The World’s Craziest Patent System (USPTO) Now a Serious Threat to Free Software, But So is Copyright
Privatising everything, even vague ideas
Summary: Patents on everything that’s conceivable are being granted and even APIs are being monopolised, due to overzealous copyright lawyers
YESTERDAY we wrote about Amazon‘s latest crazy patent, using it as an example of how crazy the USPTO has gone. It’s not even an examination centre, it is approving almost everything that comes through, rendering it just a rubber-stamping pipeline like ISO. Ars Technica says that “Amazon’s latest patent is sillier than the peanut butter sandwich patent”, or to put it another way: “Thought the peanut butter sandwich patent was a joke? That one doesn’t even register a chuckle compared to a patent recently granted to Amazon.com. The e-commerce giant now can claim a legal monopoly on the process of photographing people and things against a white backdrop.”
The USPTO is starting to look more like a hoax. Sun employees, whose patents got passed to Oracle, said they had joked about how silly a patent they could get past the USPTO. They even competed over how ridiculous a patent they could slide through. And watch what Oracle is doing with such patents right now. Copyright may be essential for copyleft licences such as the GPL, but what happens when patent attacks on Android are coupled with copyright on APIs? To quote the EFF: “We’re still digesting today’s lengthy decision in the Oracle v. Google appeal, but we’re disappointed—and worried. The heart of the appeal was whether Oracle can claim a copyright on Java APIs and, if so, whether Google infringed that copyright. According to the Federal Circuit today, the answer to both questions was a qualified yes—with the qualification being that Google may have a fair use defense.
“Quick background: When it implemented the Android OS, Google wrote its own version of Java. But in order to allow developers to write their own programs for Android, Google relied on Java APIs. Application Programming Interfaces are, generally speaking, specifications that allow programs to communicate with each other. So when you type a letter in a word processor, and hit the print command, you are using an API that lets the word processor talk to the printer driver, even though they were written by different people.”
Copyright, patents and even trademarks in the US need revisiting. There are many examples where each of those three get misused to censor, to crush competition, to impede innovation, and ban sharing where it’s clearly beneficial, collectively. The waning dominance of the West may, in some awkward way, one day weaken all those artificial barriers that ACTA, SOPA, TPP etc. are trying to prop up. Right now it’s too damn clear that progress is not the goal; protectionism for the top 1% of wealth holder is the goal. █