Lawyers in government against citizens’ will
Summary: Urgent call to contact politicians regarding the Unitary Patent and its consequences; reminder of the reality of lawyers’ influence
NOW that it’s almost 3 PM (CET) it’s probably a good time to address a very important subject. Central Europe is currently not allowing software patents, but large corporations are trying to change that. This impacts me professionally and it impacts many others.
Richard Stallman, the father of Free (as in freedom) software, warned about allowing Europe to give a go-ahead to software patents, saying it would eliminate the current advantage European developers have over their counterparts across the Atlantic. He also suggested eliminating litigation over software patents in the US, as covered by a site he helped fund (through the FSF):
Another approach to ending the problems of software patents would be a law saying, as Richard Stallman puts it, “that developing, distributing, or running a program on generally used computing hardware does not constitute patent infringement.”
Stallman’s piece in the Wired series had major impact, which we last showed when talking about forums on software patents getting stacked by lawyers and law professors. They’re everywhere in these debates because they’re prominent in politics and they hang around where they can make money at other people’s expense.
Speaking of events about software patents, here is one. On Friday there was this conference:
Preview of Our “Solutions to the Software Patent Problem” Conference
On Friday, we’re having our big academic conference of the semester, “Solutions to the Software Patent Problem.” At the conference, experts will propose their ideas of how to fix software patents. Ultimately, we hope there will be enough enthusiasm among the participants to coalesce around one or more proposals and see if we can actually make progress.
In preparation for the conference, we held a “preview” for the students so that they would understand the conference background better. Without previews like this, students often don’t get as much out of the conference because so much of the discussion goes over their heads. Colleen Chien was supposed to do the preview but she had a major conflict, so I stepped in. Below, I’ve included my talk notes. If you’re really interested, I’ve also posted the audio from the talk. I hope to see you on Friday!
This is a conference dealing with software patents, but it is stacked mostly by “law” people (i.e. lawyers). Groklaw wrote:
I’m so happy to tell you that tomorrow’s conference on what to do about software patents, Solutions to the Software Patents Problem, at the Santa Clara Law’s High Tech Law Institute will be live streamed for those of us who can’t make it in person.
I confess I begged for this, because I know a lot of you are seriously interested in this topic but can’t make it there. So thank you Santa Clara Law. Here’s where you go tomorrow, and it runs all day from 8:50 am to 5:30 pm Pacific time, minus one talk at 9 AM.
To be fair, it was not just a parade of lawyers. This one particular event had notable speakers who are against patents, so unlike some conferences, it was not just law people speaking among themselves. Here is TechDirt:
Patent Office, Perhaps Forgetting What Year It Is, Locks Down Mobile App Development Platforms
I’m spending today at a conference at Santa Clara University’s Law school on Solutions to the Software Patent Problem. It seems only fitting that as this is happening, I’ve been alerted to a completely ridiculous new patent: Appsbar has put out a press release gleefully announcing that it’s been granted a patent on offering a “create your own mobile app” development platform. Stunningly, the patent in question, 8,261,231, was just applied for in February of this year. I’m at a loss as to how a competent patent examiner could possibly think that a mobile app development platform is somehow new or non-obvious in this day and age.
There is more news about the expansion of the patent system to Silicon Valley — something that ought to be criticised. Rather than shrink the system that issues far too many patents, those in charge let it grow further.
One law professor with an actual background in some science is the latest author in the Wired series on patents. John Duffy describes himself as follows:
John Duffy is a professor at Virginia Law School; prior to that, he was a research professor at George Washington University Law School. Duffy was identified as one of the 25 most influential people in the field of intellectual property by The American Lawyer. He earned his undergraduate degree in physics.
The previous contributor, Andrew Chin, is also a law professor and he writes about his case for keeping abstract patents:
Much criticism of software patents is rightly aimed at the use of abstract claim language to cover a wider range of technology than the patentee invented and disclosed. Mark Lemley, for example, highlights “functional” language in claims as particularly problematic, and proposes in this opinion series that a claimed function be limited to the disclosed “program and ones like it.”
So the utilities of Bilski’s claimed methods are not amenable to one resource-specific causal account, but many. Bilski’s methods perform their hedging functions whether the market participants’ option values are calculated on my office desktop PC or on the London Science Museum’s Difference Engine, and whether their transactions are completed via telephone or website. A patent examiner could simply cite such an observation in rejecting Bilski’s claims as unpatentable subject matter.
A key advantage of my proposed “concrete causation” standard is its consistency with Supreme Court precedents, which allows the Federal Circuit to introduce it without need for legislation. The universal applicability of this approach conforms to our treaty obligations (to make patents available without discrimination as to the field of technology), suggesting it could become an international norm. The approach also upholds what I’ve identified elsewhere as the patent system’s metaphysical commitment to scientific realism.
By design, this proposal explicitly acknowledges that all of the “useful Arts” confront the common problem of having limited resources. This necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. The patent system exists for those working to do more with less, not for those seeking to corner the market on such efforts through abstract claim drafting.
In Europe too we are left to deal with “legal” folks, whose interests lie not in advancing knowledge but in making a lot of money from it, as if the latter somehow takes priority over the former. April asks people to fight back against the bureaucrats by informing them:
The European Parliament just announced an exceptional meeting of the legal affairs (JURI) committee on Monday November 19th, 2012 at 7pm for the only purpose of discussing the unitary patent package. This new unexpected event in the unitary patent saga is a concern. There is an urgent need to get in touch with the MEPs to let them know about the threats of the unitary patent.
We must really ensure that software patents are kept out of Europe, including the loopholes that let Finnish company Tuxera put a patent tax on Linux and Android. Carla Schroder wrote about it the other day:
Microsoft’s creaky old FAT filesystems, FAT16 and FAT32, have long been the de facto standard filesystems for Flash storage devices. They enable portability because FAT is supported on all major operating systems, and they don’t have access controls so there are no permissions hassles– just plug in your device and use it. But despite FAT’s age and ubiquity, Microsoft successfully enforced its FAT patents against TomTom in 2009. TomTom agreed to drop FAT32 support from their products, several of which were built on Linux. Microsoft has also gone after Android vendors, such as Motorola, who use FAT.
The legal landscape, as always, is bizarre. Linux can support FAT32 without paying royalties because of an inane technicality: long and short filenames. My fellow old codgers recall the 8.3 DOS filename convention: filenames could be no more than 8 characters long with a 3-character extension. This collided with grownup filesystems that supported longer filenames, which FAT truncated. And that is why something like nicelongfilename.txt would be shortened to nicelo~1.txt.
Linux users have options, sort of. Tuxera sells a good exFAT driver, but only to OEMs, such as Android vendors. There is a free exfat driver, fuse-exfat, and it is included in several distros. This is built on fuse, filesystem in userspace. I’ve tested it a bit without problems, but the developers do not have access to any specifications and it’s still young, so it has some rough edges. I would not rely on it for syncing a Linux PC with devices that use exFAT, like cameras and smartphones.