Bonum Certa Men Certa

How Mr. Gates Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Destructive Patents

A batch of recent stories about the latest patent mess

"It is clear that in the fight against GNU/Linux, Gates is willing to use whatever ammunition is available."There is something to be said about the effect of company leaders on the company's general behavior. The media, which is often sponsored by or associated with Microsoft in one form or another, likes to praise Bill Gates for charitable investments, but behind such 'charities' there are many stories to be told and there is one very vicious character. As Cringely said a few months back, "The company is built in the image of Bill Gates and Bill is a guy who gets caught-up in the game of business and doesn't typically see its personal cost." Just consider this terrifying patent trolling E-mail from Gates [PDF]. It is clear that in the fight against GNU/Linux, Gates is willing to use whatever ammunition is available. If lobbying is needed to make such ammunition legal, then so be it. Arsenals can be changed when the law is controlled and evolved.

In the following new article, more is being said about Gates' obsession with patents as means of building walls around a software monarchy.

"Other than Bill Gates, I don't know of any high tech CEO that sits down to review the company's IP portfolio," said Phelps, who ran IBM's IP business before joining Microsoft four years ago.

[...]

Microsoft has struck six deals with open source companies, the biggest a recent deal with Novell, and more such deals are yet to come. In the past 18 months, Microsoft has spent a whopping $1.4 billion acquiring intellectual property of various sorts, Phelps said.

"The great ideas in technology will increasingly come from outside corporate labs," he said. "To me it doesn't make a difference if you got your portfolio through R&D or through buying it," he added.


Mind the fact that this was not always he case. Rather, it is a case of hypocrisy. Consider the following two items:



Microsoft sang a very different tune in 1991. In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today." Mr. Gates worried that "some large company will patent some obvious thing" and use the patent to "take as much of our profits as they want."




...Thanks to Mr. Gates, we now know that an open Internet with protocols anyone can implement is communism...

...Mr. Gates' secret is out now--he too was a "communist;" he, too, recognized that software patents were harmful-until Microsoft became one of these giants...


It is hopefully made clear that even Microsoft acknowledges that it commits the very same sins that it once used to protest against.

Steve Lake has written an essay that proposes two ways of eliminating this patent mess.

There are two solutions to this. The first is to work hard, and starting with Microsoft, seek out every patent that pertains or could pertain to Linux and Open Source, and simply find the needed prior art and invalidate the patent. The problem with this idea is that it’s time consuming and money intensive. The community has better things to do with its time and money right now, so this idea really isn’t viable, except when all other options are exhausted and fully explored.

The second, and far simpler approach is to change patent law. There are enough people in the Linux and Open Source communities with a good solid legal background that could take up this fight, and groups like the Software Freedom Law Center, the Free Software Foundation and others could also join in and help draft the legislation that would fix the patent system and set things right.


Dana Blakenhorn has posted an item that further criticises the state of the patent system.

Good software is complicated, and patent law has no way to deal with this complexity.

Patent law is designed to protect unique inventions, better mousetraps. You can’t patent the idea of trapping mice, and you have to disclose how you trap the mice so other mousetrap makers can seek new ways to trap the mice.


OSNews spoke specifically about the recent case of Acacia against Linux vendors and why the situation is rather ludicrous.

You know, those things that say you cannot stack four pixels on top of one another unless you pay money to the guy who invented four-pixel-stacks (or the guy who bought the guy who invented four-pixel-stacks).


LXer has made the observation that, as time goes by, Microsoft is apparently less and less confident about the value of its software patents. That is despite the fact that Microsoft keeps filing for more of them. Have a quick look.

16 May, 1991: "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today." - Bill Gates, Challenges and Strategy Memo

Aug, 2004: OSDL releases a study saying Linux may infringe 283 patents; Ballmer leaves away the word "may"

May, 2007: Brad Smith claims Linux potentially infringes 235 patents

[...]


Business Week had a quick mention of this issue as well and it bothered to outlines the differences between the European and the American perceptions of patents.

Second, the case also liberalizes EU competition law in several important areas. Prior to Microsoft, compulsory licensing of intellectual property rights was seen by the European Court as a very narrow remedy in the EU, to be strictly and rarely applied.


Related articles:



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