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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Ought to Refocus on Crushing Software Patents, Not Patent Trolls or “Stupid Patents”

Posted in EFF, Europe, Law, Patents at 4:46 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Julie Samuels
Image extracted from this video

Summary: Why the EFF should focus on eliminating software patents (like in Germany) and not just patent trolls or what it vaguely calls or alludes to as “stupid patents”

LEGAL SITE Groklaw shares this satirical video about patent trolls. It helps capture some of the patterns often observed when it comes to trolls’ attacks on practising companies, even if it’s a little Godwin Law-invoking.

The reality of the matter is, Germany is fighting to block all software patents. The EFF touches on “German Parliament Says No More Software Patents” — a subject we covered here before [1, 2, 3]. It says that the “German Parliament recently took a huge step that would eliminate software patents (PDF) when it issued a joint motion requiring the German government to ensure that computer programs are only covered by copyright. Put differently, in Germany, software cannot be patented.”

“The reality of the matter is, Germany is fighting to block all software patents.”There is a new article titled “EU banks face less threat of infringing software patents than those in US, says expert” and it helps show how the core problem is addressed. In Europe, patent trolls are barely existent. To quote the article, “EU banks are less likely to infringe software patents than their counterparts in the US but should still evaluate whether to undertake a freedom to operate (FTO) analysis before launching new products or services to the market, an expert has said.”

Everyone benefits from that.

At the same time, another part of the EFF is going after patents one at a time rather than work to eliminate software patents as a whole. Very ambivalent over there. It is Julie Samuels again (part of a long-observed pattern [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]) and she says:

Working together we can protect the mesh networking community from overbroad, illegitimate patents that threaten to stifle innovation and access to technologies that preserve personal freedoms.

Here is another new example of her focusing on trolls and not on software patents, as Mr. Cuban (her funder) said he would do.

How about just working to end all software patents? What is happening at the EFF? There is another person there, another lawyer (Mr. Nazer [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]), who seems to be leading the EFF off focus. Well, lawyers being lawyers, they approach this subject from a point of view where patents are taken for granted. Just watch this latest article from Colleen Chien, which is posted in Wired (almost all the articles on patents there are written by lawyers).

“That’s the difference between organisations such as the EFF and organisations like FFII. The latter is run and managed by technical people.”This is not the first time that we point out and gently chastise EFF action for not being strong enough. The EFF ran a Web site to call for the end of software patents, but ever since it grabbed all the attention we see EFF staff actually working along the lines of the OIN, more or less. Well, just take a look at what Samuels is said to be: “Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents” (like the term “bad” patents).

To quote the professional summary, “Julie Samuels, a Staff Attorney and the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents at EFF, focuses on intellectual property issues. Before joining EFF, Julie litigated IP and entertainment cases in Chicago at Loeb & Loeb and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Julie spent time as a legislative assistant at the Media Coalition in New York and as an assistant editor at the National Journal Group in D.C. She was also an intern at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Julie earned her J.D. from Vanderbilt University and her B.S. in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”

So she is a patent/copyright lawyer, not a technical professional to whom patents are potentially assigned, or to whom patents are a threat. That’s the difference between organisations such as the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation and European organisations like FFII. The latter is run and managed by technical people.

As a big supporter of the EFF, yours truly worries that there there is an internal battle between those in the EFF who genuinely want to see software patents eliminated and those who get tugged along with contra-reformists, notably lawyers. Other European activists have spotted the same pattern and became outspoken about it. If we don’t name the culprits, nothing will be done to overcome this impasse.

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A Single Comment

  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    June 29, 2013 at 11:19 am


    I can see needing to go after the occasional case, if it fulfills a strategic role in the long term goal of eliminating software patents completely. However, generally taking patent cases one at a time is a great method to fritter away resources. The shell companies and their software patents are effectively infinite and the resources of the good guys are quite limited.

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