Bonum Certa Men Certa

IBM Bemoans the Collapse of Software Patents in the US and Wants US Congress to Intervene for 'Certainty'

Reza SarbakhshPhoto source (Sarbakhsh): "IP Monetization", New York (2015)

Summary: The bizarre 'friend' of Free/Open Source software (FOSS), IBM, is still trying to ensure patentability of software whereas Apple and SAP, based on new stories, surprisingly enough serve to crush or at least weaken some

THE IMPACT of the Alice case has been great. Everyone is happy about it. Unless one is a patent lawyer or a software monopolist...

The American Intellectual Property Law Association (with its dodgy Microsoft Windows site) is an echo chamber that has just regathered and congregated many stakeholders, excluding people who actually invent and create things. The audience profits from patents, so it's not an unbiased event that's open to the wider public or at least offers the public speaking opportunities.

Just like the UPC Forum Munich, which lobbies regarding courts and litigation (money to be made by lawyers), the American Intellectual Property Law Association thinks in a narrow-minded way.

Now, let's talk about IBM, which is actively spreading (or trying to spread) software patents to even more countries. People who made a career out of cataloging the patent monopolies of massive corporations (that's where the big money is) are pursuing as many of them as possible, even 50,000 for just one company. Small business with an infinitesimal number of patents hardly every become a bleep on the radar and lawyers who work for them do nothing but drive them closer to bankruptcy, without any obvious benefits. Remember that the EPO also discriminately deals with applicants, prioritising large corporations even when these are not European (prominent patent practitioners -- to use a euphemism -- are still discussing the impact of this).

According to this new report from LES 2015, the "lead IP attorney" at IBM (whatever that actually means) isn't happy about Alice. Here are some quotes:

Legislation will ultimately be required to address the uncertainty created by the Alice Corp v CLS Bank ruling, a lawyer from IBM told the LES 2015 Annual Meeting.

Reza Sarbakhsh, who is lead IP attorney at the company, said the decision has provided little guidance on what is patentable in the computer software space.

“As with any other business, uncertainty is the enemy,” he said, asking whether legislation should be required.

While he admitted that “I don’t know if we can convince Congress to address problems from our perspective” in the short term, “eventually legislation is the answer”.

Sarbakhsh was speaking during a lively discussion on the impact of the US Supreme Court’s ruling from last June. The court said computer-implemented inventions are not eligible for patent protection.


Sarbakhsh does not explicitly say it, but knowing that he works for IBM, a booster and lobbyist for software patents, by clarity he means advocacy. To quote the author's paraphrasing: "Sarbakhsh said some large corporations are still pursuing software patents because the costs of getting them issued and the subsequent maintenance fees have not increased, even if patent value might be lower."

"It's not a business, it's protectionism. It ensures money continues to flow from the powerless to the powerful."Sarbakhsh said (direct quote): “Simply because one or two patents have been invalidated doesn’t mean we’re getting out of the patent business.”

It's not a business, it's protectionism. It ensures money continues to flow from the powerless to the powerful.

The overall tone of this lawyers-led event is similarly saddening. Then see the article (paywalled) titled "AIPLA 2015: Don’t dump portfolios due to section 101, patentees told". To quote the excerpt: "Software patent owners should not jettison their portfolios despite worries over the impact of Alice Corporation v CLS Bank and its application of section 101, an industry conference heard."

Why not? Because it harms the profits of patent lawyers?

Alice is a very big deal.

Apple is trying to invalidate software patents using Alice, whereupon "Ericsson says Apple's Alice motion against wireless patents threatens to swallow all of patent law," to quote Florian Müller.

Well, if it swallows all of patent law, or software patents in this particular case, then all the better.

One person wrote to us, "so if Apple succeeds then that may be troublesome for many other patent holders on wireless communication."

Separately, in Twitter and in his blog, Müller says that "Google-SAP cross-license agreement announced: is SAP once again critical of software patents?"

As we showed earlier this week, SAP is still trying to patent software in Europe, so we very much doubt a change of policy is in the making. However, with this cross-license pseudo-'peace', one might assume that SAP won't take any legal action against Android, and perhaps by extension GNU/Linux.

We're living in interesting times as we are at the crossroad when it comes to software patents. Lose it, as IBM wishes, and software patents may expand to the entire world. If we win this battle, then maybe we can still contain this injustice, even put an end to it worldwide. Patent lawyers won't give up and sit idly until everything, including life itself, becomes patentable (i.e. profitable to them).

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