05.31.18

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The Open Invention Network (OIN) is Becoming an Even Greater Part of the Problem, Embracing Software Patents Through Hype

Posted in America, IBM, OIN, Patents at 7:18 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Seeking to maintain a ‘benign’ (its own) patent thicket rather than eliminate it

Broken wall

Summary: Companies led by IBM are shielding only themselves while pretending to be shields for others; in the process they perpetuate the patenting of software, even in the post-Alice era

EARLIER this month we wrote about LOT Network as a semi-pseudo solution to a real problem. LOT Network — like OIN — has no intention of ending software patents, which are being granted by the USPTO when the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) isn’t watching. We’ll say more about PTAB in the weekend.

“Just look at IBM’s patenting activity in the space, including the Hyperledger effort it got the Linux Foundation to manage for it (the Linux Foundation too is absolutely worthless when it comes to combating software patents).”PTAB is generally helping the crackdown on software patents far more than all those groups which claim to defend Free/libre Open Source software from patents. PTAB is therefore under many attacks from patent extremists; TechDirt was having a go at Watchtroll less than a day ago, but Watchtroll is an easy target because that site is insane. What about OIN though? Maybe a lot of people still think it is noble and we used to think the same thing about a decade ago. But the Open Invention Network (OIN) continues to support sofrware patents in rather blatant a way (even after Alice), just like IBM. They’ve been reduced to acting like a worthless IBM front. Even their Free software-friendly staff/people recently left.

Case of point? Blockchain hype. Well, this whole hype is software, typically some distributed database, which is many of today’s databases anyway. Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP (a law firm) basically promotes these software patents that are worthless unless you’re a patent troll going after poor (i.e. defenseless) people/firms. Here is what it wrote this week:

10 Considerations for Blockchain patent applications

[...]

2. Open Source issues? Many blockchain projects are fully open source. Open source allows for quick development as the source code is accessible and editable by everyone. In contrast proprietary code is often developed internally, which may lead to slower code development. It is important to determine not only which part of your blockchain project utilizes open source code, but also the licenses (e.g. GPL, BSD, LGPL, etc.) and/or restrictions (e.g. patents, copyrights, etc.) associated with the open source code. These factors may prevent someone from obtaining a patent or even forcing a granted patent to be freely licensed. In the blockchain arms race it may be beneficial to not patent all or certain aspects of your algorithm in order to take advantage of certain open source benefits. However, patent protection is often still available under most open source licensing schemes.

3. Alice issues. Improvements in the blockchain processing operations are generally directed to how the computers work, and thus should avoid Alice rejections as being abstract. New uses of blockchains may face rejections if the new uses only require a network of standard computers performing standard computer functions without significantly more. Tactics to avoid Alice issues include including in the claims security aspects (e.g. encryption, hashing, digital signatures), networking aspects (e.g. consensus protocols, smart contract protocols), and focusing on any distributed ledger features instead of the transaction features. Limit business and financial terms in the description to avoid going to art unit 3600, which has the highest rate of Alice-based patent eligibility rejections. Argue that the claims solve a problem rooted in computer technology, citing DDR Holdings, LLC v. Hotels.com, 773 F. 3d 124 (Fed. Cir. 2014).

Well, these patents would likely be voided by Section 101/Alice, but only if the accused (or defendant) can afford a court battle or IPR at PTAB.

So does OIN oppose such patents? Not at all. Just look at IBM’s patenting activity in the space, including the Hyperledger effort it got the Linux Foundation to manage for it (the Linux Foundation too is absolutely worthless when it comes to combating software patents). Here’s what Keith Bergelt (OIN CEO) published a couple of days ago (sent to us by a reader yesterday). To quote:

Perhaps the greatest indication of blockchain’s value is the number of firms rushing to file DLT patents. While the core technology is open source and in the public domain, complementary and supplementary technologies are being patented and there has been a “land rush” to develop and secure DLT-related patents.

[...]

While it has experienced nearly exponential growth, the successful adoption and use of open source by banking networks, mobile phone manufacturers, telecom networks, smart cars, cloud computing and blockchain platforms, among numerous others, was not a foregone conclusion. In 2003, there was an IP-based attack on prevalent open source software project Linux.

While the claims underlying the litigation ultimately were found to be without merit in the court proceeding, it was a wake-up call to several IP-savvy companies as to the potential negative impact of patent aggression on the growth of Linux and open source software projects.

IBM, Red Hat and SUSE (then Novell) coordinated an effort with Sony, Philips and NEC to conceptualize and implement a solution designed to create a “patent no-fly zone” around the core of Linux. The entity charged with administering this patent no-fly zone, the Open Invention Network (OIN), utilizes a free license to require participant companies to forebear litigation and cross-license patents in the core of Linux and adjacent open source software. In the 12 years since its formation, the organization has grown into the largest patent non-aggression community in history with an excess of 2,500 participant companies which own upwards of 2 million patents.

So they’re basically defending these patents from the likes of us (our criticism); they continue to hoard such patents instead of antagonising them. Therein lies the core strategy and spirit of OIN. It will never pursue a true, longterm solutions, just a ‘corporate’ version of FOSS, wherein few corporations lead the pack, possess tens of thousands of software patents, and tell the “sole” developers what they can and cannot implement. Some might argue that this was the purpose of patents all along; it’s a mechanism of control over one’s competition and potential new market entrants.

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