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Patents Roundup: H.264, 'Innovation Alliance', and Microsoft's Patent Racketeer

Nathan Myhrvold



Summary: This is a set/variety of news with no single point of focus

THERE is more patent news (of relevance to Free software) than we can cover exhaustively, but here is a quick list of important articles.

Multimedia Patents



Here is an article warning about the "legal minefield" which is H.264.

If you're a digital-video professional--the sort of person who records weddings, sells stock footage, or edits B-roll--chances are good you deal with the H.264 video encoding technology. But after reading software license agreements, you might well wonder if you have rights to do so.

A recent blog post by Harvard Ph.D. student Ben Schwartz, including the provocative phrase "Final Cut Pro Hobbyist," put the spotlight on license terms in Apple's video-editing software by questioning when professionals may use H.264 video. A similar "personal and non-commercial activity" license requirement appears in Adobe Systems' competing Premiere package, too.


The patent pool behind H.264 must have its members lick their lips just thinking of how the world gets saturated with their software patents. It gives financial leverage that they have not fully exploited yet. This is why the debate about free codecs should not be dismissed as irrelevant.

Facebook



The other day we wrote about Facebook's latest software patent, which is a problem to many. It's somewhat similar to Amazon's one-click nonsense. Why did Facebook need such a patent? "Because Without Patents, No One Would Ever Come Up With News Feeds," says TechDirt sarcastically.

The purpose of the patent system should be to create incentives to come up with something that is both new and non-obvious, which would not be created without that incentive. And, then, of course, the idea is to share that information with the world, via the patent.


"Facebook's news-feed patent could mean lawsuits," says this article which appeared in CNN.

Facebook this week was awarded a patent pertaining to streaming "feed" technology -- more specifically, "dynamically providing a news feed about a user of a social network," complementing another patent filing that has been published but not yet approved.


Patent Markings



This item which was mentioned in Slashdot and covered by TechDirt is a fine example of lawyers interfering with the industry and nitpicking in order to make jobs for themselves.

A few years back, we wrote about some lawsuits that were filed against companies who were still listing expired patents on their products, implying that those products were still protected by the patents. The practice of claiming patent coverage over something that isn't patented is known as "patent marking," and it's become very popular lately. AdamR alerted us to the news that Activision was recently sued for patent marking, in listing out patents on certain games that don't cover what's in those games. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Joe Mullin points us to the news that, in just the past few months, it looks like a bunch of lawyers have started going around filing patent marking lawsuits. In at least some of these cases, totally different groups of lawyers have sued the exact same companies over the same patents.


If anyone needed more proof that the patent system hampers society, this is it.

Patent Lobby



"Patent Deal Is Close," argues the Senate Judiciary Chairman.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced Thursday that he has reached a tentative agreement on patent overhaul legislation with the panel's ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "We have reached a tentative agreement in principle that preserves the core of the compromise struck in committee last year," Leahy said in a statement. Leahy said he hoped to release details of the agreement "in the coming days" after consulting with other senators and House lawmakers.

[...]

The Innovation Alliance, which has been critical of the bill, said the changes "appear to be a positive step in the right direction."


With Innovation Alliance lobbyists involved, it's unlikely to be too useful. Microsoft's patent troll, for example, spends millions per year on bogus 'studies' and lobbying, so the system can be made worse. The word "reform" disguises this possibility because of its connotation. There is some more information in TechDirt.

“Patents and software need to get a divorce before they destroy innovation, particularly the FOSS development process.”
      --Pamela Jones, Groklaw
Virginia Espinel, the "IP" Czar which was mentioned here for her future role serving the Copyright Cartel (after Biden and the lawyers decided to privately make a police state around "IP"), writes in the White House Blog about "Intellectual Property and Risks to the Public"

She wants feedback [1, 2] and Groklaw's Pamela Jones gives her some by writing: "Can someone show me which IP law protects ideas, as opposed to their implementation or recording in a fixed medium? Even Gene Quinn says there is no such protection. So that would be my best suggestion. PS: Patents and software need to get a divorce before they destroy innovation, particularly the FOSS development process."

Hardware



Here is another new embargo attempt which shows what the patent system is really achieving:

German Chipmaker Infineon Technologies and its subsidiary Infineon Technologies North America have filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission (ITC) against Elpida Memory seeking to prevent Elpida from importing and selling certain DRAM semiconductors and products in the US.


Embargo is not innovation.

According to some other reports, Sony patents a "universal games controller" [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. It has something to do with an LCD touch screen.

According to a patent recently filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Sony is working on a universal game controller that could be used with competitor consoles from Microsoft and Nintendo.


A new Microsoft booster, Peter Bright, writes for Ars Technica about another new Microsoft patent, among others that receive coverage in other Web sites, e.g. [1, 2, 3].

Microsoft's Beijing office filed a patent yesterday for an unusual little device with two distinct functions: one side is an inductive charging pad, for, say, a mouse. The other features a tiny built-in display for displaying headlines or sports scores.


It's made in China, which is sometimes playing along with the company that commits many crimes. This greed for patents comes at a price though.

Microsoft and Its Patent Trolls



Microsoft claims that it faces over 50 lawsuits that involve patents. One of them seems likely to have Microsoft defeated shortly (next week).

Larry Oakley, editor/publisher of the WallStreetCorner.com investment site (www.WallStreetCorner.com) today reported as an Alert in his “Comment” editorial column that news surrounding VirnetX Holding Corporation’s (AMEX:VHC; www.virnetx.com) patent infringement jury trial against Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) scheduled for March 8th in Tyler, Texas has caused VHC’s stock price to surge over 40% from Oakley’s “Stock Pick” original news report published on January 16, 2010. Oakley’s latest Alert on VHC was published today, February 22, 2010 on WallStreetCorner.com’s website.


Tyler, Texas. Many patent trolls reside and/or litigate there. But the world's biggest patent troll is actually a neighbour and friend of Bill Gates, who enjoys the presence of over 1,000 attack dogs that are small legal firms. The Business Times glorifies this troll and so does a Microsoft booster at the Seattle Times (which contains more Microsoft propaganda at the bottom of this article for example). It's time to shut down this racketeering operation, not to hail it.

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