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Ongoing Debate on Software Patents Brings up Trade Secrets, FRAND, and Misguided Targeting of Symptoms

Posted in Patents at 8:32 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Patent maze tackled


Summary: Some of the latest articles regarding software patents and ways of overcoming patent impediments

Patents are an interesting proposition in principle. In exchange for publication of devices and methods one receives a temporary monopoly. The patent system has, over the centuries, become less about publication or attribution and more about protectionism by litigation, or threats of litigation. There is this new opinion piece which says that trade secrets are better than patents. To quote:

THE conventional way to protect intellectual property is to patent it. This gives an inventor legal protection for his idea: if others want to use it, they must pay him. The snag is that he must publish his idea, making it easy for someone in a less lawful country to steal it.

Nobody can steal ideas. Devices can be copied and ideas shared, not stolen. Semantics aside, we are still seeing how leading products get held back by overzealous players to whom patents are an excuse for banning competition. Watch how FRAND is actively used against Google and as this new article implicitly puts it, Samsung is able to strike back rather than Motorola, which is now used by Google to fight back against FRAND tax. Pamela Jones writes:

I totally didn’t expect this: The ITC has just posted a notice [PDF] that it wants input on the public interest in the case Samsung brought against Apple regarding alleged violations of Samsung’s standards-essential patents. That’s in Inv. No. 337-TA-794, In the Matter of Certain Electronic Devices, Including Wireless Communication Devices, Portable Music and Data Processing Devices, and Tablet Computers.

It has once again extended the deadline to announce its decision until May 31 as a result. It is asking for written submissions “from the parties and from the public” on the issues.

This is rather stunning. The Essential Patent Blog says this may “imply that the Commission could be leaning toward a finding that Apple infringes U.S. Patent No. 7,706,348 – a patent that Samsung has alleged is essential to the UMTS 3G cellular standard — and is now trying to decide what if any remedy it should order.”

One notable example of FRAND as ‘multimedia tax’ is MPEG-LA, which Simon Phipps, OSI President, called a troll. In his latest piece he says:

Google’s settlement with MPEG-LA is a fresh development in a decades-old story of software patents. Will it finally open video codec technology to open source developers?

Probably not. As we wrote before, it helped legitimise MPEG patents internationally, even where software patenting is not legal.

The Business Software Alliance, in the mean time, joins a leading MPEG booster (through Trash Player) in calling to pursue not reform over patent scope but only patent trolls:

Dana Rao, vice president of Intellectual Property and Litigation at Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE), today appeared before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. Representing Adobe and other members of BSA | The Software Alliance, Rao testified during the hearing on “Abusive Patent Litigation: The Impact of American Innovation & Jobs, and Potential Solutions.” He spoke on the need to end abusive patent litigation and preserve the right of software developers to patent their inventions.

At-times-controversial Michael Risch, who studied trolls, has just been given Wired as a platform in which to implicitly defend software patenting while calling for another type of misguided ‘reform’. “The patent system is flawed, some would say broken,” he wrote. “And patent trolls — less pejoratively known as non-practicing entities (NPEs) — are to blame, no matter how good a case they might make for their role in the patent ecosystem. Or are they? Trolls are an easy target because they don’t make anything, choosing instead to enforce patents against those who do.”

Wired has been having this lawyers-only debate, with few exceptions (this latest man is Associate Professor at Villanova University School of Law). This one says: “Curing the patent problem requires general solutions … not ones targeted just at patent trolls.”

Sounds promising, right? But he never viewed software patents as an issue. Instead he suggests “Improving patent quality and pricing” and “Limiting and controlling damages”, among other things. It sure looks like real solutions are deliberately kept off the table. In fairness to Wired, they did make room at the panel for Richard Stallman, who celebrates his birthday today.

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