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05.16.12

Android Under Patent Attacks From Nokia, Microsoft, and Oracle

Posted in GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Patents at 11:34 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Military boat

Summary: A roundup of patent news involving Android and the US patent/copyright system, which facilitates ridiculous patents or lawsuits over APIs

THE moment that Nokia started suing Android vendors with patents we knew that it was just the beginning of Elop’s ugly strategy. Nokia now uses 45 patents against HTC and Viewsonic, which are responsible for many Android devices. Nokia is not going to sue Microsoft because it has been acting more as a proxy for Microsoft since signing a bizarre real that led to lawsuits against the management.

“Nokia is not going to sue Microsoft because it has been acting more as a proxy for Microsoft since signing a bizarre real that led to lawsuits against the management.”Now that Oracle directly supplies Java updates for Apple platforms, it sure seems like Oracle has also been acting as a bit of a proxy for Apple with its anti-Android lawsuit. Oracle’s CEO considers Apple’s spiritual leader to be his “best friend” after all. Oracle has not quite been getting its way so far. “Google vs Oracle court case reached a milestone today as the jury gave its verdict,” claimed a recent article. “The verdict is clearly in favor of Google as in this phase Oracle gets nothing out of this expensive court case.”

The same source says that “Oracle has already lost the first round of its battle against Google’s Android as only 9 lines of code found to be infringing which amounts to $0 in damages.”

There is a lot of coverage in Groklaw (with a lot of comments), but it’s very much aimed at lawyers. CNET speaks of Google’s stance:

Google sums up: No ‘shred of evidence’ for patent claim

[...]

Google’s counsel followed up with its closing statements in phase two of its legal battle against Oracle at the U.S. District Court of Northern California on Tuesday morning.

CNET is also summing up Oracle’s arguments and it mentioned Europe's stance on copyright on APIs right here. CNET has a lot of coverage on this subject and it is actually not too bad. Ars Technica writes this piece about the stance of glorified lawyers (judges):

Top judge: ditching software patents a “bad solution”

For decades, the courts have struggled to decide what types of innovation are eligible for patent protection. For much of that time, the central institution in that debate has been the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the appeals court that has jurisdiction over patent cases.

The Federal Circuit has been strongly pro-patent since its inception in 1982. It was the court that opened the floodgates for software patents with a series of permissive decisions during the 1990s. And it was the court that gave the green light to patents on medical diagnostic techniques, only to be overruled by the Supreme Court in March.

Why is the Federal Circuit so enthusiastic about extending patent protection to new fields? The court’s current members are understandably circumspect, but retired judges can be more candid. So on Friday, Ars Technica traveled to Princeton University to hear a keynote address by retired Judge Paul Michel, as part of a conference on patent law. Michel served on the Federal Circuit form 1988 to 2010, and was its chief judge for the last six years of his tenure. His comments shed light on the motivations behind the dramatic changes in patent law over the last two decades.

Judges ought not to rule on those matters because being lawyers — not productive workers — they serve an agenda other than the public’s.

Over at IDG, Dr. Glyn Moody, a scientist by background and trade, explains why software patents are bad and ties that to Microsoft’s lobbying:

VideoLAN shows how real that problem is. There simply aren’t many free software projects implementing video standards, say, because it’s impossible for them to comply with FRAND licensing. The only software that has flourished in this sector – VLC – has done so because the project is located in France, with laws there that it believes allow it to use those video standards without needing any licence at all. And as the project’s final comment makes clear, VideoLAN is not claiming that its users are covered by any licence. On the contrary, it explicitly warns them that it takes no responsibility for any “illegal use” of its projects.

I suggest that in many parts of the world, open source programs like VLC are indeed being used illegally, for the simple reason that VideoLAN has no licence to implement the video standards that are subject to patents in some parts of the world. Contrary to what Microsoft would have the Cabinet Office believe, the presence of FRAND-licensed standards has had a chilling effect on the production of certain classes of free software, precisely because of this problem.

VLC’s billion downloads are a testimony to the fact that people are keen to run high-quality open source software on the desktop, even though – perhaps unbeknownst to them – their use of it in certain jurisdictions is almost certainly illegal. Allowing FRAND-based standards in the UK would ensure that even more open source software is throttled at birth; or, if written in other jurisdictions that do not recognise the need for any licensing, that it is used by people ignorant of, or indifferent to, the letter of the law – hardly something the UK government would want to encourage.

If you want to help minimise the use of restrictive FRAND-based standards in the UK, you still have time to make a submission to the consultation on open standards, which closes on 4 June. I urge you to do so.

The SCOTUS and the USPTO, just like the UK-IPO, are run by lawyers, not people whose career is really at stake here. It should not be surprising that the USPTO covers its own back by defending software patents from Oracle:

The fact that this patent is now valid for inclusion in the lawsuit means that the number of patents Oracle can leverage in the proceedings has increased from two to three. The USPTO had declared the patent invalid on 7 February, a decision that Oracle appealed. The fact that Oracle has won this appeal and managed to get the patent declared as valid again could allow Oracle’s lawyers to make a stronger argument in court than if it had not been re-examined as it has already been challenged with prior art.

Following the borderline retreat of Oracle from patents this may mark a return to that awful strategy which the EU would not endorse. Just as patents were put aside the bureaucrats from the USPTO came out again with more complications at hand:

As Oracle’s litigation against Google over copyright and patent violations in Android goes on, all sides seem determined to end the lawsuit sooner rather than later. Judge William Alsup has overruled the jury in another matter of copyright infringement, and the patent phase of the suit is expected to end some time this week.

And further, says the same source:

Although Oracle’s lawsuit against Google is now well into the patent phase, several motions have been filed over the last few days that pertain to the matters of alleged copyright infringement from the earlier phase of the trial. Google has also moved to drop the damages part of the case, which would leave the judge to decide applicable damages by himself.

Regarding the latest ruling, it may get overruled and in the mean time developers will suffer:

Developers fear they’ll be stifled by judgement in Oracle-Google suit

If Oracle prevails in its contention that APIs can be copyrighted, software developers could be stifled in how they work and innovate, say observers of the ongoing Oracle-Google trial, in which Oracle claims Google improperly used Java technology in the Android mobile software platform.

The case of Microsoft vs. Motorola can help defuse some of the aggression from Microsoft (through deterrence, such as blocking Vista 7), but the Oracle case is probably a bigger issue right now. As an Android developer myself, this has an effect on me too. The simplest fix, which is also most rational, is to invalidate all software patents and amend copyright laws (modernise them).

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