09.22.17

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Intellectual Ventures, GNU/Linux/Android/FOSS Patents, and the Ascent of European Patent Trolls

Posted in Antitrust, Asia, Europe, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 3:24 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: The existing status of GNU/Linux in a world full of patent trolls, which not only target OEMs from Asia — typically in the US — but are also dragging them into Europe, aided by the EPO’s ‘patent bubble’

THE FREE/LIBRE software world is thriving. It’s spreading everywhere. But that does not mean that users of such software are protected from frivolous lawsuits, especially in countries where software patents exist. Developers too are occasionally being threatened or sued; we have given examples where projects got shut down due to these actions.

Readers might rightly wonder why we haven’t said a single thing about Red Hat’s latest press release; we instead included about a dozen stories in our daily links under the Red Hat section (not much new there, just reiteration of a promise from a decade and a half ago). We are more concerned about real, existing, potent threats to software.

According to today’s blog post from IAM, Microsoft’s patent troll Nathan Myhrvold now dominates the world’s largest troll, Intellectual Ventures. IAM is a fan of his and this is what it wrote:

Intellectual Ventures founder Greg Gorder has left the firm, becoming the latest of the quartet of its founders to step away from the business, following Peter Detkin and Ed Jung. According to his bio, which remains on the IV website, Gorder left earlier this month and will now “focus on his family’s philanthropic activities”.

Detkin stood down as vice chairman in January 2015, although he has continued to devote part of his time to IV-related work. Earlier this year he became a senior adviser to Sherpa Technology Group, the consulting business that was established by former VP of IP at IBM and IP Hall of Fame member Kevin Rivette. Jung also took on a new role at the start of the year, becoming CEO of Xinova, the innovation business that was spun out of IV in 2016.

“Intellectual property is the next software,” Myhrvold once said. It means that to him it’s all about patents. This Microsoft-connected patent troll is already suing quite a few companies that distribute BSD and/or GNU/Linux. It’s not a matter of “if” or “when”. The battle began years ago, but Intellectual Ventures operates through various shells. One of those is Dominion Harbor, which is publicly defaming me and smearing the EFF. To them, there’s much money at stake.

“HTC took some of these patents for defensive purposes after Apple and Microsoft had sued or blackmailed.”As is widely known by now (it’s in our daily links also), Google is taking over a large portion of HTC and IAM notes that “HTC does have around 2,000 US patents including third-party assets from the likes of HP, NEC and Nokia. It is now clear that those patents will stay in the Taiwanese company’s possession.”

HTC took some of these patents for defensive purposes after Apple and Microsoft had sued or blackmailed. HTC was Apple’s first Android target (before Apple moved on to Samsung, the largest Android OEM at the time).

Samsung’s home base, South Korea, still seems to have very low tolerance for patent parasites/trolls (and the likes of them). IAM says that the new antitrust boss (KFTC) will be tough on those who seek to restrict competition using patents:

Over the past few years, South Korea’s antitrust regulator has been one of the toughest on issues of intellectual property. Now, the leader of the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) says the body is about to start an inquest focused on how patents affect competition in the Internet of Things (IoT) or 5G space.

KFTC chairman Kim Sang-jo mentioned the role of patents in IoT during an appearance Monday at which he outlined five priorities for competition policy. 5G communications, digital broadcasting and connected devices were named as fields in which the KFTC plans to study the market for “monopolistic and oligopolistic situations”. Apparently the watchdog will establish a “monitoring network for prevention of patent rights abuse”; it is not clear what that means, but if it leads to investigations of specific patent owners, it will make waves given the commission’s history of dealing out major fines.

Germany, on the other hand, goes the other way, with the EPO being a prominent symptom of it. German companies, in a country where trolling has become a fast-growing epidemic, are stockpiling patents and Florian Müller expects those companies to become trolls before these patents expire. To quote what he wrote the other day:

Meet the patent trolls of the 2030s: Bosch, Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW

our days before the 67th International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt will end, I’d like to offer a bold prediction: unless a miracle of the kind I can’t imagine happens, Germany’s automotive industry (car manufacturers as well as suppliers) will suffer a fate similar to that of the smartphone divisions of the likes of Nokia and Ericsson, ultimately resulting in “trollification” by the 2030s.

As Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted last month, 52% of all patent filings related to self-driving cars belong to German companies, with Bosch alone (which is number one and followed by Audi and Continental)holding three times as many patents in that field as Google and Apple or Tesla not having any significant patent holdings in that field yet. Besides Bosch, Audi, and Continental, three other German companies are among the top 10 patent holders in this field: BMW, Volkswagen, and Daimler.

Patent filings related to self-driving cars are picking up speed, so the landscape will almost certainly change in some ways in the coming years, but not entirely.

Müller can see these writings on the wall. We could not agree more; the situation at the EPO is untenable and patent grants in Germany are disproportionately high (almost an order of magnitude more than the UK’s). We certainly hope that EPO workers are paying attention to these trends; every patent grant can cause to an innocent engineer an equal (or greater) amount of agony than that inflicted by Battistelli. We’ll say more about patent trolls in our next post.

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