and sometimes even megawatts of power and filled cavernous rooms with their bulk. The oldest preserved computers date back only to 1959 and the Ferranti Pegasus. Since then there has been a trend towards computers becoming more affordable and more homogeneous.
Right now in Munich the success story (getting rid of Microsoft) is being told and Microsoft cannot manage to squash the truth (it also tried paying Munich to derail this, it even sent out the trolls). Quoting a European Commission site:
Switching to a vendor independent desktop based on open source reduces costs and results in fewer calls to help desks, show figures provided last month by the Mayor of Munich, Christian Ude. Replacing the current almost ten thousand open source desktops by a proprietary system would increase costs by some 25 per cent, the Mayor shows in his response to questions from a city councillor.
FSFE leader Karsten Gerloff from Germany is pleased to see that Glyn Moody has just gotten a treasure trove of yet more Microsoft dirty tricks:
Wow, two thumbs up to @glynmoody for obtaining & processing files on Microsoft lobbying UK Cabinet Office. Keep the reports coming!
A regular on IRC says that in light”of [Microsoft] fight against open standards, it tries to re-define them. Moody comes close to hitting on that (with the FRAND example) but does not explicitly point it out. It’s a tactic M[icrosoft] uses again and again.”
“1st report on a treasure trove of FOI documents I have on MS lobbying” calls it Glyn Moody, who blogged some details in this first part. Investigative journalism at it finest:
Regular readers may recall that I was not a little taken aback by an astonishing U-turn performed by the Cabinet Office on the matter of open standards. As I pointed out in a follow-up article, this seemed to bear the hallmarks of a Microsoft intervention, but I didn’t have any proof of that.
So, without much hope, I put in a Freedom of Information request through the wonderful WhatDoTheyKnow site (highly recommended), asking for details of all the meetings that Microsoft had had with the Cabinet Office on this subject. To my utter astonishment I was sent a real cornucopia of briefing notes and emails that Microsoft used to lobby against Restriction-Free (RF) open standards and in favour for standards based on FRAND licensing of claimed patents.
Over the next few days I shall be presenting some of the astonishing things that Microsoft has been saying behind closed doors in its attempt to derail truly open standards. These are extremely timely given the current UK government consultation on open standards, which I’ve already urged you to respond to several times.
First of all, I have to say how impressed I am with the Cabinet Office’s response. Aside from redacting a few names from the memos, for entirely understandable reasons to do with preserving private information, the documents are essentially complete.
The tenor of the current document – and of Microsoft’s whole attack on true open standards – is that RF open standards are somehow unnatural, or unfair on big companies, and yet by its own admission it has contributed technology to open standards on RF terms not once or twice but dozens of times.
So the question has to be: why is it objecting now? Is it just so that it can exclude open source from future UK government tenders? Or could it be simply that it thinks it can bully the UK government in a way that it couldn’t bully other organisations? This is certainly something that the Cabinet Office should be exploring with Microsoft when they next meet, since the above statement undercuts the company’s position that it can’t work with RF open standards.
Nobody is suggesting that GSM phones, say, should be banned from UK government use, as Microsoft’s letter seems to insinuate. For a start, these are hardware standards, and not about software interoperability at all; secondly, there are no comparable RF open standards that could be used, and even if there were, there would be clear business reasons why GSM phones should still be purchased. There simply isn’t a problem here.
This straw man attack on non-existent difficulties is symptomatic of Microsoft’s general assault on the idea of RF open standards, and in subsequent posts I shall be exploring other examples of arguments and techniques that it deployed last year in an attempt to turn the UK government against the idea of producing a level playing field for UK procurement through the introduction of truly open and truly fair open standards.
British citizens can contact their authorities and help reveal the truth if not expose this disgraceful behaviour from Microsoft as well. Apple is also a foe of standards by the way, for many reasons including this latest: [via]
Apple Computer came under fire for back-pedaling on its support for IPv6, the next-generation Internet Protocol, at a gathering of experts held in Denver this week.
Presenters at the North American IPv6 Summit expressed annoyance that the latest version of Apple’s AirPort Utility, Version 6.0, is no longer compatible with IPv6. The previous Version, 5.6, offered IPv6 service by default.
Apple also supports OOXML. What we are dealing with here is an assault on a government’s natural inclination to choose software it controls and trusts — software that the population would approve. █
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Summary: A collection of patent news involving Microsoft, Motorola, Germany, and also New Zealand
THE EXTORTION racket of Microsoft is being glamourised in a pro-patents site, which agreed to give a platform to Microsoft’s extortions guy Horacio Gutierrez. A German patent lawyer is meanwhile doing what he can to promote software patents in Europe, ignoring all common sense and how the world really works. In a 2007 paper titled “Ignoring Patents” we see quite clearly that patents are not honoured by anyone, not when it comes to other companies’ patents. The EPO uses Siemens for some PR, as usual (Siemens is one of the patent fiends in Europe).
In a patent lawyers’ site, it is revealed that Sweden too makes moves that constitute a threat to a status quo of no software patents. Will a central court be set up in Germany as some officials hope? In Germany there’s some precedence for software patents, probably the strongest one in Europe. To quote patents boosters:
The AmeriKat was again struck by how little we know regarding the negotiation process and the UK Government’s position. Although one cannot expect to know every detail of the substance of the Member States’ negotiations on the unitary patent package the radio silence as to the progress, where they are taking place, who with and/or deadlines is somewhat disconcerting. The only signs of life on this issue seem to have come from the House of Commons and the European patent profession, including signs of disquiet in Sweden by way of a letter sent to the Confederation of Swedish Industries to their Ministry of Trade on 17 February (here) which stated that they and the Swedish negotiating team wished for Articles 6 to 8 to be deleted from the Proposed Regulation. In addition, and somewhat ironically given last year’s push to finalize the unitary patent proposals under the Polish Presidency, there are reports that sections of the patent profession in Poland are also unhappy with the proposals (see report here).
As we will show in the next post, Microsoft too plays a role in promoting software patents in Europe while fearing the status quo of Germany being unfriendly to such patents (compared to the US). As Glyn Moody explains:
It’s striking that Microsoft isn’t such a big fan of patent courts — especially efficient ones that produce their judgments rapidly — when it is on the receiving end of patent lawsuits, rather than the one making the threats.
It’s also pretty rich that Microsoft should complain about the possibility of an injunction being granted against it by another jurisdiction when that is precisely what it is trying to do by filing an action against Motorola in the International Trade Commission as well as in a US District Court. If Microsoft says German courts shouldn’t get involved in its dispute with Motorola, it’s equally ridiculous that an international trade body should be dragged into a domestic dispute between two US companies, as Techdirt has noted before.
Basically, Microsoft is just whining because it thinks it’s going to lose in Germany, and has gone running to the US judge in an attempt to subvert that country’s judicial system. It’s a huge pity that he acceded to this ridiculous request: it creates a terrible precedent that’s likely to lead to more such interference in the legal systems of other countries — including foreign courts ordering companies not to obey US rulings — and a general weakening of respect for the rule of law around the world.
Microsoft is also sending some paid lobbyists from Germany — ones who lie about their intentions (business model). Moody will be mentioned also in the next post and a few days ago he drew attention to an article from New Zealand (NZ). Written by Stephen Bell (as usual), the article shows how American lobbyists interfere with NZ’s decision to ban software patents:
NZRise president Don Christie says he is disappointed with delays to the passing of the Patents Bill and questions some of the explanation given by Commerce Minister Craig Foss.
“We keep hearing that this Bill is important for the knowledge economy,” Christie said. “What the minister is saying now is different from what his predecessor, Simon Power was telling us; he was writing letters [to NZRise] last year, telling us the government was pushing the Bill through.”
Despite having been in the Parliamentary process since 2008, the Patents Bill still languishes well down in the Order Paper (No 47 as at Monday April 2), and is awaiting Parliament’s consideration of the Commerce select committee’s report, followed by the Bill’s second reading.
The committee’s report contained a contentious clause barring patents on software. Though there has been some attempt at qualifying this to admit patents on software-controlled machinery and the like, the core clause states “a computer program is not a patentable invention.”
Not only Microsoft is behind it; Intel too is among the multinationals that seek to harm NZ. █
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Photo by RightOnBrother
Summary: Simon Phipps on Sony and Philips
THE patent wars are not getting any better, but one very important observation that we missed is the following from Simon Phipps:
Open source patent defense Open Invention Network recently expanded its patent protection for Linux. Good news, sullied by the discovery that founder members Sony and Phillips carved out exceptions so they didn’t face competition from Linux in their consumer products. Open is good as long as we don’t have to be.
Very interesting. We wrote about Philips’ patent trolling before [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. With friends like these, need Linux have enemies? █
Disclosure: My brother is a software engineer at Philips (CT equipment).
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Summary: News from France showing that INRIA lost its way
ACCORDING TO some articles in French, INRIA is entering a shame list. Here is one such article in French and those who speak French comment as follows:
INRIA becomes a french patent troll thanks to France Brevets
This is unfortunate because INRIA does good work in my professional field. Will INRIA start attacking with patents? INRIA is not a producing company. Here is another article, which is interpreted as saying that:
France Brevets’s founder was inspired by Intellectual Ventures
Way to go. Inspiration comes from the world’s biggest patent troll, bankrolled in part by Microsoft and founded by Microsoft folks. █
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Pressure is mounting
Summary: A collection of items from the past month, all of which show the need and desire for a serious patent reform
THE USE of patents against software products is getting very widespread, especially in the lucrative mobile arena (lawsuits en masse with multiple defendants). Julie Samuels from the EFF urged SCOTUS to do something (we already covered the nonchalance of the SCOTUS) and so did CATO, which wrote:
In his famous essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” Friedrich Hayek argued that the socialists of his day falsely assumed that knowledge about economy could be taken as “given” to central planners. In reality, information about the economy—about what products are needed and where the necessary resources can be found—is dispersed among a society’s population. Economic policies that implicitly depend on omniscient decision-makers are doomed to failure, because the decision-makers won’t have the information they need to make good decisions.
In a new paper to be published by the NYU Annual Survey of American Law, Christina Mulligan (who drafted a recent amicus brief for Cato) and I argue that the contemporary patent debate suffers from a similar blind spot. A patent is a demand that the world refrain from using a particular machine or process. To comply with this demand, third parties need an efficient way to discover which patents they are in danger of infringing. Yet we show that for some industries, including software, the costs of discovering which patents one is in danger of infringing are astronomical. As a consequence, most software firms don’t even try to avoid infringing peoples’ patents.
There is more and more scholarly work pointing out the obvious (e.g. newest study from Bessen and his co-workers), but decisions to permit patenting of algorithms are not fact- or evidence-based, they are lobbying-based.
A month ago someone wrote this essay which says:
Impractical Software patents
Software patents are utterly impractical to promote innovation. Here are a few American articles that we recommend you to read to broaden your clear understanding of numerous and inextricable software patents issues. The multiplication of insane litiges is an additional proof that software patents are an inadequate tool. In reality the patent establishment is the main pushing force towards software patentability in Europe with the support of some major IT companies. Their main and sad aim is not to promote but to impede technology and distort markets.
Yahoo employees were furious at the time as “Aspiring Patent Troll Yahoo Shakes Down Facebook” with patents from engineers who never wanted software patents anyway. Yes, even many of those who earn software patents are fundamentally against it; their employers prod them for it. Why are those patents legal in the first place? Who are they really for? There is "institutional corruption" at play — a disparity between reality and practice, public opinion and existing law. █
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Summary: Bits and pieces from the news about phones and office suites
THE duopoly from the West Coast has met Linux and it doesn’t like what it’s seeing.
Android makes the hypePhone less desirable and analysts notice this. “Walter Piecyk, an analyst with BTIG Research, issued a rare downgrade on shares of Apple Inc. on Monday,” says a pro-Apple site, “moving his recommendation from “Buy” to “Neutral.” In a research note to clients, Mr. Piecyk said that changes to aggressive carrier subsidy policies will result in fewer smartphone upgrades. He also expressed doubt about Apple’s ability to wrangle US$600 per iPhone in emerging markets where carrier subsidies are few and far between.”
Microsoft itself is deep in the gutter of mobile platforms, as a matter of course.
Microsoft has been relying on people buying a computer with Windows or OS X on it, then paying for a copy of the cash cow, Microsoft Office. Now that more people move into mobile computing (and off Windows) this cash cow is in danger. Even Microsoft-affiliated publications like Slate dare to call for the death of Office (or Word). The crux of the argument:
Nowadays, I get the same feeling of dread when I open an email to see a Microsoft Word document attached. Time and effort are about to be wasted cleaning up someone’s archaic habits. A Word file is the story-fax of the early 21st century: cumbersome, inefficient, and a relic of obsolete assumptions about technology. It’s time to give up on Word.
People prefer to be given URLs to access work through. This is why Microsoft plays catchup with Office 360 (5 days downtime).
Cash cows like Office and iPhone are losing share to Google, so it’s no wonder that the duopolists attack Google together. █
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Summary: News analysis and preparation for patent news catchup
THE lawsuits against Red Hat and Google help teach us that once someone is making money with Linux, patents come knocking on the door in pursuit of a share of the profits. As Simon Phipps recently explained, everyone loses from this practice (except lawyers). He speaks specifically about the Oracle case and it is summarised as follows:
Besides Google, biggest loser is free culture in general and open source in particular. Here’s your guide to what’s at stake
As a former manager at Sun (of Java fame), Phipps understands what’s at stake and in the rest of this month we are going to catch up with patent news that we missed in March and April (due to personal reasons).
The new Android case kicks off and Groklaw provides detailed analysis while the less legalese-savvy press follows the lead. As Pogson puts it, “Oracle [is] is clutching at straws,” for reasons we covered here before. █
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