Source: Conference by Richard Stallman, “Free Software: Human Rights in Your Computer” (2014)
Summary: Media mistreatment of the very roots of Free/Open Source software (FOSS), which is now approaching 35 years in age and increasingly thriving
IN recent weeks we have found several ‘news’ articles that gave us cause for concern. Some were shared with Richard Stallman, a regular reader of Techrights, for his views to be expressed and portions of the correspondence can be found here (cautiously redacted to reduce potential animosity/tensions).
It is not unusual, especially these days (age of openwashing), to see the label “Open Source” misused. Not too long ago we identified some very gross distortion of the term “open source” to essentially openwash Facebook’s surveillance ambitions, focusing on poor people. Facebook traffic has sunk pretty badly over the past year (based on Alexa it’s a massive drop), so Facebook is trying really hard to frame/paint itself as “ethical”, even when it tries to expand its surveillance to people too poor to get connected to the Internet. This isn’t altruism, it’s opportunism and malice. It’s definitely not “open source” and the dot org suffix (Internet.org) is clearly inappropriate, not just misleading. “Facebook mistreats its users,” Stallman explained. “Facebook is not your friend, it is a surveillance engine.”
There was also an effort to delete GNU from history — an effort that has gone rather aggressive. Stallman was in the process of speaking to editors who jad allowed this to happen (dumb lawyers called GNU and Stallman’s text “Open source Manifesto” in the article “Open source Manifesto turns 30″). Stallman asked me to show him the original publication site and tell him how to write to them. It wasn’t too clear whether to write to the editor/site or the author/law firm. The former can issue some fixes/corrections, we tend to think, superseding what was contributed by lawyers. The article comes from a formal publication which often publishes patent lawyers’ pro-software patents columns (we have seen over 100 of them over the years). The target audience is lawyers. The latest is no exception to the rule. It is an article by Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl LLC and the Web site is London-based, with Andrew Teague as the Associate Publisher, Mark Lamb as the Publishing Director, and Chris Riley handling subscriptions. When it was first published Stallman was eager to contact “Either one, or both! [editor and writer] But the sooner the better.” No correction has yet been published. It’s nowhere to be found.
GNU and Free software are 30+ years old. A lot of people contribute to the misconception that it all started when Torvalds released Linux or when the term “Open Source” (not open source intelligence) was coined by the likes of O’Reilly. Watch the “Open Source” O’Reilly nonsense starting the clock more than 10 years later than GNU: “Twenty years ago, open source was a cause. Ten years ago, it was the underdog. Today, it sits upon the Iron Throne ruling all it surveys. Software engineers now use open source frameworks, languages, and tools in almost all projects.”
Rachel Roumeliotis is advertising OSCON 2015 (OS stands for “Open Source”), but she should know about GNU and its age. These people conveniently start the clock when O’Reilly and his henchmen got involved. They want all the credit and they want people not to speak about freedom. Eben Moglen already ranted about this, right on stage in an OSCON event nearly a decade ago.
“This shows how “open source” misses the point,” Stallman wrote to us. “If the frameworks, languages and tools they use are free software, that is good for their freedom. But if what they develop with those is nonfree software, it doesn’t respect our freedom.
“So open source “won” by ducking the important battle.”
Well, the “we already won” attitude (or notion) helps a defeatist’s approach; why fight for more freedom if “we won”? That’s what those people (even developers) who open a MacBook or some ‘i’ device want to happen; some would further insist that Apple and Microsoft are now “open source” players, so “game over”…
We have noticed that Microsoft is now googlebombing with “Windows open source”, promoting the ludicrous notion that it’s now “open” (or gratis), or that it will be so one day. It started about a month ago, maybe two; dozens of articles have served this PR strategy. we wrote some rebuttals and will write another one this weekend. There is a gross distortion of what actually happened and what is happening.
“Stallman was unhappy about the increasing prevalence of proprietary software,” said the aforementioned article From Lexology, “software protected by copyright law and usually licensed on a commercial basis by its owners.”
Yes, but Free software too is protected by copyright law, it’s just twisted into copyleft. “Source code is sometimes licensed under GNU GPL terms,” says the article, “a form of
“copyleft” rather than copyright.”
OK, so surely they know what Free software is and where it comes from. Why proceed with statements like: “The “open source” movement emerged in GNU’s wake. As with GNU, users of
open source code can look at the source code and modify it. However, unlike with GNU, they are not required to share their developments with the world at large.”
“We have noticed many articles throughout this past year or so — including some from Linux Foundation staff — that basically start history in 1991 as if GNU/Linux came out of a vacuum or from Torvalds’ bedroom.”Actually, unless they are using something like the BSD licence, they usually must. Then there are issues like SaaS, which are addressed by the AGPLv3, among other licences. But either way, Free software remains Free software, there is no justification for renaming it “Open Source” and calling the GNU Manifesto “Open source Manifesto”. It’s insulting to those who started the whole thing and wish to receive fair coverage or attribution, at the very least.
The Lexology sites presents some other issues, mostly to do with access, not just paywalls. Stallman asked: “Can you email me the full text of that article? I tried to fetch the page and what I got did not include the text.”
Stallman said he “wrote to them”, but more than a month later the article remains uncorrected, not updated, etc.
Another big load of revisionism (changing history) uses the “Open Source” label to delete GNU from history. Published last month, the article titled “At Birth, Open Source Was About Saving Money, Not Sharing Code” focuses on Torvalds (see feature image) and frames the movement as one that is centered around money. Stallman asked: “Is that someone opinionated who won’t listen to me?”
It is of course worthless asking for a correction when you know in advance none would be made. It later turned out to be part of a broader series of articles, some of which did cover GNU. I personally read several hundreds of items from the author and he’s more into ‘practical’ benefits, so I don’t think it would be worth arguing over. Some people just aren’t fond of freedom in the context of computing.
We have noticed many articles throughout this past year or so — including some from Linux Foundation staff — that basically start history in 1991 as if GNU/Linux came out of a vacuum or from Torvalds’ bedroom. Quite frankly, we think it’s an insult to history. We deem it negligent at best. Of course it leads people to deducing that the success of the system in its entirety is owing to the great “Linux values”, not GNU philosophy.
In summary, in our threads of communication with Stallman we were able to reaffirm that there were factual issues in the “Open Source Manifesto” article (it speaks about the GNU Manifesto) and despite Stallman’s request for correction, nothing has been done by the publishers. It’s like people just don’t wish to speak favourably about freedom in computing. Mac Asay, a Mormon (i.e. more superstition a religion than most other religions), compares Free software people to dangerous religions — a typical smear directed at a largely secular Free software community. Perhaps there are just those who are impossible to please because they are inherently opposed to control over one’s machine and would rather buy digital prisons from Apple than work a little harder to gain control or acquire freedom-respecting tools. █
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Summary: Observations about media coverage and reactions to the focus on patent trolls, which distracts from desperately-needed reform around patent scope
OUR latest article about patent reform, which we published yesterday (late at night), talks about politicians in the US using a bill called the PATENT Act to tackle large corporations’ nuisance. This is receiving some attention right now and some bloggers took note of what we wrote about the other day, as well as over the past few years. The issue is not patent trolls but patent scope. It has been obvious for a long time, but corporate media will rarely (if ever) say this.
“Patent Trolls Aren’t The Problem – Broad, Vague Patents Are” — that’s the headline in last night’s article which alludes to Timothy B. Lee’s article, concurring with what we have pointed out for a very long time. To quote the summary: “Timothy B. Lee writes at Vox that the PATENT Act is focused on dealing with patent trolls: fly-by-night companies that get rich by exploiting flaws in the way the courts handle patent lawsuits. If trolls are the primary problem with the patent system, then the PATENT Act will go a long way toward fixing it. But according to Lee patent trolls aren’t the primary problem with the patent system. They’re just the problem Congress is willing to fix. The primary problem is the patent system makes it too easy to get broad, vague patents, and the litigation process is tilted too far toward plaintiffs. But because so many big companies make so much money off of this system, few in Congress are willing to consider broader reforms.”
As we pointed out before, the media, including John Oliver, diverts virtually all the attention to patent trolls as though they are the sole issue. A seemingly respectable (and large) lawyers’ site attacks the messenger, saying that “John Oliver is witty, dry, and often downright silly” when attacking his message, essentially defending trolls. The HBO-hosted shows has generally come under fire from many patent lawyers, including vocal proponents of software patents. Note the byline: “Michael Gulliford is the Founder & Managing Principal of Soryn IP Group, a patent advisory company that provides a host of patent-centric services” (i.e. patent lawyers). Watch the pattern here. They are all pretty much defending trolls and dismissing John Oliver, without necessarily coming across as too rude. Here is how one lawyers’ site put it: “In the wake of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert leaving their respective shows on Comedy Central for newer pastures, John Oliver has emerged as a new beacon of political humor and satire. If you haven’t watched his show, and especially if you considered the former two as having an obvious political slant, you should check out Last Week Tonight on HBO. His shots get fired everywhere.
“On this week’s, John Oliver took a shot at the patent system, particularly patent trolls…”
There was a lot of press coverage about that show [1, 2, 3, 4], but most of it — if not all of it — was supportive, except when it comes to patent lawyers’ Web sites. All the criticism that we could find of him was composed by patent lawyers and their media.
Incidentally, there was press release titled “Cal Poly Professor Emeritus to Offer Advice on Thwarting Patent Trolls at Upcoming RT Imaging Summit”. It appeared a couple of weeks back in many sites [1, 2, 3]. This too promotes the narrative wherein only trolls are the problem. We need to shift back attention to the broader issue. If software patents became unpatentable, the lion’s share of trolls would instantaneous disappear. █
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Chuck Grassley’s 1979 congressional photo
Summary: Big corporations, including some of the biggest patent aggressors out there, successfully lobbied for what has essentially become a bipartisan bill to eliminate the thorn in their side
“TROLLS” has become the dominant term in today’s news about patents. It has been like this for at least a couple of years. It’s all about trolls, trolls, trolls. The EFF, which sometimes speaks about software patents (especially this year), is still obsessing over “patent trolls”. In one of its recent articles it said: “Suppose you get sued by a patent troll. You then learn that the troll has been sitting on its patent for years without giving you any warning. If you’d known about the risk, you might have been able to design your product differently to avoid infringement. Even worse, when you try to prove that the patent covers an obvious invention, all of the best evidence (such as websites or code repositories) has disappeared because of the passage of time. Instead of winning the case, you must pay years worth of damages to the troll.”
To rephrase the above text, suppose you get sued by a large corporation. You then learn that the corporation has been sitting on its patent for years without giving you any warning. If you’d known about the risk, you might have been able to design your product differently to avoid infringement. Even worse, when you try to prove that the patent covers an obvious invention, all of the best evidence (such as websites or code repositories) has disappeared because of the passage of time. Instead of winning the case, you must pay years worth of damages to the corporation.
“Busting one patent at a time is not a practical approach to solving the overall issue.”The point here is simple; it makes no difference if the plaintiff is some corporation or a troll, but large corporations want to only eliminate the trolls, not themselves. Watch the ongoing AP obsession with trolls, this time too courtesy of Anne Flaherty. The Associated Press has almost literally flooded news houses and newspapers with articles that only focus on trolls, as we showed last week (dozens if not hundreds of large papers reposted/reprinted AP). This looks like propaganda. It’s a form of lobbying through media. AP’s obsession with trolls is exceptional mostly in the sense of impact, it’s not necessarily unique. AP is embedded or put in hundreds of Web sites around the world, shifting all focus to one misdirected ‘reform’ effort [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. The headlines vary a little, but the storyline is always the same.
Here is a better article from the EFF, focusing on a patent it squashed quite recently. The site says “EFF recently won our challenge to invalidate claims of the “podcasting patent” using a procedure at the Patent Office called inter partes review. This procedure allowed us to challenge a patent that was being used to demand licenses from individual podcasters, even though EFF itself had never been threatened by the patent owner. EFF’s ability to file this petition was important because many of those targeted by the patent owner—small podcasters—would be unable to afford the $22,000 filing fees to challenge the patent, let alone the attorneys’ fees that would come along with it. Also, if an individual podcaster had filed an inter partes review it would have faced a risk of retaliation in the form of a district court lawsuit from Personal Audio. Instead, EFF was able to defend the public interest on behalf of the community as a whole.”
The word “troll” is not even mentioned. Compare that to related coverage from “IP Troll Tracker”, which wrote: “Let’s just come right out with my point…the “podcasting patent” is no more. I’m not quite sure how to feel about it because I never really saw Personal Audio as a troll (as evidenced here and here). Why? Well, chiefly because the company’s owner actually patented something himself rather than buying a patent on the open market for the sole purposes of extorting payments from (alleged) infringers, or, worse, purporting to be “inventor friendly” and convincing people to “innovate” for him and then monetizing whatever crap he can manage to patent out of the process. You know, like Intellectual Ventures does. Further, Mr. Logan spent his own money trying to commercialize the idea, something a troll would never do because the idea isn’t to add value of any kind, it’s to add volume to their wallets.”
Busting one patent at a time is not a practical approach to solving the overall issue. It is impractical and expensive to do this a million times. The only proper solution is to eliminate software patents, which obviously would invalidate this “podcasting patent” (along with hundreds of thousands — if not over a million — other US patents).
So, now there’s this relatively new talk about some ‘reform’ with a new name. It’s not really reform for the people but reform for the nation’s largest corporations (to better suit large corporations’ interests). The New York Times used a misleading headline: “With Patent Litigation Surging, Creators Turn to Washington for Help” (by “Creators” they don’t mean individuals). We quickly found a lot more coverage of this (usually following trend-setting media) and it kept mentioning this thing called “PATENT Act”, which is fairly new. Lawyers’ sites covered it [1, 2, 3] and so did a lot of corporate news sites [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23]. Mike Masnick wrote about this thing called “PATENT Act” a few days ago, highlighting early signs that this is just another “act” with gimmicks and branding rather than substance, just like “Freedom” Act and “Patriot” Act. He said that the “Patent Reform Bill [is] A Good Step, But Still Falls Way Short Of Fixing A Broken System”, explaining that: “As was widely expected, earlier this week, a bunch of high-profile Senators introduced a big patent reform bill, known as the Protecting American Talent and Entrepreneurship (PATENT) Act. It’s backed by Senators Chuck Grassley, Patrick Leahy, Chuck Schumer and John Cornyn, and has a decent chance of becoming law. From a quick look at the bill itself, it looks an awful lot like what we expected to show up last year, right before Senator Harry Reid stepped in and killed the bill. With the Republicans taking over in Congress, however, Reid no longer has the power to do that. Meanwhile, Schumer, who has long been supportive of patent reform and is basically taking over Reid’s leadership position as Reid prepares to retire, has declared that this time the bill is getting done.”
It looks like it will really become law (based on dozens of articles we saw), but what will this achieve? “2015 could be the year Congress takes action on patent trolls,” wrote Timothy B. Lee, noting that it’s all about trolls.
“There’s a growing problem with patent trolls,” he wrote, “the companies that create no products of their own but earn money threatening other companies with patent lawsuits. The problem has become so widespread that even low-tech companies like restaurants and grocery stores have begun lobbying Congress to do something about it.
“It’s not really reform for the people but reform for corporations (to better suit large corporations’ interests).”“Now Congress could be on the verge of taking action. On Friday, a Senate aide close to the negotiations told me that a bipartisan group of senators is “very close” to introducing legislation with broad support in the Senate.
“Supporters of the legislation have good reason to be optimistic, as the coalition supporting the legislation is broader and more unified than in the past. But given Congress’s penchant for gridlock, it’s far from a sure thing.”
We wrote about Grassley before (in relation to Microsoft) and mentioned some of the other supporters of this bill. They are not necessarily corrupt, they are probably just misled by the lobbying. Our conjecture is that to make the bill passable they don’t really want a proper and complete reform, they just amend it based on input from corporations (lobbying). A slightly later (and very good compared to the rest) article from Timothy B. Lee explains “how big companies are stopping Congress from fixing the patent system”. He hits the nail on the head when he says that “the problem of large companies exploiting the patent system hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s gotten worse as the courts made it easier to get broad, vague patents in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“A modern example is Microsoft, which has more than 40,000 patents and reportedly earns billions of dollars per year in patent licensing revenues from companies selling Android phones. That’s not because Google was caught copying Microsoft’s Windows Phone software (which has never been very popular with consumers). Rather, it’s because low standards for patents — especially in software — have allowed Microsoft to amass a huge number of patents on routine characteristics of mobile operating systems. Microsoft’s patent arsenal has become so huge that it’s effectively impossible to create a mobile operating system without infringing some of them. And so Microsoft can demand that smaller, more innovative companies pay them off.
“The proliferation of software patents has triggered an arms race. Google, for example, spent $12.5 billion for Motorola, largely for access to its large patent portfolio. A consortium of technology companies including Microsoft and Apple spent another $4.5 billion on patents from the defunct technology company Nortel. Their vast patent libraries help protect them from each other — but they could also help them crush potential future competitors.”
Grassley, we venture to guess, is not trying to tackle abuse by large corporations, he is just listening to some abusive large corporations (and the corporate media). As The Hill put it not so long ago: “Bipartisan senators on the Judiciary Committee are close to unveiling legislation to fight so-called patent trolls.
“Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters at the National Press Club that negotiators are “close to getting a final agreement,” with his office later saying it could come as soon as this week. Another aide familiar with the talks said senators are close to a bill.
“The proposal is not expected to look like the House’s Innovation Act but will include some of the same provisions. It will have provisions on discovery and pleading requirements that are less strict than the House version, according to Grassley.”
Call it “PATENT Act” or “Innovation Act”, these are just labels. What it’s really about is tackling trolls, but not promoting innovation or even improving patents. The bill targets the plaintiff type, not the patent type. These are just an opportunist’s methods for promoting oneself without really serving the public. Recall the patent 'reform' from the GOP and watch this latest publicity stunt for Rick Santorum (disgraced GOP candidate who never gained traction).
As with many giant corporations that support Linux (IBM or Google), there's no chance of them tackling software patents as a whole. They are not Free software communities. Their problems are different. “Google collects patents while lobbying against them,” wrote one vocal proponent of software patents. It is a correct observation actually, exploited by proponents of overly broad patents in this case. Here are the British lawyers from IP Kat taunting Google as well in their article “Google says ‘We want your patent. Maybe.’”
Never expect large corporations to do the right thing unless their interests somehow coincide with the interests of people (which is rare). Patent reform will require popular action and pressure from the public, not from the likes of IBM and Google, not even Red Hat. This is why the effort to stop software patents must regain some momentum (lost several years ago). █
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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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