Summary: The debate about software patents in this post-Alice era parallels the Net neutrality debate, where voices of people with vested interests contribute to confusion and meddle with largely-accepted views/consensus
OVER the past month and a half there have been quite a few articles about software patents. We have kept track of them and accumulated what amounts to an alta vista of sorts — a kind of zeitgeist of patent debate trends. Back when this site was born (2006 being the year of establishment, i.e. almost a decade ago) debates about software patents were habitual; later we saw these debates distracted, diluted, and then virtually extinguished, i.e. largely gone. It wasn’t an accident; the debates are controlled by corporate media, which is in turn motivated by the wills and itches of large corporations. Now they love to moan about “patent trolls”, despite the strong correlation between trolls and software patents, let alone the fact that many big corporations act just like trolls. Those who insist that the only problem worth tackling in patents is “patent trolls” are probably just trying to protect multinationals from them; this includes some patent lawyers who perceive trolls as a legitimacy problem (serving to discredit the system they make money from and thus must protect).
Alice Changed Everything
The article ““Ineligible Subject Matter” Patent Litigation Spikes In 2014″ (note date) provided an interesting perspective. “More than 20 lower court rulings since the Alice decision have invalidated software patents,” said this other article about the HP patents (see [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] or this analysis which says one “can help to have these [HP] patents revoked by providing ‘prior art’ examples on Stack Exchange”). Clearly enough there continues to be progress in this area, but the media is largely absent from it. The voices of patent lawyers dominate and they contribute to the illusion that nothing has changed after the Alice decision, or that very little has changed.
“CAFC affirms invalidity of patent on computerized meal planning,” Charles Duan wrote the other day. “Case was so easy they didn’t issue an opinion.”
Now, for CAFC, the most overzealous pro-software patents court to do this must truly count for something.
“Lenovo Says Alice Kills Tranxition Software Patents,” according to this article which states: “Lenovo (United States) Inc. on Tuesday asked an Oregon federal court to find invalid two Tranxition Inc. software patents it is accused of infringing, saying the patents are abstract and unpatentable under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Alice Corp. decision.”
Also consider reading the article “Future Of Software Patents In Doubt After Supreme Court Decision Last Year”, despite it being a little older.
Vivek Wadhwa, a longtime critic of software patents, weighed in last month and said that “Patents are like nuclear weapons”. “Vivek Wadhwa,” said the introduction, “Indian-American tech entrepreneur and academician is an outspoken advocate of abolishing software patents in the US.” Vivek Wadhwa also published some other pieces in large newspapers, noting that the “Founding Fathers of the United States considered intellectual property so important that they gave it a special place in the Constitution: “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.””
Satish Babu said that the “‘Improve Patent Quality’ campaign Is a distraction & doesn’t lead to elimination of software patents [according to] RMS delivering the keynote at #lp2015″ (recent event).
To quote an article about it, “Big companies that don’t really want to get rid of software patents but do want to get rid of nuisance patents have launched a competing, weak, not-worth-bothering campaign to quote ‘improve patent quality,’ unquote,” Stallman said, presumably in reference to the lobbying group United for Patent Reform, which launched in January.”
Stallman is right. As we’ll explain later, there is one effort to blame it all on “bad patents” and another to blame it all on “trolls”, as CCIA (a front group) likes to do. Uniloc, which is clearly a patent troll, was mentioned here a short while ago because “PTAB Will Review Widely Asserted Uniloc Software Patent”. To quote: “The Patent Trial and Appeal Board agreed Tuesday to conduct an inter partes review of a patent on software registration technology that Uniloc USA Inc. has asserted against dozens of companies over the years, in a win for Sega of America Inc. and other accused infringers.”
Here is another development in the realms of software patents. BreezyPrint dodges a software patents lawsuit in Texas, where the courts are very favourable to plaintiffs. Quoting Law 360: “A Texas federal judge ruled Thursday that BreezyPrint Corp., a small mobile printing company, did not infringe several printing software patents owned by rival PrinterOn Inc., which was recently acquired by Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.”
“Software patents at center of abuse problem, report says” is the title of another report. Thankfully, some people do realise/understand the core issue and this issue has already been addressed to a large degree by the highest court in the US. One oughtn’t be surprised to see patent lawyers panic.
Lawyers Distort the Record
So all in all one might assume that we’re moving in the right direction and the world can finally grasp that software is not patentable, not even in the US. Sadly, however, patent lawyers and people in the patent ‘industry’ still flood the channels (news, forums, etc.) and it shows. They are fighting back against this new reality.
A Microsoft-backed pro-software patents lobbying group (BSA) was given the platform right here, promoting software patents of course. This piece of lobbying/propaganda was posted by Dennis Crouch, who is himself very biased.
Crouch gives his platform not just for lobbyists to exploit (for software patents around the world) and to dismiss Alice but also for other pro-software patents voices, usually patent lawyers. Consider this “Guest Commentary” by Robert Stoll and the notoriously pro-software patents Michael Risch (he believes and insists that some software should be patentable).
Other patent lawyers took on other media. An article by James M. Singer (Fox Rothschild LLP) remarks on Alice and Singer again did this when it comes to patent reform. They are pushing forth the interests of patent lawyers. “We’re hearing a lot of claims about the STRONG Act as an “alternative” to patent litigation reform,” wrote the CCIA-backed (and powered) site. “The campaign supporting the bill has been misleading at best.” This CCIA-backed site keeps focusing on trolls, as usual, as it last did even a fortnight ago. It’s not asking for real “Patent Progress” (the name of the site) but a ‘progress’ that its funders (which include Microsoft) want. A patent bill’s acceptability is determined by the paymasters and “trolls” remain the only mentionable issue. “According to Lex Machina’s data,” says Levy (CCIA), “in January this year, there were 442 patent cases filed compared with 334 cases in January 2014. That’s a 32% increase. In February this year, there were 500 patent cases filed compared with 440 cases in February 2014. That’s a 13.6% increase. For the year so far, there are about 22% more patent cases filed in the first two months of 2015 compared with the first two months of 2014.” But that’s not the point; the real issue is not just litigation but the scope of patents. Why not tackle the core issue?
Patent propagandist Gene Quinn published “The Road Forward for Software Patents post-Alice”, one among his many pro-software patents posts (he makes money from these). Gene Quinn derives revenue from this parasitic system, so his torrent of pro-software patents pseudo-patriotism and salesmanship (appeal to emotion with terms like “Problem Child”) should not be shocking.
In another lawyers’ site we find another post-Alice pro-software patents piece. “Given past precedent,” it says, “counsel should not expect the pendulum to stop swinging back-and-forth on software patent eligbility” (it has already swung).
In another lawyers’ site we found more of the same and other lawyers’ sites offer no exception. They are teaching patent lawyers what to do as they are trying to get around the rules and share tricks for doing so. That’s what lawyers do, not just when it comes to patents. They want to keep patenting software, i.e. generate business for themselves. Watch how one firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, selectively covered cases where software patents were upheld by courts. It’s this bias by omission that we covered in prior month.
In conclusion, the world is changing, but don’t expect it to change without aggressive and persistent resistance from the parasites. █
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The root problem is monopolies on mathematics
Summary: A roundup of recent coverage about monopolies on algorithms in the United States
THE FIGHT against software patents (in the US in particular) is going quite well as courts combat this irrational phenomenon, which has come to dominate the patent system and now saturates the patents pool. Nike is now patenting software, showing us again that, demonstrably speaking, it is large corporations that typically rely on such patents. These almost always hurt the ‘small people’, unless they are patent trolls and opportunists.
“These patent lawyers continue to debate the patentability of software (usually if not always spinning in favour of software patents in the United States) while in another article by lawyer Rob Tiller (Red Hat) the wrong kind of approach is being floated, debating once again “patent trolling” rather than software patenting.”Software patents are typically being hoarded by evil companies (lots of abuses other than patent abuses) and Samsung, which is pressured by Microsoft using software patents extortion, is now the victim of yet another evil company. As a trolls expert put it, “Gordon Bremer didn’t invent Bluetooth 2.0. In fact, as he admitted on the stand last week in an East Texas federal court, he hadn’t even read the specification for it until 2007—three years after it was on the market.
“Despite that, Bremer may be getting paid a hefty royalty by Samsung, after a jury ruled that the Korean electronics company infringed Bremer’s patents. He stands to get 2.5 percent of the $15.7 million verdict [PDF] won by his employer, Rembrandt IP, one of the oldest and most successful “patent trolls.””
Until or unless the USPTO is ready to stop its horrible patent policy, patent trolls will continue to harm real companies with actual products. Microsoft, for example, uses patents to harm Android and force Android to play into the loser’s game (Microsoft).
Here are some new “Comments on USPTO’s Interim Patent Eligibility Guidance”, coming from the Bilski Blog (no connection to the Bilski case, just opportunism): “[t]he Interim Guidance made a slight change from the Preliminary Instructions to address this issue, by stating that “certain methods of organizing human activities” (emphasis added) are abstract ideas, to avoid suggesting that “all” such methods are ineligible. But that does not fully address the problem, and indeed may exacerbate it. The use of the adjective “certain” gives no useful instruction to the examiners—it says no more than “some methods” are ineligible, without saying how to identify which methods. As noted by the commentators, the only instruction from the Court is that it is those methods which are themselves already “fundamental building blocks” as in Bilski. As an example, a method of making ice cream sundaes by mixing ice cream and toppings on chilled blocks of granite is a method of organizing human activities that is not “fundamental” or “abstract.”
“The Office should revise the Guidance to specifically address the interpretation of “abstract ideas” as being fundamental, and advise examiners to demonstrate such fundamental status by proper citation to authoritative references. The Office should explain to examiners precisely how to establish which “certain” methods of organizing human activity are ineligible, and if it cannot, then it should remove the alleged category entirely.”
These patent lawyers continue to debate the patentability of software (usually if not always spinning in favour of software patents in the United States) while in another article by lawyer Rob Tiller (Red Hat) the wrong kind of approach is being floated, debating once again “patent trolling” rather than software patenting. Here is what he wrote a few days ago:
Patent reform is once again in the air. A few days ago, Congressman Bob Goodlatte and others re-introduced the Innovation Act, which was passed by the House in the last Congress but died in the Senate. It has several good ideas, including fee shifting, clearer pleadings, patent ownership disclosure requirements, combatting discovery abuse, clarity in ownership of patents, protection of downstream users, and others. Some of these could improve the chances for businesses facing attacks by patent assertion entities (PAEs, aka patent trolls).
But in preparing for a talk last week, I came upon an idea that could go as further than any pending legislative proposal towards undermining the business of patent trolling. Professor Mark Lemley of Stanford Law School titled his paper with becoming modesty: Why Do Juries Decide if Patents Are Valid?. This caught my eye, because I’ve long wondered the very same thing. The risk of a runaway jury is one that costs all patent defendants (including most every innovative technology company) some sleepless nights. Even when a patent claim seems clearly without basis, the possibility of a jury trial gives us pause.
What depresses us about Rob Tiller’s approach (he heads Red Hat’s work in this area) is that while Red Hat continues pursuing some of its own software patents it does virtually nothing effective to stop them; it mostly talks about “trolls”, neglecting to recognise that many of these trolls that harass Red Hat are Microsoft-connected and Microsoft itself acts no differently than patent trolls, it’s only bigger. To really combat this problem we must speak about patent scope, not the scale of the plaintiffs. █
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No Constitutional rights to patent
Summary: Court cases which serve to highlight the end of an era of software patents to all
Software patents are a terrifying concept. One can become an infringer and very quickly get sued (in bulk even) for merely typing one’s own ideas on a keyboard. When it comes to the United States, things are at least improving. This lawyers’ site has just shared the outcome of another case involving software patents where the patents lost in a big way. Moreover, it’s the most zealous pro-software patents court that ruled against software patents. As the site puts it, “The Federal Circuit on Monday rejected software company E-Lynxx Corp.’s bid to revive claims in a $50 million lawsuit accusing InnerWorkings Inc., Cirqit.com Inc. and others of infringing patents for products that help choose the lowest bidder from a variety of vendors.”
In other uplifting news: “As patent reform moved into the political spotlight during the last Congress, one patent that kept coming up was the “online shopping cart.” It seemed to resonate as a technology that clearly shouldn’t have been patented.
“By the time it started being brought up in Congressional hearings, though, the shopping cart patent was dead. Its owner, Soverain Software, was beaten when computer retailer Newegg won an appellate ruling invalidating its patents and throwing out the $2.5 million jury verdict against it.”
Excellent! It’s a step in the right direction and by precedence it will pave the way for similar rulings to come. This isn’t about patent trolls; rather, it is about patent scope.
TechDirt just covered a study which claims to have busted the myth about hoarding ideas. Remember that patents were (way back in the days) a very different animal. There was a different rationale well before computers even existed. Patents were in some sense about increase in sharing and collaboration. That’s what patents were about all at first, at the very beginning. It was about dissemination of knowledge (publication) in exchange for a temporary monopoly, ensuring knowledge is not completely lost in the interest of profit/protectionism by secrecy. Another myth is being addressed at Patent Progress these days, tackling the misconception about Constitutional rights to patents:
Congress was granted the power to promote progress of “science and useful arts” in a particular way. While Congress has the power to grant patents, it has no obligation to do so, which means that there is no constitutional right to a patent.
Patents should be granted (if ever at all) when there is empirical evidence that doing so would be collectively beneficial. All that software patents seem to have brought about is a circus of patent trolls, patent blackmail, removal of key features from programs, and retardation of startups. Many studies have been showing that the net outcome of software patents is overwhelmingly negative and US policy will hopefully be evidence-based as opposed to lawyers-driven and monopolies-steered. █
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Benoît Battistelli meets Siemens
Summary: The neglected (by EPO) Article 4a of the European Patent Convention (EPC) and the European Parliament petition/complaint against the EPO’s crooked management
Now that the internal communications person (i.e. PR) is out and things are heating up against the EPO Vice-President (never mind Benoît Battistelli, the EPO President), the corporate takeover of the patent system in Europe can be slowed down. We have just learned from this European patents maximalism blog that “Philips is among the top-10 Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applicants and the top-3 European Patent Convention (EPC) applicants. Owning about 64,000 patents and filing approximately 1,500 patent applications each year (with a strong focus on the growth areas of health and well-being), much is at stake for the company with the introduction of a Unified Patent Court (UPC) and the Unitary Patent (UP). Philips’ principal IP Counsel Leo Steenbeek told Kluwer IP Law in an interview he hopes financial demands of UP member states won´t lead to unrealistic high renewal fees. Philips won’t opt-out patents when the UPC starts functioning.”
This helps remind us who the EPO really serves. It has become a “protection” apparatus for large corporations, largely at the expense of citizens of Europe. The Unified Patent Court would enable huge corporations to sue a lot of rivals or intimidate them. It would also help patent trolls.
Several months ago a source sent us some information about the neglected Article 4a of the European Patent Convention (EPC), which might be of interest. Article 4a of the EPC deals with very fundamental rules. If any rule it is violated, then there is legal basis on which to file complaints.
As our source put it: “Another example of how the current EPO management (meaning Battistelli and the Administrative Council) has managed to avoid political oversight can be seen by consulting Article 4a of the European Patent Convention according to which: “A conference of ministers of the Contracting States responsible for patent matters shall meet at least every five years to discuss issues pertaining to the Organisation and to the European patent system.”
“This Article,” explained our source, “was introduced into the revised version of the EPC (“EPC 2000”) which entered into force on December 13, 2007.
“However, despite the statutory requirement to hold a ministerial conference at least once every five years, no such conference has been convened since the entry into force of the revised EPC in 2007. The first five year period expired on in December 2012, i.e. on Battistelli’s watch. (He was appointed EPO President in 2010.)”
This would not be the first time that Battistelli dodges or eliminates oversight, as we showed numerous times before. “If you can read French,” said our source, “it may be worth having a look at an interview Battistelli gave to a French magazine in 2012.
“In this interview he boasts (in French) of the “independence” that he enjoys as EPO President.” To quote the interview: «Je n’ai jamais été aussi libre, insiste-t-il. Je n’ai pas de ministère de tutelle, de Parlement, de gouvernement. C’est nous qui fixons les règles, les discutons, les négocions.»
In English: “I have never been so free, he insists. I have no supervisory Minister above me, nor any Parliament or government. It is we who discuss, negotiate and decide on the rules.”
In other words, he has got himself a tyranny. He does not even need to obey rules. “The “we” referred to here seems to mean Battistelli himself and the AC,” remarked our source. As we have demonstrated time after time, the Administrative Council is basically in cahoots rather than independent from Battistelli. It’s a banana republic’s status quo.
“However,” he said, “as can be seen from Article 4a EPC, Battistelli’s arrogant boast that he is not subject to any oversight by ministerial or governmental authority betrays a serious misunderstanding of the legal framework established by the revised EPC.
“Obviously, the intention behind article 4a is to provide for some measure of political oversight of the EPO at ministerial level. It is only by ignoring this provision, i.e. by not taking any measures to convene a ministerial conference despite the statutory requirement to do so, that the EPO President and the AC have been able to evade this kind of political oversight.”
“We wish to revive the petition, preferably not just from Croatia.”The rejected complaint (in the form of a petition) to the European Parliament is worth revisiting in this context, given that some European politicians continue to pursue action against the EPO. We wish to revive the petition, preferably not just from Croatia. There is a certain stereotype and a myth that Topić and his ilk exploit; it’s the myth only Croats are upset at Topić, supposedly because of envy. We need more involvement from people outside Croatia and by providing information in English we hopefully make more people aware of the issues and thus more able to communicate them. Any such communication in support of the previous petition from members of the general public could be useful to encourage the Petitions Committee to investigate the abuse as it would indicate to the Committee that there is a public interest in the issues raised by the Petition outside of Croatia (from where the original petition originates).
We have already written several times about the first petition calling for an independent investigation of Topić’s appointment. The petition was submitted to the European Parliament by a Croatian NGO called Juris Protecta. It stated that an independent (outside) investigation was needed, but none ever took place, even two years later. The petition goes back to 2013 and the reference number for the petition was (and still is) 2848/2013. The original petition contained a request for confidential treatment. This request for confidential treatment was subsequently withdrawn which means that the petition is now a public document. In the mean time, Vesna Stilin (another Croat) had submitted an application to join the Petition as a co-petitioner and she was taking other actions to address these matters, as mentioned in several older articles of ours. The previous meeting of the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament was scheduled for 11 November 2014 and the next one is at the end of this month, so there may be time to submit new petitions, something along the lines of the following words of ours (please don’t just copy). Here is some draft text which could be used as a basis for communicating and conveying thoughts to the Petitions Committee:
I/we refer to Petition 2848/2013  which has been filed with the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament and which calls for an independent investigation of the appointment of Mr. Željko Topić as a Vice-President of the European Patent Organisation. In December the petition was rejected not because it lacked merit but because it was claimed to be within the responsibility of other departments. This response is deeply problematic because the nature of the petitioner’s concerns and the core complaint is that those other departments have been gagged, suppressed, or even abolished by those who are supposed to be overseen. That, as some may argue, is how Topić got into his position in the first place. It means that the European Parliament is the last resort and the only body able to engage in a potent investigation. The European Parliament should consider revisiting these issues, among more issues such as the violation of the European Patent Convention (EPC) [see/refer above].
I/we hereby wish to express my/our support for the 2013 Petition and suggest that a new, more extensive investigation into these matters in undertaken. I/we would be grateful if you could acknowledge in due course that my/our support for the Petition has been registered with the Petitions Committee.
 Ref: Petition No. 2848/2013 filed by Juris Protecta (Croatia).
This is just a suggested draft for a letter to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament to express support for Petition No. 2848/2013 calling for an independent investigation of the appointment of Mr. Željko Topić as a Vice-President of the European Patent Organisation. We urge for expansion of the original complaint/petition, either by citation or by filing of a new petition (clarifying that it is a followup), as a lot more is known now than was known back in 2013. The European Parliament should be able to find plenty of relevant information in French, German, and English. Benoît Battistelli is quickly moving to crush any kind of oversight and if the European Parliament continues to refuse to intervene, it too would lose legitimacy and potentially be seen/perceived as complicit. Members of the European Parliament need to understand that.
For the moment we don’t know whether or not the petition 2848/2013 will ever be the agenda again. It might therefore be worth filing a fresh petition. We would like to point out here that, in principle, any EU citizen who is interested in this matter can write to the Petitions Committee to express support for petitions. Maybe some of our European readers would take leadership on this matter. Other readers would hopefully be interested in expressing their support for the petition or submitting a new one. Some contact details for the Petitions Committee are as follows:
- Ms Cecilia WIKSTRÖM:
- Mr Pál CSÁKY:
- Ms Rosa ESTARÀS FERRAGUT:
- Ms Roberta METSOLA:
- Ms Marlene MIZZI:
Secretariat of the Committee on Petitions
- Mr David LOWE, Head of Unit:
60 rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60
B-1047 – Bruxelles/Brussels
If you do choose to communicate with a petition, please consider sharing some information with us in the comments below, e.g. a reference number. Organising the action would make it more effective. █
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Summary: Signs that the US is turning against software patents, not just against patent trolls which so-called patent reforms strive to tackle
THE UNITED STATES is improving when it comes to patents sanity because scope is being narrowed, especially when it comes to software patents. We wrote over a dozen articles about it, but the media is still full with so-called ‘reports’ (shameless self-promotion and self service) from patent lawyers, who would deliberately have the public believe that not much has changed. Always remember that patents (as per their mission statement) are supposed to be about publication, innovation, and public interests, not about securing the newly-created jobs of parasitic lawyers and their monopolistic clients.
“Always remember that patents (as per their mission statement) are supposed to be about publication, innovation, and public interests, not about securing the newly-created jobs of parasitic lawyers and their monopolistic clients.”The EFF recently made this good move against software patents, specifically naming software patents as the issue (not “trolls” or “stupid” patents as the EFF habitually addresses the issue).
To quote the EFF: “There are many reasons software patents cause so much trouble. The Patent Office does not do a good job reviewing software patent applications to see if they are claiming something new. And these patents often describe the purported invention with highly vague and ambiguous language. Software patents also tend to claim every way to solve a problem, rather than the particular solution developed by the applicant. This is known as functional claiming. While it may seem like an arcane legal dispute, functional claiming is a key feature of overbroad software patents.”
The EFF recently improved its activism in this area, having wasted nearly a decade tackling one patent at a time (so-called ‘busting’), talking about patent trolls, or alluding to patents that are “stupid” rather than ones whose class/type/scope makes them illegitimate. Alas, the “Stupid Patent of the Month” series from the EFF continues. It usually names software patents, but does not refer to them as such. Here is the example from a few days ago:
In the Spirit of the Holidays: It’s Not Too Late for Uber to Avoid Stupid Patent of the Month
Because Uber did just that, Uber is being forewarned of its risk of receiving the Stupid Patent of the Month award. Specifically, Uber has applied for a patent on a form of dynamic pricing, a practice that (even if it didn’t exist before the study of economics) has been heavily in use by various industries, including most famously by airlines, for over 20 years.
Stallman recently published a good list of reasons not to use Uber (the car ride brokering company), but that is a subject for another day. The EFF has provided yet another reason to avoid Uber.
Make no mistake however. The EFF’s lawyers are outnumbered by patents-loving lawyers who flood the media with pro-software patents articles (we are reviewing this on a daily basis). The only exception we have found in the past fortnight was Timothy B. Lee, who published the article titled “Software patents are a disaster. The courts finally did something about it in 2014.” Here are some opening paragraphs:
For two decades, people in Silicon Valley have been complaining about software patents. People would get patents on broad concepts like checking email wirelessly or scanning documents to an email account, and then sue anyone who happened to stumble across the same concept. Thanks to this kind of frivolous litigation, patents in the software industry may actually be discouraging innovation instead of encouraging it.
But until recently, complaints about excessive patenting of software mostly fell on deaf ears. The patent office issued tens of thousands of new software patents every year, and the courts upheld most of them. Congress showed little interest in addressing the issue.
The fiercest pro-software patents sites refuse to talk about the demise of software patents or even call patent trolls “trolls” (they use other words). What they do care about is the patent reform in the US; yes, even patent lawyers’ sites speak about it and some worry about the (rather likely) imminent appointment of Michelle Lee, who is one of them (a lawyer, albeit with a scientific background as a computer scientist). Louis J. Foreman says: “I’m concerned independent inventors, small businesses and the property protections we all depend on are about to become collateral damage as Congress once again tries to crack down on “patent trolls.” The popular definition of a patent troll as used in the congressional debate is a company that doesn’t make any products itself, but that owns patents and tries to make money by accusing other companies of infringement.”
We have seen more of that argument elsewhere, basically complaining that patent trolls are not a problem. As one person put it, “obviously, these guys have never been sued by a patent troll…the Wright Brothers…really?”
It was said in reference to this odd article. “Take a look at the website of the ‘tech’ company 1 of the authors works for,” said one person. It sure looks like those who defend trolls are either trolls themselves or those who work with trolls.
In relation to a patent reform this puff piece from The Hill gave a platform the the BSA (Microsoft front group). One relevant part says:
“I think the change in the Senate is a good thing for patent reform,” said Craig Albright, a top lobbyist with BSA | The Software Alliance. “And that change is important for the prospects of getting patent reform done and it’s one of the reasons why we’re optimistic.”
As we have shown before, when Microsoft and its partners speak about patent reform they don’t speak about eliminating or limiting software patents, which they love dearly. Here is another new article titled “Patent Reform Likely to Succeed in Next Congress” and further commentary from TechDirt:
As we’ve noted recently, a series of Supreme Court decisions over the past decade, culminating in the big Alice v. CLS Bank ruling in July, has clearly put a serious crimp on the patent trolling business. Vague, broad, dangerous patents are falling like flies, new patent trolling lawsuits are on the decline and the US Patent Office is rejecting a lot more questionable software and business method patent applications. All good news. But is it enough?
That is pretty much where favourable coverage ends. The biased media of patent lawyers still dominates the news feeds, aided by large corporations’ press.
Bloomberg, i.e. Wall Street, gives them a platform with which to defend software patents in the wake of Alice v. CLS Bank and blogs of patent maximalists write about it in a self-serving fashion. “Look at those patent guys scared to death about loosing their jobs with the removal of software patents,” wrote the FFII’s President. There is more where it came from (bypassing limitations), glorification of patents and revisionism (disguised as ‘history’) about software patents, as noted in an article we published 2 weeks ago. When Gene Quinn talks about history he speaks of a highly modified version that helps patent lawyers fool judges or lawmakers.
A lot of other legal sites, such as Mondaq, Lexology and Law 360 showed their clear bias. Only patent lawyers write there on this topic and it’s unsurprisingly biased. Some are willing to acknowledge the fact that software patents are in trouble, but they selective pick cases where software patents endure. To quote an example from today: “In discussing computer software patentability, the court stated outright that “software must be eligible under § 101″ and that the Supreme Court has implicitly endorsed the patentability of software, including in Alice. Specifically, the court reasoned that patent law must balance between encouraging creation of new computing solutions and protecting against applying established ideas through a computer environment. Caltech, 156 C.D. Cal. at 9095. The court also interpreted Alice as acknowledging the patent eligibility of software if it improves “the functioning of the computer itself” or “any other technology.””
“No, Mr Crouch,” insists the FFII’s Present, “loading software on a PC does not make it a new machine” (Crouch is one of the most prominent boosters of patents).
Joe Mullin recently showed that not only software patents are dying in the US but patents on genetics too. As Susan Decker from Bloomberg put it: “Myriad Genetics Inc. (MYGN) can’t block competitors’ DNA tests to determine risk for breast and ovarian cancer after a U.S. appeals court said three patents on the tests never should have been issued.
“The patents cover products of nature and ideas that aren’t eligible for legal protection, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said in an opinion posted today on the court’s docket. The court upheld a trial judge’s decision to allow the competing tests, including those made by Ambry Genetics Corp., to remain on the market.”
It sure looks like the US improves a lot on the patent front, but reading the lawyers-dominated press won’t quite reinforce this impression.
“Comments will be accepted until March 16, 2015,” says the USPTO regarding the “Interim Guidance on Subject Matter Eligibility”. Three weeks from now we shall receive some new sregarding patent scope in the US and perhaps also find out who is going to head the USPTO,
A public forum will be hosted at the Alexandria campus of the USPTO on Jan. 21, 2015, to receive public feedback from any interested member of the public. The Eligibility Forum will be an opportunity for the Office to provide an overview of the Interim Eligibility Guidance and for participants to present their interpretation of the impact of Supreme Court precedent on the complex legal and technical issues involved in subject matter eligibility analysis during examination by providing oral feedback on the Interim Eligibility Guidance and claim example sets. Individuals will be provided an opportunity to make a presentation, to the extent that time permits.
It is very likely that law firms and large corporations will submit the lion’s share of comments and those who are unaffiliated will be ignored or mostly unaccounted for. Software patents will lose when the wealthy interests against them outweigh the likes of Microsoft. In a world where Free software increasingly dominates (sharing and collaboration among software companies) the vision of a software patents-free world is no fantasy. █
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Not much in terms of changes except the public face
Photo from Asian Pacific Fund
Summary: An update on efforts to reform the patent system in the United States, including the possibly imminent appointment of Michelle Lee to USPTO leadership role
OUR friends over at IP Troll Tracker argue with proponents of patent trolls, including those who try to classify the world’s biggest trolls (firms like Intellectual Ventures) as something else. Apparently, trying to say who qualifies as a patent troll is a controversial issue among those who are in this business and this is why there was hardly any substantial progress on eradication of patent trolls. The de facto definition of “troll” these days is “small actor that uses patents”. It’s about scale, not scope. If you are a massive corporation like IBM and Microsoft, then you somehow can’t qualify as “troll” even when you engage in the very same tactics on a much larger scale.
“If you are a massive corporation like IBM and Microsoft, then you somehow can’t qualify as “troll” even when you engage in the very same tactics on a much larger scale.”This new article from TechDirt speaks of the fight for patent reform by the likes of Newegg, correctly noting that “the company became a leader in fighting back against ridiculous patent lawsuits, going toe-to-toe with some of the biggest trolls around. The company’s Chief Legal Officer, Lee Cheng, has vowed to never settle with a patent troll, and so far has never lost an appeal on a patent claim.”
Another older article from TechDirt cites Professor Bessen and reminds us that Free software projects are directly being harmed and even eliminated by patent trolls (we gave some examples before). To quote the article, via James Bessen, “we [now] learn of how a patent trolling operation by StreamScale has resulted in an open source project completely shutting down, despite the fact that the patent in question (US Patent 8,683,296 for an “Accelerated erasure coding system and method”) is almost certainly ineligible for patent protection as an abstract idea, following the Supreme Court’s Alice ruling and plenty of prior art. Erasure codes are used regularly today in cloud computing data storage and are considered to be rather important. Not surprisingly, companies and lawyers are starting to pop out of the woodwork to claim patents on key pieces. I won’t pretend to understand the fundamental details of erasure codes, but the link above provides all the details. It goes through the specific claims in the patents, breaking down what they actually say (basically an erasure code on a computer using SIMD instructions), and how that’s clearly an abstract idea and thus not patent-eligible.”
See this page about the patent: “The Accelerated erasure coding system and method software patent was filed by StreamScale, a patent holding company, and granted by the US patent office in march 2014 (filed july 2013). It claims to own the idea to use SIMD instructions to speed up the computation of Erasure Code. It is a patent-ineligible abstract idea and can be ignored.”
Well, it may be a patent-ineligible abstract idea, but proving in in Court can be costly, especially for a Free software project.
It is being reported right now that Michelle Lee, formerly of Google, is en route to becoming the next head of the USPTO (the pro-software patents sites exploit this to try to promote stronger policy in favour of software patents). “There were no big surprises,” writes Patent Progress, “on Michelle Lee’s nomination as head of the USPTO. The Committee went fairly easy on her with their questions, with the possible exception of Senator Durbin, who admits that he knows nothing about patents or patent law, but seems convinced by his Illinois constituents that there is no patent troll problem.”
Durbin and the likes of him seem to be talking based on (mis)information from lobbyists and funders, not facts. It’s the big corporations talking. Either way, while it’s clear that there is a patent troll problem, there is also a patent scope problem and that’s what trolls tend to exploit. It’s not a surprise that a site like Patent Progress only focuses on patent trolls; see who funds the site by proxy (certain type of big corporations). Another new post from this site states that “Commissioner Brill’s main point was that we shouldn’t wait for the study to be concluded before pursuing legislation against PAEs. There’s no question that the PAE problem exists and is getting worse; she made clear that the new Congress should act immediately after taking office.”
PAE is just a euphemism for troll or shark.
As readers may recall, the Republicans (GOP) spoke about 'reform' on patents roughly one month ago, but nothing was really going to change. Mike Masnick from TechDirt recently published this update that says: “Back in May, we wrote about how, despite pretty much everyone agreeing on a (decent, if not amazing) patent reform bill in the Senate, the whole thing got shot down at the last minute. That was when the trial lawyers called Senator Harry Reid, asking him to kill the whole thing, which he did by telling Senator Patrick Leahy that he wouldn’t allow the bill to go to the floor for a vote. This came after months of detailed negotiations, getting nearly everyone into agreement on the bill, which would have made life at least somewhat more difficult for patent trolls. About a week after that, we pointed out that it seemed likely that the patent trolls had miscalculated badly, because it was widely expected that the Republicans would take control of the Senate in the fall (as they did), and they were more gungho on real patent reform and (obviously) not concerned with what trial lawyers think (mocking trial lawyers being a hobby of Republican politicians).”
To make a long story short, there is still no sign of reform on patents and even if there’s reform some time in the near future, it won’t actually address the problem of patent scope; it only targets “small trolls”, not “big trolls” like Microsoft and Apple, which still can use software patents to imitimate or extort Free software projects, including Android and Linux. █
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Summary: The corporations-serving GOP says that it wants a patent reform, but another reminder is needed of the futility of the suggested changes
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, a GOP-leaning News Corp-owned paper, says that “Leading GOP Senator Says More Patent Reform on the Horizon”, but as we explained before, this is not an effective reform. Being on the GOP’s agenda, one can expect it to serve large corporations rather than public interests (which GOP is neither sympathetic nor apathetic towards because public interests often conflict with business/rich people’s interests). “The bill,” says the paper, “will likely add new responsibilities on plaintiffs filing patent-infringement suits. Among the possible additions: a provision requiring plaintiffs who lose their infringement lawsuits to pay the defendants’ litigation costs.”
This would be effective in preventing poor people or small businesses from suing, irrespective of their nature (e.g. trolls, startups, individuals). It hardly deters large corporations with a large budget; for them, legal costs are typically slush funds.
“It hardly deters large corporations with a large budget; for them, legal costs are typically slush funds.”This is of course better than no amendments to existing laws, but does it go far enough? It might not be enough to discourage big trolls like Nokia, which the paper above indicates is likely to use software patents for profit (article behind paywall). Nokia is already patent-trolling, with Microsoft’s help, by proxy, e.g. through MOSAID (now renamed “Conversant” because of its bad reputation). The European authorities have already been made aware of this and they warned Nokia.
Nokia seems to be following the footsteps of companies like Qualcomm, which got the attention of some pro-software patents the other day. █
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Summary: A quick roundup of news of interest regarding software patents
THE SO-CALLED ‘Alice’ case has proven to be much more effective than Bilski because although In Re Bilski was sometimes used to eliminate a software patent here and there (examples exist) it happened nowhere as often as after ‘Alice’.
Dozens of law firms threw pieces of misinformation at the media shortly after the ‘Alice’ determination (we covered a large number of examples at the time), trying to deny that it had any impact on software patents. These were attempts at a self-fulfilling prophecy, but they were proven wrong. Now that ‘Alice’ is cited and used — successfully — in elimination of software patents in the United States the lawyers’ sites take another defensive approach such as this or that. Being lawyers’ sites, the headline “Section 101 Attack” (implying that the attackers are those who are against monopoly on algorithms) is not too shocking. They are trying to advise patent lawyers how to circumvent the new restrictions, with an introduction such as the following: “On November 3, 2014, in Cal. Inst. Of Tech. v. Hughes Communications., 2014 U.S.. Dist. LEXIS 156763 (C.D. Cal. 2014), Judge Mariana Pfaelzer penned the most thorough defense of software claims attacked under s. 101 that I have seen since State Street Bank. The opinion is also useful since it both continuously cites – and often distinguishes or explains Mayo—and because it is very critical of the analytical framework employed by the same court in McRO (Planet Blue) v Namco, a September decision on which I posted earlier. (A copy of this decision can be found at the end of this post.)”
If you are against software patents, then the patent lawyers view you as “attacking” them. Yes, it’s not those who monopolise and sue who are the attackers, but those who are trying to defend themselves. This wording is found in some of the highest tier legal papers, which probably shows just what level of contempt patent lawyers have for society at large.
Here is another legal publication writing not only about patenting software but also copyrighting it (applicable by default). It refers specifically to India, en ever-growing software giant where imperialistic lawyers (whose clients are rich multinationals) would just love to impose monopolies nf software (it’s usually non-Indian companies that can afford to file for patents and file lawsuits there, obviously against Indian people and businesses). India will hopefully never follow the trajectory of the US by embracing patents on algorithms.
Pay attention to this new Apple patent on a trivial software idea:
Apple has a new patent granted today by the USPTO (via AppleInsider) that details a method by which it can detect and keep track of mobile network dead zones via crowdsourced information. The technology is designed to give device makers and network operators a way to easily identify and counter low signal zones, by building out their network where it needs the most work.
Apple is increasingly becoming a software patents-wielding parasite, not a producing company. Thankfully, the US seems to be tackling the practice of patent trolling right now and Steph just got “a tip from an anonymous source that a certain company received a request from an NPE to permit disclosure of a license agreement to the FTC.”
We do not really believe that the FTC will be effective at tackling patent trolls, but at least it’s trying. There are signs of improvement and it’s not too delusional to allege or predict a wide-ranging patent reform, even with GOP majority. █
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