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Patents Roundup: Microsoft Trolls, Lobbyists, and End[ing] Software Patents (ESP)

Summary: Intellectual Ventures revisited; Microsoft keeps busy promoting software patents in Europe; software patents under scrutiny with successful campaigning against them.

A very long post about the TomTom case [1, 2] is coming, but for the time being, let us look at other existing issues and developments that are part of the same important theme.



A new legislation for patent reform in the United States is set to be proposed next week, according to our sources. Until then, Microsoft is keeping busy lobbying and hoarding patents.

Microsoft-Funded Patent-Trolling



Nathan Myhrvold



Several days before the TomTom lawsuit came to light, CNET had pointed out that a risk to Free software is also the Microsoft-conceived and Microsoft-funded patent troll which goes by the name of Intellectual Ventures.

I ask because it's almost certain that someone is going to purchase the IP, and it's likely to be a Microsoft or Oracle (or, possibly worse, Intellectual Ventures), to the extent the IP is worth anything. Instead, now would be a good time for open-source patent-pooling collectives like Open Invention Network to buy up these assets and use them to protect open source.


In a later post from CNET it was also argued that "the real patent threat" is Microsoft's patent troll but not Microsoft itself. Intellectual Ventures, unlike Microsoft, cannot be countered by OIN.

Hence, while the open-source world is up in arms about Microsoft's TomTom patent suit, it should be far more worried about news that Intellectual Ventures has grabbed another 500 patents through a deal with Telcordia Technologies, as TechFlash reports. Intellectual Ventures, arguably the world's largest patent troll, is set up to do nothing more than license its intellectual property, which it has done to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.


Here is the report cited by the above.

Intellectual Ventures is adding to its huge pile of patents. The Bellevue-based firm, founded by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, is today announcing a partnership with broadband company Telcordia Technologies, giving it access to more than 500 Telcordia patents. Intellectual Ventures has also pledged to fund Telcordia research and development.


There are other large patent trolls, including Gates' own, and the endless possibilities in Acacia [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. Mike Masnick ponders this outlandish idea of investing just in patents and running companies that are dedicated just to them.

European Law Under Microsoft-Funded Attack



We learn that in the 5th of March Zuck will be in in Brussels, as expected. He is already mucking about with an "open source" report on Microsoft's behalf and we are seeing constant reminders of the threat of the Community patent. Microsoft really wants software patents to be formally legalised in Europe. It essentially buys anti-Free software laws.

Absurdity of Software Patents Revisited



Several new posts question the legitimacy of patents as a whole. Examples:

i. Science Needs Permission?

Because GM crops are considered "intellectual property" of the companies that sell them, reearchers need permission from the company to plant them, even for research purposes.


ii. There Are No Good Arguments for Intellectual Property (and 'Interaction Rights'!)

There are some decent arguments out there that argue in favor of a state, welfare rights, war, democracy, drug laws, and so on. They are all flawed, since libertarianism is right, but there are coherent, honest arguments that we libertarians have to grapple with.

But it is striking that there are no decent arguments for IP--as Manuel Lora remarked to me, "You know, I haven't seen a good pro IP article ever." This is true. One sees the same incoherent or insincere claims made over and over, such as:

1. It's in the constitution (argument from authority; legal positivism) 2. Intellectual property is called property! (argument by definition?)


iii. More Examples Of Patents Harming Research

A group of scientists are now complaining about this to the EPA, but perhaps they should be complaining to the USPTO and Congress, as well, as it's time that this sort of abuse of intellectual property was stopped entirely.


Here is an indicator of the very poor state with regards to software patenting.

I call them the 'on the Internet' patents. You can patent anything by adding the suffix - 'on the internet'.


Visa feels the wrath of this bad system.

Visa has been hit with a lawsuit for allegedly infringing a patent covering the notification and authorisation of transactions via text messages sent to cardholders' mobile phones.


What about standards, which are being stifled by patents? How is that productive?

Both patents and standardisation are areas of regulation based on public benefit considerations. Succinctly put, a patent is a monopoly granted for a limited time by the government on behalf of its citizens to promote disclosure of breakthroughs that will in turn enable future innovation.


Greed and Hypocrites



SUN claims to be in a transition to an open source identity, but its policy on software patents gives room for doubt. And in fact, based on this new article from India, SUN is accepting (almost reinforcing) rather than challenging a broken system.

Added Dr Jaijit Bhattacharya, director, government strategy, Sun Microsystems India, said, “The Open Innovation Portal will be complimentary to the existing IPR framework and will cater to those innovations that come below the bar for a patent application and will cater to those innovators who cannot afford the patenting process. This is especially true in the emerging economies scenario where standalone innovators may or may not have the financial wherewithal to file the patent.”


Kaspersky too has resorted to playing the game of software patents and Palm is no foe of stuff that's antithetical to Free software despite its use of Linux, maybe for 'defensive' purposes (against Apple for example).

The Pre's Combined Messaging: Patent Pending



[...]

Something missing from Palm's CES presentation of the Palm Pre: jaunty claims that they've patented their innovations up the wazoo. Maybe it's because they have a massive cache of smartphone patents in their portfolio already and didn't want to toot their horn. Maybe they were just being coy. Maybe, though, they were just waiting for their various patent applications to get approved before they brought it up.


Campaigning



In order to end software patents once and for all, the End Software Patents (ESP) campaign pushes harder and harder. It has also earned media attention in:

i. Let's keep the software patent debate on the straight and narrow

I very much hope that what the End Software Patents project comes up with in terms of studies, statistics and the rest of it does stand up to independent scrutiny. There could be a case for removing all patent protection from software – though I have yet to see one convincingly made – but it will not be advanced by manipulation and distortion. One thing that you can be sure of is that this blog will be watching very carefully for any signs of people being economical with the truth.


ii. Again A Desperate Attempt To Re-Vitalise Campaign Against CII-Patents

Now, according to a recent report, the Free Software Foundation has announced funding for the End Software Patents project to document the case for ending patents on computer-implemented inventions worldwide. A catalogue of studies, economic arguments, and legal analyses will build on the "in re Bilski" court ruling, in which End Software Patents (ESP) claims to have helped play a key role in narrowing the scope for patenting software ideas in the USA.


iii. FSF in Round Two Against Software Patents

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is persisting in its worldwide battle against software patents with comprehensive background information and has hired lobbyist Ciaran O'Riordan to fight the next round.


With Bilski at everyone's disposal, a big final push to end software patents is practical and thus encouraged.

Linux users can help with the patent problem. "Talk about this problem. Educate ourselves and educate others. Instead of fostering innovation it's hindering innovation," he said. "We have a large amount of work to do to educate people about this." Red Hat is also seeking prior art to help defend a lawsuit from a patent troll firm that is suing both it and Novell.


Inform peers, family, MEPs, etc. so as to end software patents for good. Without such patents, Free software sure will triumph much faster (as it should).

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