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05.21.12

Articles Against Software Patents and Patent Trolls

Posted in Patents at 7:46 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Glasses on a paper

Summary: An accumulation of recent articles on matters such as patent trolls, which mostly use software patents based on a recent survey

BOSSON from the FFII pays attention to some cost analyses regarding software patents. Quoting part of what he wrote:

Cost of software patents shown

Nice to see media addressing the cost of software patents. At CNET, Last Jim Kersteller writes “What is that patent lawsuit going to cost you”. Basically you’d have to pay lawsuits costs that are very high and pushes you to settle for anything under a million dollars. It certainly puts the small firm at huge risk. And to top that one off, Techdirt describes a study on why It’s Mathematically Impossible To Avoid Infringing On Software Patents. Even for the larger players patents are as Brad Feld at Business Insider says “Games Where The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play”. In fact this study, at techdirt, says that you earn more if you share for free. Oh wait, thats open standards and Internet.

Over at The Inquirer, a story is told about the “folly of software patents”:

Fax delays reveal the folly of software patents

SOMETIMES even the simplest ideas must wait. Markus Kuhn, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge has been waiting patiently since 1995 to be free to exploit a simple bit of coding innovation.

Sadly for him, the intervening years have seen the technology this innovation was aimed at become obsolete. And he’s in little doubt what’s to blame – software patents.

Back in 1995, Kuhn had written roughly 4,000 lines of code as an open source implementation of the image compression algorithms used by fax machines. The trouble was, a single line of that code was covered by a patent awarded to Mitsubishi for an image encoding standard known as JBIG1.

In Slate, which has some Microsoft connections, patent trolls are being criticised:

How “patent assertion entities” stifle innovation. (It’s even worse than you think.)

[...]

Measuring the effects of patent litigation is a tricky exercise—you need to figure out what innovation would have happened in the absence of a lawsuit. In the case of Acacia’s PACS suit, there was a convenient point of comparison: The lawsuit covered only medical-image-storage software, not text-storage systems, which are just as technologically complex. Since most companies named in the suit sold both image- and text-storage systems, the latter could be used as a benchmark to assess the impact of the Acacia suit on the PACS market.

Recently, CSIRO (a Microsoft client) took money from practising entities, raising the costs that customers will probably need to pay network providers (thus elevating the cost of everything for the benefit of parasites):

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has been awarded more than AU$220m (£142m) in an out-of-court settlement in the US concerning its patented Wi-Fi technology.

Acacia too (with Microsoft connections) found another victim while patent lawsuits generally expand and some defendants just pay to settle, thereby feeding/rewarding legal aggression. The world’s largest patent troll (with origins at Microsoft) extorts a very large number of companies this way, raising the costs of everything. A lawyers’ magazine asks whether this hinders innovation, but gives a somewhat inconclusive analysis (the readership includes trolls, so it tries to be “balanced”):

Do Non-Practicing Entities (aka, ‘Patent Trolls’) Hinder Innovation?

[...]

In addition to paying for protection, many of the bigger companies in the software business have also found themselves spending millions of dollars in order to acquire “defensive patents,” with the explicit purpose of defending themselves against being sued. Of course, the great expense of court cases means that many companies have been forced to change their spending patterns.

NPEs are destroying real jobs, distracting from innovation, and altogether banning some paths of exploration, so the headline is a rhetorical question. The legal press may be unfit to answer such questions because it never produced anything innovative in the first place and success is often measured in terms of litigation (conflict), not progress. Here is a new example of a small company litigating its way into profit (Uniloc was covered here many times before) and another very recent example of litigation as a business model:

A company that makes specialist talking tablet computers for speech-disabled children has mounted a patent lawsuit which seems set to kill off an iPad app that does the same thing for a tenth of the price. The firm is making no commitment to provide replacement affordable software for consumer devices.

How does legal action with patents help innovation at all? How does that drive society forward? Who does this whole mess really help? These are rhetorical questions, but politicians appeal to campaign funding, not to common sense, so patent law continues to be a sham. The same goes for copyright law. Real change won’t come on its own; it won’t come through the ballot box, either.

“I’m always happy when I’m protesting.”

Richard Stallman

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