One important case has put potentially hundreds of thousands of software patents in a mass grave
Summary: Patent scope in the United States continues to be narrowed down as more software patents get their wings clipped
“US Pat 6,326,978, Display for selectively rotating windows,” wrote Patent Buddy was “Killed by CAFC” (using Alice as precedent).
This is consistent with the outcome of Alice (Alice v. CLS Bank at SCOTUS level) as we have covered it in the past few months [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].
Despite all this, patent lawyers say that “US software patent suits being filed at higher rate than in 2013″. To quote their sources: “An analysis of patent litigation by Managing IP using the Docket Navigator database has revealed that software patent lawsuit filing is not only up on 2014, but has rebounded to exceed the levels in 2013.
“When Managing IP last carried out this analysis in December 2014, the figures revealed a plunge in software lawsuit filing. This was attributed to the Supreme Court’s Alice v CLS Bank ruling on June 19, which held that merely claiming an abstract idea is insufficient to establish patent eligibility.”
Irrespective of the number of lawsuits, many of them are lost (legal toll becoming a burden to the plaintiff) because of Alice; that is very important. Patent lawyers are trying to convince their existing and prospective clients to keep patenting software, so they only tell part of the whole story.
“Patent scope is clearly a key problem.”It is clear that swpats (software patents’ shorthand) continue to collapse in the United States and this month is no exception. Examples continue to be covered, just not by media of patent lawyers (they lie by omission, as we have explained before).
“CAFC Refused to Re-Hear Case,” wrote Patent Buddy, “First Patent Kill by Alice” (the latest such example).
Here is some analysis which says: “In its first substantive application of Alice v. CLS Bank in 2015, the Federal Circuit has once again shot down claims for not meeting the patent-eligibility requirements of 35 U.S.C. § 101.”
When it comes to the USPTO, which adapts to these developments slowly but surely, a patent lawyer in London says that the judicial exceptions are now very broad.
Patent scope is clearly a key problem. It’s not about patent trolls, however they’re defined. Some sites continue to focus on “Companies Sued The Most Over Patents In 2015″ (without scaling for the size of companies, hence serving as propaganda that frames large corporations as the biggest victims), but we all know that the patents themselves, not the users thereof or the target of lawsuits, open the door to misuse, abuse, and anti-competitive behaviour, as our previous post demonstrated (Apple versus Android). █
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The UK silently adopts a worse patent system without even consulting the public
Summary: A collection of news stories about patents, accumulated over the past week or so
LAST week we observed quite a few ongoing patent cases, as well as new developments in Europe and the United States. This post summarises all the important ones.
The Economist Started a Massive Debate
In at least two articles, both of which published earlier this month, The Economist slammed the current patent system, alluding not specifically to the notorious US patent system. It’s a global problem, that’s for sure, as many systems are interconnected (more so over time, especially with so-called ‘trade’ deals afloat). It is very nice to see a respected British newspaper like The Economist (notable as the UK’s patent regime and copyright regime have historically been most overzealous) joining the opposition to it all, after all…
“In at least two articles, both of which published earlier this month, The Economist slammed the current patent system, alluding not specifically to the notorious US patent system.”Days later, citing The Economist, David Perry of Red Hat said that “more recently, it seems that the problem of patent trolls has captured the attention of a broader audience. Four years ago, NPR produced an episode of This American Life called “When Patents Attack!” And, four months ago, John Oliver devoted the bulk of his time on Last Week Tonight, to raising awareness about patent trolls. “Most of these companies don’t produce anything—they just shake down anyone who does, so calling them trolls is a little misleading—at least trolls actually do something, they control bridge access for goats and ask fun riddles,” he explained.”
Red Hat focuses on patent trolls again. “The patent troll problem is not a new one” is the headline. The Economist, however, did not focus on trolls at all. It’s regretful to see Red Hat distracting the debate again, moving us away from the core issues.
Another article, composed by Mike Masnick, offered a better response. “Once Again The Economist Thinks Patents Are Hindering Innovation And Need Reform” was the headline and citing The Economist, Jeff John Roberts of Fortune, a man who recently wrote some good articles about patents, published an article titled “Hey lawmakers, patents and innovation aren’t the same – here’s a reminder”. This too was motivated by the debate above. To quote Jeff John Roberts: “Patents mean more innovation, right? Sadly, that’s not the case as The Economist makes clear. In a terrific piece of writing in the August 8th issue, the UK magazine explains in clear language what has gone so wrong:
“Red Hat focuses on patent trolls again.”“Patents are supposed to spread knowledge, by obliging holders to lay out their innovation for all to see; they often fail, because patent-lawyers are masters of obfuscation. Instead, the system has created a parasitic ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils […]
“Innovation fuels the abundance of modern life. From Google’s algorithms to a new treatment for cystic fibrosis, it underpins the knowledge in the “knowledge economy”. The cost of the innovation that never takes place because of the flawed patent system is incalculable.”
“The Economist editorial comes at a time when patent reform is getting bogged down yet again in the U.S. Congress. If you’re keeping score, this is the third time in five years that lawmakers have tried to fix the system but, as before, the patent lobby is swooping down with money and dire slogans to grind the process to a halt.”
It has been nice to see the public debate changing somewhat (diverted away from “trolls”), owing to articles that question the system as a whole, not just parasitic elements in it.
Sadly, discussions about patent scope are almost inexistent. That’s a due to a failure of scientists to ‘butt in’ and become involved in the debate. Maybe it’s also the fault of journalists for not approaching scientists for their views.
Lobbying for and Against Patent Reform
Reform debate has been locked down. When the political system in the US speaks of patent ‘reform’ (especially these days but also historically) it basically speaks about “trolls”. Classic “patent troll”, as per definition, is a firm looking to make financial gain not from products (they do not exist) but from extortion. Patent trolls encourage and promote a non-producing economy for parasites to thrive in, nobody can deny that. Is it any better if products exist though? Companies like Microsoft have some products, but in many areas they act like parasites, preying on companies that actually have the lion’s share of the market (Android for instance). It should be clear by now that eliminating “trolls” alone would not end the problem. It’s therefore a misguided debate, driven for the most part by corporations, their lobbyists, and patent lawyers to whom they are top clients.
“It is important that the people who actually produce (actual products, not paperwork) provide their input regarding patent law, or else they will be misrepresented and the law steered against them.”Last week we saw an occupied media lobbying on patent ‘reform’ [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. As expected, much of this comes from corporate media for corporate agenda [1,2],  (posted in other sites) is a “Case for Patent Reform” by Lee Cheng, the chief legal officer at Newegg, which is exceptionally proud of its fight against 'trolls', having done so for years. It receives recognition in this new piece titled “Don’t Be a Victim: Protecting Your Small Business from Patent Trolls”.  is a piece from the lobbyists’ media, composed by member of the “Independent Inventors of America”, who basically lobbies against the favoured reforms currently on the table. We sure wonder if this is just another lobbying piece from a front group pretending to be “inventor”. Lastly, in  we have greedy patent lawyers who openly call for expansion of patent scope. Where are the scientists in all this? It’s mostly lawyers again. It is important that the people who actually produce (actual products, not paperwork) provide their input regarding patent law, or else they will be misrepresented and the law steered against them.
We were rather amused to see greedy patent lawyers who openly call for expansion of patent scope trying a gross reversal of today’s reality and attempting distortion of facts, pretending that large corporations pass patents to startups (the ‘trickle-down’ nonsense), as opposed to troll-feeding by large corporations, so as to get their rivals attacked by trolls like MOSAID (renamed Conversant). Well, to be fair to patent lawyers, that’s just what they do for a living. They present a gross, biased, and often inaccurate picture of reality in order to get their way and win cases.
Patent Lawyers/Maximalists Against Patent Reform
Yet another lawyers’ firm, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, writes about what it labels “Google’s “FFF” patent plan”, noting: “These two initiatives build on Google’s effort to impact patent reform in the United States and beyond. Prior to these announcements, Google’s efforts included the launch of the Patent Purchase Promotion in April (which we discussed here). Google has not officially released any information on the outcome of the Patent Purchase Promotion but Kurt Brasch, a lawyer at Google, reported that the program was a big success. In a phone interview with Fortune.com Mr. Brasch stated that the company bought numerous patents at purchase prices ranging from $3000 to $250,000.”
“Google cannot fend off patent trolls, so its claims to be helping startups with its patents are just marketing.”Google claims that it helps startups, but this won't work. Google’s IBM-like strategy was talked about by other sites of patent lawyers (covered in brief along with expected protests against the aforementioned reports from The Economist).
Here is what IP Troll Tracker wrote about Google’s strategy when it comes to a startup it supports: “Google would rather shutter the venture than try and fend off the lawsuit, unless the Ordrx software were already pulling in mountains of money.”
Google cannot fend off patent trolls, so its claims to be helping startups with its patents are just marketing. Fortune‘s Jeff John Roberts said so too. That was just a couple of weeks ago in the corporate press.
“JDate is not a classic patent troll, but it sure acts like one.”Tackling the JDate case, which we wrote about repeatedly for weeks, TechDirt says that “The whole lawsuit is absurd, and it starts with the trademark claims that come before the patent ones.”
JDate is not a classic patent troll, but it sure acts like one. JDate will hopefully get sued in a move of retaliation, preferably to the point of bankruptcy. What the company has done here sets a very bad example to any others that are watching. Software patents on very vague concepts are the weapon.
Jawbone and Fitbit
Citing this patent maximalists’ site (which even grooms notorious patent trolls), IP Kat says that “Jawbone holds 78 utility patents and 78 design patents compared to Fitbit’s 89 utility patents and 11 design patents. Jawbone’s patents lean towards hardware and design, whereas Fitbit’s patents are more focused on hardware and software.”
Yes, Fitbit is patenting software, as we noted here several times before. Its Orwellian surveillance tendencies aside, it ought to convince people to avoid these products. A good friend of mine had purchased a Fitbit device and saw it lasting for only one week. It’s a fragile toy and a fashion accessory that tracks the owner even when the owner is asleep. Nobody needs that.
We recently wrote about Cisco's attempt to portray itself as a trolls buster, having acted like a troll itself. Some GNU/Linux-centric sites help the former narrative. This is a good example where a massive corporation, Cisco, not some small startup, uses patents for anti-competitive purposes while claiming to be fighting trolls.
Large corporations want the population to only be obsessed with patent trolls. It helps those large corporations protect themselves and does nothing to tackle the broader issues.
EPO and UPC in the UK
The EPO is coming to the UK. It’s entering from the back door. It gets more of a presence in the UK in ways that we first covered last week, noting that no public consent was even sought! The lawyers who work for (or with) the UK-IPO must think they are above the law, as it increasindly looks a bit like government-sanctioned collusion.
“The UPC is almost guaranteed to bring patent trolls to Europe, enabling them to expand their scope of litigation (or threatening letters, demanding payments).”A maximalist of patents (including software patents), AmeriKat of IP Kat, wrote about the UPC courtroom being established before it’s even authorised. AmeriKat “interprets this as meaning that if the UPC doesn’t happen (pending a UK referendum on membership of the EU) or is somehow delayed than the IPO or, indeed another governmental body, can make use of the space.”
Another piece from the same blog speaks of a “[b]ill that is drafted by civil servants – his servants – and that is supposed to protect the interests of businesses” rather than those of citizens. The UPC is almost guaranteed to bring patent trolls to Europe, enabling them to expand their scope of litigation (or threatening letters, demanding payments).
When people return from their summer holiday we are guaranteed to hear a lot more about the EPO and the UPC. It’s truly undemocratic and often secretive, too. █
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Summary: The plot to monopolise more of what is public (e.g. public domain, common knowledge) gradually unravels as people secretly (dodging public participation) congregate to centralise power structures, opportunistic predation, costly litigation, and enforcement of demands from corporations (like I.S.D.S.)
IT IS saddening to see that despite some patent progress which is being made in the US, owing for the most to SCOTUS*, other countries/islands/continents regress and essentially derail their own economy. It’s a class war waged between multinational corporations, i.e. plutocrats without borders, and everyone else, irrespective of nationality. It’s a large-scale heist cleverly disguised as harmonisation of national and international laws.
Not too long ago we explained how the software patents debate in New Zealand was being bypassed or worked around in secret. Some vigilant people caught this secretive ploy and alerted the media, calling for action while fighting back against software patents. Now there is a press release and resultant/accompanying media coverage from the local/national media, even ZDNet outside the country [1, 2, 3, 4]. Will this be enough? Well, it’s only the beginning of what could become a very long struggle. New Zealand has already devised the same loophole that Europe is sneakily using in order to allow software patenting, provided it’s tied to some unspecified device.
Speaking of Europe, the Unified Patent Court (UPC) ‘harmonisation’ ploy is well under way as here in Britain, without public consent (no referendum, no polling, not even a Parliamentary debate), the London division of the UPC [is surprisingly] announced”. Yes, the patent parasites (practitioners) just jump the gun and according to this report, “UK Intellectual Property Office has announced the new location of the London section of the Unified Patent Court.”
So UK-IPO basically ignores the standard authorities and procedures, just like the EPO‘s management. One might say that they virtually operate outside the law, much like the Mafia. They know what’s good for them and they don’t bother consulting the public. According to IP Kat, a blog of patent maximalists from London, the Enlarged Board (tackling EPO disputes) finally has something to reveal.
Just like these secret (and now notorious) ‘trade’ deals which we rarely write about (even though more is known about them now), these patent conspiracies (or collusions) serve to just enrich a meta-industry of people who profit from taxation of real practitioners — people whose practice is producing stuff like software and machines. █
* According to Patent Buddy, the SCOTUS ruling in Alice keeps squashing software patents. “New PTO eMod system,” allegedly (no link to the source), “seamlessly generates automated § 101 rejection on every appl’n, saving the PTO millions of $$ a year in exam costs.”
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Protectionism regime has gone metaphysical
Victorian arcade in Manchester
Summary: Today’s roundup of patent news, focusing exclusively on software patents and patent scope, not the scapegoat which is patent trolls
THE patent landscape keeps changing (it’s dynamic just like every law, never static), and the more it’s subjected to public scrutiny, the more likely it is to serve the public’s interests, as opposed to corporate interests (the interests of the tiny minority which is extremely affluent). Today we break down our post into several sections as follows.
Patents Scope in the European Patent Office (EPO)
It has been quite some time since we last wrote about the EPO, but it turns out that the Board of Appeal which Battistelli and his goons try to silently crush (or at least make more subservient) is debating patent scope and doing the right thing sometimes. “The application was refused on appeal for lack of inventive step and lack of clarity,” says IP Kat.
Alicestorm Continues to Eliminate Software Patents
“Let’s hope that Alicestorm will discourage companies, or even patent trolls (JDate has begun acting like one), from blackmailing companies using software patents.”Alicestorm is a term coined to demonstrate just how profound an impact the case of Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank has had on patent scope. “US Pat 6,625,582, Converting future retirement,” wrote Patent Buddy, has just been “Killed by 101/Alice @ CAFC” [with analytics at the Patent Buddy Web site].
Chalk up another defeat for software patents (in CAFC even, despite its notorious patent maximalism).
We recently delved into the bullying (using patents) by the JDate 'meat market'. The company, as it turns out, pursues patents on software, despite lots of prior art and obvious triviality, and then uses these patents to bully competitors, even though a court (after a very expensive legal process) would likely invalidate such patents. It’s like SLAPP-type abuse by JDate. As this very long new article puts it, there is nothing novel here. “Does it change anything if it’s on a computer or the Internet?”
Addressing this question, the author says: “This is the question that has been vexing patent types for some time, but patent experts feel that the Supreme Court finally answered the question last year with the unanimous Supreme Court Decision of Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l.
“In that case, CLS Bank had software to serve as an intermediary in financial transactions, holding funds in escrow, work that financial intermediaries have been doing as long as humans have traded with money. The Alice Corporation didn’t do any work of that kind and had never created any actual software, but it had a patent describing how it could work using a computer.
“In his opinion on behalf the court, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “The relevant question is whether the claims here do more than simply instruct the practitioner to implement the abstract idea of intermediated settlement on a generic computer. They do not.””
Let’s hope that Alicestorm will discourage companies, or even patent trolls (JDate has begun acting like one), from blackmailing companies using software patents.
Facebook’s Surveillance Software Patents
“Facebook Patents Technology That Could Allow Banks And Businesses to Discriminate Based on Social Connections,” according to this article from AOL. A lot of the fury is directed at Facebook’s privacy violations (as if that’s news), but what about the company’s efforts to patent software — patents which the company sometimes bullies with?
What we find scandalous here is that Facebook patents software, but AOL looks at it from another angle. To quote: “Facebook, the website everyone and their sister, brother, cousin, uncle, and friends you didn’t even know you had is a member of just secured a patent on Tuesday that could help filter spam and offensive content and improve searches. Isn’t that great? Less spam and no more nude pics, Obama monkey memes, and tea-billy racist outbursts, but there’s more. A lot more and it’s not good. The technology could also allow lenders to use a borrower’s social network to determine whether he or she is a good credit risk. Let that sink in.
“Got that? Your Facebook friends and their spending habits, credit rating, behavior – hell, maybe even their character, could determine whether or not you get a loan and presumably how much interest is going to be applied to that loan.
Credit where due: “The patent was uncovered by Mikhail Avady, founder of SmartUp, a legal technology company in Atlanta. Fortune, CNN, TNW News, and VB all say they reached out to Facebook for comment, but none have heard back, according to the articles.”
In case it’s not obvious, we discourage the use of Facebook for anything at all. Facebook servers need to be blocked at operating system/router level, permanently. Facebook is an attack on the Web and nobody truly needs Facebook. It’s Facebook that needs people, not the other way around.
‘Trade’ Agreements for Patent Loopholes
We recently wrote about how so-called 'trade' agreements were exploited by software patents proponents in New Zealand. Now we learn that patent ‘reform’ in the US (not really the required reform) is closely connected to other issues such as the so-called ‘trade’ agreements, notably TPP. To quote the Washington Examiner: “The House of Representatives has delayed voting on the Innovation Act, a bill designed to curb patent trolling, until after the August recess. But patent abuse still finds itself part of the legislative discussion, in this case with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”
“Only in secret, when few of each country’s richest people collude, can such deals be tolerated.”To quote the key part: “The concern centers on sovereign patent funds (SPFs), government-funded organizations that acquire and leverage patents in pursuit of national economic objectives. Ideally, they should act as one-stop clearinghouses where a person or entity can acquire a bundle of interrelated patent licenses instead of negotiating with every individual patent holder. Given that the average smartphone incorporates as many as 250,000 patents, patent pools provide a function in streamlining access to IP rights.”
Patents are a tool of protectionism, perpetuating injustice and social/financial disparity. Why would any country other than patent glorifiers sign these unacceptable ‘trade’ agreements? Only in secret, when few of each country’s richest people collude, can such deals be tolerated. These people are all traitors to their country, especially to their people.
Google’s ‘Good’ Software Patents
Here we go again. The IEEE, steward of leading international journals that I used to do peer reviews for back in my twenties, is doing some shameless Google PR. The “our [software] patents are good patents” nonsense received coverage from Spectrum. It’s that same tactic that IBM once used as part of its PR strategy, portraying itself as a big friend of GNU/Linux. It is still out there. After setting up OIN (headed by an IBM lawyer) we learned that it was an entity so useless against patent trolls that one may wonder whose interests it really serves. Google is now trying to do the same thing. Google keeps saying it will “help startups” (similar to “think about the children!”) by freeing up its patents, even though (as some sites have pointed out by now, even in the corporate media) this helps in no way against patent trolls, since they basically have no actual products to sue over.
Now that a Google-backed company is finding itself as a victim of patent trolls (new article from corporate media), where is Google to help? Where it Alphabet? Nothing.
“We quickly attracted attention,” said the company. “We were living the American Dream. Until a patent troll — a company whose only business is suing legitimate businesses to force expensive settlements — hit us with a frivolous lawsuit.”
So where is Google with its ‘good’ patents that are intended to help startups? Oh, that’s right, there’s no solution there for patent trolls. This alone (situations such as this) helps justify a patent reform — like those delayed until Congress returns to normal sessions after the summer’s vacation. █
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“People naively say to me, ‘If your program is innovative, then won’t you get the patent?’” —Richard Stallman
Software development is NOT writing English sentences
Summary: Dealing with some of the hard (but soft, or invisible) issues in the US, where patents on abstract things are commonly misused for trolling/blackmail and abstract ideas have state tax associated with them
THE political landscape in the United States makes it increasingly unlikely that the patent system will be reformed in anyone’s favour, only in corporations’ favour (and corporations are not people). It is abundantly clear that the current proposals/bills on the table are unfit for purpose if the goal is really fixing the patent system. We already wrote over a dozen articles about this and today we present some of the latest finds.
“Patents threaten access to vital medicine” says a headline from South Africa, part of BRICS. It looks like South Africa is starting to view things like India does (I is India and S is South Africa in BRICS). Populist nations realise that many patents are unjust or even evil because monopoly is not more important than lives. South Africa and India both disallow patents on software, too.
“Populist nations realise that many patents are unjust or even evil because monopoly is not more important than lives.”What about the US? Well, as we showed three days ago (“GOP Media Deception, Healthwashing Patents”), the healthwashing tactics are being used to curtail and eliminate any potential of a reform. It’s the “PEOPLE ARE GOING TO DIE” sort of blackmail (if patent reform is passed).
GOP media (i.e. corporations) has played a big role in lobbying against patent reform, but oddly enough, someone called Mytheos Holt, writing in a GOP-leaning site, tackles what’s titled “The Three Dumbest “Conservative” Objections to Patent Reform”. To quote the key argument: “You have to give the enemies of patent reform credit: They do love to hide behind the idea that they’re defending the free market. To hear them tell it, in fact, they’re the only thing standing between America and a lawless jungle where Google and Apple can step on inventors with impunity and then laugh in their faces as the courts’ hands are tied.”
Here is a useful and long list of reform supporters: “Patent reform enjoys a long tradition of intellectual support from a wide range of right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups. Conservative and libertarian groups that have advocated for patent reform in one form or another include Americans for Tax Reform, the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the MercatusCenter, Americans for Prosperity, Frontiers of Freedom, the Independent Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Mises Institute, Institute for Liberty, Hispanic Leadership Fund, the Institute for Policy Innovation, the Latino Coalition, Independent Women’s Forum, Lincoln Labs,the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Individual Freedom, American Commitment, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, the Discovery Institute, Generation Opportunity, Citizen Outreach and others.”
With so much support from so many groups, how come there is still no change? See Think Progress with its new article “Why Patent Trolling Is So Hard To Fix”. As Think Progress puts it: “Software developers could have a hard time getting their next big idea patented thanks to new rules the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued, making some inventions, particularly innovative software and medical devices, unpatentable. ”
Think Progress makes it sound like a bad thing. We wrote about this an hour ago and it is definitely good news. It’s why so-called ‘reform’ might not matter after all. It’s already happening owing to the SCOTUS (Alice and § 101).
“It’s a fantasy, and just like all fantasies, sooner or later it will get shattered by reality.”Meanwhile, as revealed by Accounting Today, lobbyists’ media [1, 2], and Wall Street media [1, 2, 3, 4], the US want to introduce a ‘lower’ tax on invisible things, as if that makes any sense at all. The US is taxing immaterial things, ‘stuff’ like mere thoughts. A much later article from lawyers’ media framed this as “Tax Breaks”, stating that “proposed legislation would enable a company to deduct 71 percent of income derived from qualifying IP or 71 percent of their taxable income, if less.”
This helps prove how crazy a system we’re dealing with here, where mere ideas (misleadingly names “property”, the P in “IP” or “IPR”) are treated as taxable and the corporate media now celebrates tax “discounts” on ideas. The Alice case, which tackles a lot of these abstract patents, justifies the common reference to the case: “Alice in Wonderland”. It’s a fantasy, and just like all fantasies, sooner or later it will get shattered by reality. No country in the world deserves such a rubbish patent system. █
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SCOTUS changed everything
Summary: A comprehensive look at the past week’s news, including new cases that serve to weaken software patents in their country of origin
THE very existence of software patents is troubling. Not everyone can understand that because not everyone is a software developer. If the notion of a global patent system ever becomes a reality, then we must ensure that this system does not have any software patents. Therein lies the importance of the fight in the United States, by far the most influential country in international politics.
A couple of days ago some Microsoft-friendly media (paid by Microsoft for a lot of advertising) published the post titled “Copyright is enough for software”. It is not a bad post and it helps echo the feelings of many software developers. To quote the opening part: “Now I will fully admit that software patents are getting more restrictive, and the patent office, working with members of the community, has offered up a few ideas to make software patents less offensive and broad. This is a good thing, as in the past we’ve had some truly horrendous software patents issued for utterly mundane things that every developer uses every day.”
As we are about to show later in this post, the US patent office is indeed narrowing down scope in some areas (such as software) and courts support such a move, which they quite likely motivated in the first place.
Patent lawyers are, quite understandably, nervous. They try to lure people into conducting patent searches and fall into the wasteful trap which is software patenting. See this new article from the technical press, suitably titled “Patents: Exercises in Futility and Incomprehensibility?”
They are a waste of time and they achieve nothing but collective fear, which slows down development. “Learning anything from patent documents has to be one of the world’s least productive endeavors,” explains the author. “But there are a few techniques by which you can squeeze out what useful information may be hidden there.”
Better yet, never look at any patents at all. It only increases liability in case of infringement. This isn’t an act of civil disobedience but a matter of setting priorities correctly. Software developers should write code, not read patents. Imagine patents on recipes and cooking, leading chefs to endless reading of patents (instead of cooking), whereupon some forms of cuisine will be deemed too risky to do, making food more expensive and stale. Who benefits? Certainly neither chefs nor the public. Such a system would result in cooking ‘conglomerates’ and hoarding by their facilitators like lawyers.
In BRICS nations there is resistance to software patents, although based on this new article, China is allowing patents on software in some cases. China has been trying to artificially elevate the number of its patents for quite some time, even by lowering the threshold/bar of what’s patentable. It is, in part, a PR exercise. It’s part of the national agenda, seeking to rid this growing economy and great nation of the “knockoff” reputation.
Not many Western companies bother patenting their work in China (unlike, say, Korea and Japan, where companies also love to patent their stuff in Europe and the in US). Not many people or companies in China get sued over patents, at least not based on what we can see. Western companies very rarely get sued in China (over patents or anything else for that matter); there are only few cases that are seldom covered (on very rare occasions), usually involving some big brand like Apple because such stories ‘sell’ better.
Quoting the above: “The first [patent] is from the Chinese State Intellectual Property Office (No. 200880126543.0) entitled “Method, System and Computed Program for Identification and Sharing of Digital Images with Face Signatures”, while the second patent is from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office under the same title (No. CA 2711143).”
It is interesting that Chinese patents are sought by companies for the same ideas that are patented in Canada. Depending on which application was made first, we may be able to deduce or at least guess the intention. Not too long ago Apple was sued over patent infringement in China, where Apple is clearly losing to Android players like Xiaomi (now exceeding Apple in terms of sales). Before China was fighting back against patent aggressors like Microsoft Chinese companies like ZTE surrendered to Microsoft without a fight. It helped demonstrate the role of software patents in China. Microsoft can try to ban imports from China until or unless products are castrated (features removed), money gets paid to Microsoft, or Android is dumped in favour of Windows (or a Microsoft-centric version of Android, with a lot of Microsoft malware preinstalled). Overall, China has nothing to gain from software patents. It merely suffers from these. Thankfully, China isn’t falling for all these horrible ‘trade’ deals (misleadingly marketed to the public as “against China”), where increase in patents and their scope/range of applicability is paramount.
According to a new article from IAM, China’s ZTE is now fighting a battle with a US-based troll. It’s the Microsoft-backed Android/Google-hostile Vringo. Patent Buddy called this “ZTE’s Plan to Disparage Vringo and Change US Patent Law (to make it anti-patent)” (so again, US patent law is relevant here).
Over in India, another BRICS nation that does not in principle allow software patents, Google has just received a software patent. “Google has secured an Indian patent,” said the Financial Express, “for an invention regarding a method and system for transferring annotations associated with video files. ”
There seems to be some kind of confusion when Western companies come to BRICS nations and attempt to patent software. Are patent examiners aware at all of the fact that software is ineligible for a patent where they are? Perhaps we need to focus more on the source of this influence, which fools examiners into granting patents on software, gradually taking these global, even against the law.
USPTO Guidance ‘Reform’
The US patent office, the USPTO, is trying to keep up with the courts. It plays catchup with the law, keeping abreast of big judgments more than a year later (because the USPTO, like the court system, is far too slow). Here are the concerns of Barnes & Thornburg’s Intellectual Property Law Department (i.e. patent lawyers), among others. It’s about Alice and software patents (§ 101). This is again input from patent lawyers (Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP), also echoed here. What we basically see here is a lot of responses from patent lawyers to changes that are happening at the USPTO, based on new guidelines for patent examiners. Snow Christensen & Martineau (more lawyers) chose the title “New examination guidelines from the USPTO on subject matter eligibility: what it means for the patentability of your inventions” (the most desperate headline came from the most shameless promoters of software patents).
For the uninitiated, software patents are gradually dying in the US, for the courts repeatedly rule against them, invalidating a lot of patents in the process (even by extension, through precedence). The USPTO is just trying to keep abreast here and refrain from granting more patents that would later get invalidated because 1) it damages the credibility/reputation of the USPTO (granting patents in error) and 2) it lowers, in due course, the incentive to file/apply for patents at the USPTO, for they may not be honoured by the court system, deeming them a massive waste of time and money.
Courts Continue to Crush Software Patents
As another week goes by, another case serves to show that software patents are not potent enough for winning a case, not even in the US. Invaliding patents on invisible things (like algorithms) is the big trend these days and here again is a reminder of that in lawyers’ media. “It is very important to provide adequate disclosure when using “means-plus-function” claims in a U.S. patent,” says the author, “particularly in the field of software.”
According to this same publication, more software patents are about to get invalidated. To quote the opening paragraph: “On July 9, a judge in the district of Oregon granted two motions for summary judgment finding that the claims of United States Patent Nos. 7,346,766 and 6,728,877 fail to state an inventive concept sufficient to satisfy the Supreme Court’s test for patentability of an abstract idea under Section 101, and are therefore invalid. The patents-in-suit involve technology related to the migration of user configuration settings from a source computing system to a target computing system. In granting defendant’s motions for summary judgment, the court followed the Supreme Court’s guidance in the landmark Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank, Int’l, 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014) decision.”
No wonder patent lawyers worry. Alice has been doing this time after time. “The Supreme Court has made changes to patent law and how it’s interpreted, he says, which makes the interpretation of patent laws more uncertain, particularly where software is involved,” corporate media wrote the other day.
Here is another new article about this. “To be granted a patent for software,” it says, “the patent application had to overcome objections based on a 2014 US Supreme Court case holding that the mere computer implementation of a business method is unpatentable. The US patent examiner has judged Arria’s “Method and Apparatus for Configurable Microplanning” to be an innovation that contributes to the field of computer science. The innovations underlying this and Arria’s two other US patents enhance the quality and authority of the plain English narratives being written by the Arria NLG Software Engine without human intervention.”
We gradually get to the point where most software patents are worth $0 and no new ones (or very few ones) actually get granted. In this trend broadens in the US, then software patents will be universally (globally) dead. It’s only a matter of time.
The USPTO has been changed and perturbed over hundreds of years, with scope expanding to millions of patents on mere ideas (not physical, no mechanics), but some people live in the past and pretend that no correction is required. Martin Goetz, who has been making a career out of speaking in favour of software patents, is now enjoying support from patent lawyers who give him their platform. The man who started software patents (Martin Goetz got the first one) wants us to stop saying “software patents” as if trying to just dodge the debate by changing words will make these patentable again. CII? Computer-implemented inventions? That term never caught on. Just like “NPE” for trolls, or formerly patent sharks.
Patent lawyers are having an ‘ACTA moment’ right now, realising that what they tried so hard to defend has got a very bad name, so they try to rename. This basically means they lost.
It is going to be interesting to see how the rest of the world responds to the post-Alice status quo in the US. Software patents are in the process of rapid demise, but it may take half a decade for this plague to be totally eradicated. These systems are very slow to adapt to change. █
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Summary: Recent secret dealings (which are being exposed to the public owing to whistle-blowers) show the degree of coordination and collusion against public interests; it’s up to us, the majority, to fight back and tackle this injustice
THE world’s disparate legal systems are under attack from so-called ‘trade’ deals and their dirty dealers. We hardly ever cover this subject (except in daily links), but almost everyone knows the impact of these, owing in part to leaks and public demonstrations which raise awareness. One goal is globalisation (in the negative sense) and a method that is trending these days is ‘harminisation’ of laws across nations and continents, almost always in a way that makes them more corporations-leaning and plutocrats-friendly. It’s not surprising considering who works on these deals in secret. These conspirators are bypassing democracy because they want more for themselves and less for the rest of us. It has a lot to do with patents, which are codified into law to legalise monopolisation, i.e. marginalisation of challenge or competition (even from government, as ISDS comes to demonstrate).
Last week we wrote about what was happening in New Zealand. The so-called ‘trade’ deals can potentially bring software patents to New Zealand. Here is how one news site from New Zealand put it some days ago: “The Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry won’t say whether New Zealand’s laws on software patents will need to be overhauled if agreement is reached on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“Parliament passed a law that outlawed software patents “as such” in 2013. The wording of the law change was a compromise that resulted from years of tortuous debate.
“Trade magazine CIO reported that Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) leaks suggested Mexico was now the only country against allowing software to be patented.
“The important point here is that some companies are starting to distance themselves from the EPO and USPTO.”Here in Europe we already have some loopholes similar to those which exist in New Zealand. These enable some companies to patent software (as long as it’s bound to some unspecified “device”). Europe has the Boards of Appeal (BoA) mechanism for independent/external assessment — not oversight — of the EPO and it too is being crushed right now (recall the BoA’s role in defending against software patents half a decade ago). The BoA is clearly under attack right now, as stories we covered served to show. It wants public input to help save it from the ruthless EPO, which hates to share any of its governance. The European Patent Office is now a totalitarian entity right at the heart of Europe. It must be stopped.
A biased site which targets patent lawyers spoke of an interesting trend the other day, published under the headline “The companies that abandon most US and EPO patents – and shoulder much responsibility for raising quality” (the latter part is spin).
The important point here is that some companies are starting to distance themselves from the EPO and USPTO. Corporate culture may be evolving for the better. “In the latest issue of IAM magazine,” says the author, “Matthew Beers and Maria Lazarova of Ocean Tomo take a deep-dive look at patent abandonments data from both the USPTO and EPO. The full article contains a wealth of interesting data but, for the purposes of this blog we’ll take a sneak peek at the findings relating to IP owners and which of them abandon the most patents at both agencies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, about half of the top 50 companies by abandonment volume are also in the top 50 by number of applications filed. What’s more, of the top 50 companies by abandonment volume over the period examined by Beers’ and Lazarova’s analysis, well over two-thirds appear among the top abandoners at both the USPTO and the EPO.”
This is bad news for patent lawyers. Over in the US, which expands the USPTO to Silicon Valley (as planned), it is said that there is now “New Guidance on Patent Subject Matter Eligibility”. “On July 30,” writes a site of patent lawyers, “the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a set of documents providing examiners and practitioners with additional guidance on patent subject matter eligibility. The July 2015 Update responds to comments received from the public following the USPTO’s issuance of the 2014 Interim Guidance (2014 IEG) on December 26, 2014.”
It sure looks like they are limiting patent scope. The assignment of patents on software really must stop, at the very least because judges deem these patents patent-ineligible, based on the law (they are not patent examiners, but they know the limits of the law and can enforce the law by exercising their duty).
Just the other day we learned that a famed BitTorrent entrepreneur managed to get a patent on P2P live streaming. TorrentFreak said this “may be the start of a new breakthrough,” but we hardly feel excited by the passage of yet another patent on software. This really ought to stop and a good start would be scrutiny of the ‘trade’ deals, those who facilitate them, the USPTO, the EPO, and politicians who push for the UPC (essentially another so-called ‘harmonisation’ of law and courts framework). There are many powerful and selfish forces looking to gain power and money at the expense of everybody else, especially scientists. As we are by far the majority, we can repeatedly beat those relentless forces. From awareness comes anger and when the majority is angry the evil forces become fearful and often retreat (see ACTA). █
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Summary: Looking at some of the latest propaganda for and against a bill which is already too watered-down to actually fix the US patent system
TECHRIGHTS has spent a lot of time explaining why the US patent system is dysfunctional beyond repair (Europe’s system, by contrast, can still be salvaged) and why so-called ‘reform’ in a political atmosphere that is dominated by large corporations is just a mirage [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. The so-called Innovation Act or PATENT Act have already been derailed by lobbyists, employed by large corporations and very rich people who want protectionism in the form of patents (monopoly or “market exclusivity”, to use a euphemism).
All that ‘reforms’ speak about these days are “trolls”, even though patent trolls are far from the only issue. They are arguably just a symptom of a broken system and fixing a problem by redefining that problem won’t help solve the real problem. Joe Mullin, who has been focusing on patent trolls for nearly a decade, continues to focus on patent trolls and says that a “patent was invented [patents are being invented?] by Warren Sandvick, president of a Texas company called HasSex, which has an extremely trollish website and licensed the patent several times. Filed in 1998, and granted in 2002, the patent lays broad claim to a remotely controlled sexual “stimulation system,” one version of which involved a “second user interface” located remotely from the first.”
“This is clearly lobbying that exploits women to mask corporations and billionaires, but then again, we we noted many times before, that’s what The Hill is for.”The article focuses on sex (sex sells!) and trolls rather than matters pertaining to patent scope. Another site which obsesses over patent trolls because it is funded by large corporations including Microsoft weighs in, calling for the bogus ‘reform’ (dealing only with trolls) to go ahead. In it, Matt Levy responds to a nonsensical piece we mentioned the other day, from lobbyists’ favourite media (The Hill). Bill Watson took note of the propaganda from The Hill, paraphrasing as: “Patent reform will enable sneaky “foreign entities” to harm “the American family unit”” [the exact headline is “New patent bill would undermine economic growth, hurt families” and it does refer to “foreign entities” at the end].
Who wrote the article? By the description of oneself, “Nance is CEO and president of Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.”
Wait, we already know this. Like several other such groups, it is a front for lobbyists, exploiting women’s rights for corporate agenda. We covered such examples almost a decade ago. It’s not a new trick.
CMD wrote about this front group last year. Quoting the relevant parts: “This includes right-wing religious groups that oppose gay marriage and abortion rights, like Concerned Women for America, which has received at least $11.4 million from the Koch network since 2010, and Focus on the Family spinoff Citizen Link, which has received at least $10 million, including at least $885,000 this election cycle.”
There is also “Concerned Women for American Legislative Action Committee,” with a budget of $8,150,000, according to this “New List of the Dark Money Shell Game Groups Connected to the Kochs”.
So who opposes patent reform in this case? CMD’s SourceWatch has some good, well-organised background about “Concerned Women for America” and “Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee”. This is clearly lobbying that exploits women to mask corporations and billionaires, but then again, we we noted many times before, that’s what The Hill is for. That’s coming from the same billionaires who use sockpuppets to airbrush Wikipedia. █
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