Impact of Software Patents and Excessive/Unregulated Profit Motives at USPTO: Now Even Common Encryption (i.e. Computer Security) Under Patent Attacks
Legacy of the likes of IBM’s David Kappos and his predecessors
Summary: A roundup of patent news from the US and some relations between that and Europe, which risks repeating the mistakes of the patently-occupied (by large corporations’ interests) USPTO
NOT ONLY the EPO is resorting to dubious privatisation of public services. Its apparent role model, the USPTO, is doing so too. This week’s report from WIPR reminded us that: “Professionals from Serco will review patent applications and sort them into the appropriate classification. Serco has been contracted by the USPTO since 2006 to provide this service.”
“Software patents now do what even the British Prime Minister could not successfully do. They combat encryption itself, effectively banning it if not discouraging its use (for transactional security purposes).”This isn’t particularly surprising given that the USPTO is little more than a rubber-stamping warehouse, run by and for large corporations (see where its directors come from and who takes the lion's share of patents). It used to be IBM’s turf and now it’s Google’s. As Andrew Orlowski put it last week: “The nomination of former Google lawyer Michelle Lee to run the US Patent and Trademark Office has been hailed as a victory for Silicon Valley. In 2007 Lee said the patent system was “out-of-balance” and needed “to be remedied”. But does she still think that?”
Well, nothing has been done so far by Michelle Lee. Like Obama or Kappos before her, it was all Hope and Change, but nothing really happened. Kappos himself is now a patent maximalist (he profits from it), calling for software patents, which are not permitted in Europe (for good reasons).
As noted here a few days ago, patent trolls love software patents and this is starting to happen in Europe too. Software patents now do what even the British Prime Minister could not successfully do. They combat encryption itself, effectively banning it if not discouraging its use (for transactional security purposes). Who benefits here?
“If the US patent system did not permit patenting of software, none of this would have happened.”See Tim Cushing’s “Patent Troll Sues Everyone For Infringing On Encryption-Related Patent By Encrypting Their Websites” (the FSFE’s Matthias Kirschner took note of these events). An article by David Kravets says that, unsurprisingly, this happens in Texas again. “A Texas company,” he wrote, “is suing some of the biggest names in tech and retail, claiming their HTTPS websites infringe an encryption patent titled “Auto-Escrowable and Auto-Certifiable Cryptosystems.” CryptoPeak Solutions has filed about six dozen cases in all, and they began hitting the patent-troll friendly venue of the Eastern District of Texas in July.”
Here is a lawyers-centric report about it and a hackers-centric report that says: “Texas-based company CryptoPeak Solutions LLC has filed 66 lawsuits against many big businesses in the US, claiming they have illegally used its patented encryption method – Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) – on their HTTPS websites.
“Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) is a key exchange algorithm that is most widely used on websites secured with Transport Layer Security (TLS) to determine what symmetric keys are used during a session.”
If the US patent system did not permit patenting of software, none of this would have happened.
This one lawsuit (or large set of lawsuits) grabbed a lot of the media’s attention, but as Joe Mullin put it: “New patent lawsuits hit an all-time high in November, with many plaintiffs likely hoping to avoid new pleading rules that came into effect yesterday. A whopping 790 lawsuits were filed last month, with at least 212 filed on a single day: Monday, November 30.” Also see “Patent Lawsuits Set One-Day Record with 257 New Cases, Most Filed in Texas”, an article by rich people’s press. The article starts as follows: “Remember patent reform? Congress proposed laws earlier this year aimed at curbing haywire patent litigation, but it appears not everyone got the memo. On Monday, dozens of patent plaintiffs targeted firms ranging from Apple to Airbnb, and set a one-day record with 257 new cases filed, ensuring 2015 will go down as another bumper year for patent lawyers.”
A lot of these lawsuits boil down to software patents, which are under attack in the US, thanks to the Alice case. PatentBuddy, citing IAM’s article, says that “David Kappos Discusses the 101/Alice Rejection of the Lip Sync Patent, McRO v Sony” and Professor Mark Lemley says, linking to this PDF: “Patentable subject matter is here to stay — en banc Fed Cir denies review in Sequenom with only Newman dissenting.”
This shows that software patents themselves are still a subject of debate even in the US, where software patents originally came from.
“The management and the high-level staff at the EPO already permit patents on life, serving the likes of Monsanto.”We regret to learn that even some British software companies are basically ignoring the evidence and still deciding to pursue software patents (not just in the US). Sage Group, according to this new report, is becoming more like Trading Technologies. Instead of focusing on development of better software it is focused on acquiring patents on software. To quote the British media: “A number of its products, such as Sage Impact and Sage Live, have recently won innovation awards and an increased number of new patents will be coming from the firm.”
Why are these large proprietary software firms and their lobbying front groups in Europe so insistent on being granted software patents? Because they are software monopolists in their area and they want to limit or block competition using patent lawsuits. How does that ever improve innovation? It’s all about protectionism and in the field of software, owing to its inherent nature, workarounds are often not even possible.
The patent scope at the EPO is slipping out of control under the current management. “The European Patent Office (EPO) has quietly adopted,” according to this new article patents “relating to human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).”
What will they patent next? The management and the high-level staff at the EPO already permit patents on life, serving the likes of Monsanto. This has got to stop. patents like these aren’t for innovation; they’re all about protections from rivals, supporting and broadening existing near-monopolies. █
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