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06.05.18

Microsoft’s Patent Trolls Continue to Attack Microsoft’s Rivals, Including These Companies’ Use of Free/Open Source Software

Posted in Deception, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents at 4:28 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

While Microsoft sells ‘protection’ (euphemistically named “Azure IP Advantage”) from itself and its patent trolls [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18]

Microsoft and trolls

Summary: While the media keeps obsessing over delusions like a ‘new’ Microsoft or “Microsoft loves Linux” the company carries on propping up patent trolls (which it then provides ‘protection’ from, but only if one chooses Azure) and threatening GNU/Linux OEMs, opting for the use the patents for bundling their ‘apps’ (an exchange along the lines of, “put our apps in Android or we’ll sue you”)

DO NOT for a single moment be misled by Microsoft’s latest charm offensive, which seems to have been timed so as to distract from Apple’s big announcements in an annual event. It would be spurious to tell our readers that Microsoft is not a friend of Free/Open Source software (FOSS). We spent about a decade writing about that; it’s a subject which we covered in literally thousands of posts. It’s worth noting that the new chief of GitHub will be the same person who infiltrated GNU/Linux through Novell with Mono, so these are entryism experts (he had moved between Microsoft and FOSS — jobs-wise — several times, along the lines of’a revolving doors’ model). Microsoft used Xamarin (which he was the chief of) to literally obliterate ‘dangerous’ (to Microsoft) FOSS projects like RoboVM before Microsoft ‘compensated’ them for the trouble (in the form of a takeover, i.e. money and cushy jobs/salaries). But this post isn’t about GitHub. Instead, let’s focus on patent news that’s connected to Microsoft. The TomTom lawsuit backfired in the media (even Jim Zemlin berated them for it) and ever since then Microsoft chose indirection. It’s hiding behind proxies such as SCO (but for patents, not copyrights).

“A lot of the money has been put into this patent troll by Microsoft and Bill Gates (at a personal capacity, too). They were willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars just to prop up this troll.”A few days ago professor James Bessen (a patent trolls expert), via Brian J. Love (another scholar who is sceptical of the current patent law), highlighted this new article from the exceptionally Bill Gates-friendly Forbes. It’s about Intellectual Ventures (IV), Microsoft’s biggest patent troll which we’ve been tracking and reporting on for over a decade. “Self-proclaimed a new way of invention, patent troll IV has been a loser for its investors (& targets too),” Bessen remarked. A lot of the money has been put into this patent troll by Microsoft and Bill Gates (at a personal capacity, too). They were willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars just to prop up this troll. It’s no ordinary troll but a massive network thereof. “After 10 Years,” notes Forbes, “Nathan Myhrvold’s $3 Billion Of Private Equity Funds Show Big Losses” (that’s the headline). Here are some excerpts:

Some 10 years ago, Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, raised nearly $3 billion for two private equity funds from financial investors and tech companies. These were not your typical funds. They were designed to invest in patents and innovations, not companies or their securities, over a lifespan of 20 years, as opposed to the usual 10 to 13 years. Halfway through their run, the funds are deep in the red.

Invention Investment Fund II was the bigger fund that Myhrvold’s firm, Intellectual Ventures, raised in 2008. It has generated a -15.44% internal rate of return, according to data provided by the University of Texas Investment Management Co., one of Intellectual Ventures’ investors.

[...]

Nevertheless, Myhrvold has washed his hands of Invention Development Fund. It is now being managed by a new firm, Allied Inventors Management, which was set up solely to run Invention Development Fund outside of Intellectual Ventures. The fund has been renamed Allied Investors Fund. “The terms of the arrangement are subject to confidentiality agreement,” said DG Kim, Allied’s chief financial officer. “As far as internal fund matters, I am bound and can’t say anything really.”

We recently wrote about it because Microsoft had unintentionally revealed something. Filings showed that it was by far the biggest investor in this troll. It even lost a lot of money just trying to prop it up again (with another round of major investment). Richard Lloyd, who mentioned it at the time (Irish media actually broke the story), now has this new article stating that IV is “among the leading sellers of patents in first quarter” (IV sells patents to ‘satellite’ trolls that take many legal actions; the Wall Street Journal estimated about 9 years ago that IV had already created thousands of such ‘satellites’).

So what we have here is Microsoft’s patent troll (still led by Microsoft’s former CTO and heavily funded by Microsoft) distributing patents to patent trolls that are suing Microsoft’s rivals (including Linux companies, as we noted over the years). To quote:

IAM has teamed up with Allied Security Trust (AST) to provide quarterly updates on the secondary market for patents to determine who’s buying, who’s selling and what sort of assets are changing hands. As well as the data, AST has provided some additional information on the principal deals and the defensive aggregator’s CEO Russell Binns has added some commentary on the main trends. This analysis covers the first three months of 2018 and shows how Intellectual Ventures continues to dominate the market on the sell-side, while the NPEs Dominion Harbor and Uniloc are the leading buyers.

It’s also worth noting that IAM now works with the Allied Security Trust (AST), which is — as we last noted some weeks ago — like a patent ‘cartel’. IAM took note of another such ‘cartel’, IP Bridge, on the same day, writing:

Mobile network operator NTT Docomo has become the latest Japanese firm to partner with IP Bridge, the patent fund run by CEO Shigeharu Yoshii. A wireless-focused subsidiary of NTT, the world’s fourth largest telco by revenue, Docomo has previously made only limited patent transactions with third parties.

We wrote about IP Bridge. It’s almost like the ‘IV of Japan’, albeit much gentler. All these entities are basically participating in a large-scale ‘cartel’ whose de facto function is keeping small companies out of the market. They’re monopoly enablers.

“Microsoft did the same thing 3 years later at Nokia (Nokia’s patents will only ever bother Apple and Android OEMs, but never Microsoft).”That brings us back to Microsoft. And this time it’s about Yahoo’s trove of software patents. Well, just as many people worried at the time (10 years ago, the time of Microsoft’s hijack of Yahoo), USPTO-granted patents of Yahoo show up in lawsuits/dockets. Critics like ourselves predicted that these patents would get scattered to trolls that target Microsoft’s main competitors on the Internet while Microsoft gets to shield itself by wielding leverage over Yahoo. Microsoft did the same thing 3 years later at Nokia (Nokia’s patents will only ever bother Apple and Android OEMs, but never Microsoft).

According to the EFF’s Daniel Nazer: “Old @Yahoo patents now in the hands of trolls. Prolific patent troll IP Edge has sued @Twitter claiming it infringes this software patent: https://patents.google.com/patent/US8352854 …”

We wrote about IP Edge several times earlier this year, e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4; like IV, it typically operates through ‘satellites’ which file the lawsuits. This makes it incredibly hard to keep track of these things; it’s hard to know who’s behind which lawsuit/s.

Daniel Nazer has just published this new article titled “EFF Fights for Public Access To Patent Disputes” because even the EFF struggles to gain access to such crucial information. To quote:

The public can’t judge if courts are fair if the public is locked out. The parties generally don’t care if the proceedings are hidden (indeed, they may want them hidden). This means that, at times, groups like EFF and press organizations have had to stand up for public access. Unfortunately, while the First Amendment protects the right of access, courts sometimes fail to protect this right.

In patent litigation, we’ve seen routine over-sealing by busy district courts. EFF has twice moved to unseal records in patent cases in the Eastern District of Texas, and both times the court unsealed material that should have been public.

Now EFF is taking action to push for transparency in two critical venues for hearing patent disputes. We’re protesting against the Federal Circuit’s practice of delaying the public from reading filed briefs, and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s use of secret docket entries.

[...]

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) overseas a variety of important procedures within the Patent Office, including inter partes review (IPR) and administrative appeals. The IPR proceedings, in particular, are now one of the most important methods for challenging bad patents.

Recently, we filed an amicus brief at the PTAB in a case considering whether a patent owner can avoid review by claiming sovereign immunity. As part of our work in that case, we discovered that when documents are filed under seal at the PTAB there is no public docket entry. So, not only does the public not get to see the sealed document, it doesn’t even know that one has been filed.

We sent a FOIA request to the Patent Office that, in effect, asked for all non-public docket entries in post-grant proceedings at the PTAB. We did not request the filings themselves but only the docket entries. After some back-and-forth, the Patent Office produced a list [PDF] of 16,773 docket entries (we thank the FOIA Officer who helped with this process). In other words, there have thousands of filings before the PTAB that the public had no record of.

Meanwhile, as Nazer noted in Twitter yesterday:

U.S. Patent No. 10,000,000 will likely issue some time this month. To make sure the publicity is good, the USPTO will hand-pick this patent (it won’t be the patent that randomly would have gotten that number).

Far too many ‘inventions’ so you just know that the vast majority simply aren’t inventions and are basically bogus patents waiting to be exploited en masse by patent trolls. Many such trolls are connected to Microsoft, either directly or through IV (which has literally thousands of them). How large a scale does this network of trolling have? It’s hard to tell unless the EFF can compel/press for better public access to information. Many patent disputes happen secretly, with conditional settlements that include “no disclosure” agreements (NDAs). Secrecy shelters serial bullies from regulators/scrutiny/challenge (such as IPRs at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board).

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