07.25.08

Free Software vs Microsoft: It’s Down to Patent Law Now

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Google, Law, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Patents, Ubuntu at 6:38 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Battling on a terrain one prefers

Microsoft’s Fight for Software Patents

When you can’t defeat an enemy in the rain, you attack on a dry day. If you are incompetent down at the valley, then you relocate and escalate the battleground to the mountains. But it’s merely a parable. Likewise, having failed to win based on technical merits, Microsoft wants to fight using lawyers. Might Microsoft strike back at Google like it attacks Linux (with saber-rattling)? Remember that Yahoo’s search predates many, including Google’s.

“The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armour to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-rate technology, led them into it in the first place.”

Douglas Adams

The recent speculation which suggests Microsoft needs Yahoo! for its software patents is once again being repeated. Google has many software patents as well.

Microsoft and the Yahoo patent portfolio

The latest thinking in the Silicon Valley scene regarding the Microsoft-Yahoo-Carl Icahn Saga, which is not going away, might be about some sort of killer patent owned by Yahoo. Right now financial researchers everywhere are trying to figure out what exactly the patent is.

Whatever the patent may be, it is encouraging to see the muchly-influential Mark Shuttleworth standing behind GPLv3, unlike some other remarkably-inspirational developers.

Shuttleworth was responding to a question of how developers could protect themselves against patent and intellectual property issues when it comes to contributing code to open source projects. He initially said, “GPL V3 is a good solution…” But pressed on the threat regarding Microsoft, Shuttleworth said he did not think the software giant would pursue a claim.

In essence, Shuttleworth said, Canonical has copyright assignment agreements with developers. “In order for us to be nice enough to accept your code you have to ensure us that there are no problems with it,” he said. Shuttleworth, upon further questioning indicated that the GPL3 would provide protection against legal claims.

Software Patents Are Not Yet Dying in America

There was this hotly-debated post about Google's patents, but it turns out to have been misleading. Here is a premature requiem from Linux Journal.

Obviously, the matter is still in its early stages — there’s no way of knowing yet whether Duffy’s interpretation is anywhere near reality — what will actually come of it remains to be seen. The possibility holds huge promise for the Open Source community, however, as a day in which software patents no longer encumber the work of Open Source developers has been a long-held dream — one can only hope it will rapidly become reality.

Here is an entirely different take on this, from one who would be happier to see software patents going away.

Finally, the post is ethically questionable, as its author, John Duffy, was hired by a software company, RDC, to write an amicus brief in the Bilski case pushing for the position that software should remain patentable. This is not disclosed in the post. In other words, he’s clearly biased in favor of making sure that the end result of Bilski is that software patents remain in tact, and a little publicity campaign, stirred up by misleading claims that everyone’s beloved Google will somehow be harmed could help push public sentiment towards allowing software patents.

There are many other interpretations, but some are shallow. On the brighter side of things:

There’s been a running debate in IP circles whether software patents would hold long-term, and as more online innovation focuses on just collecting and combining data in new ways, the attacks on software patents are getting more precise.

Groklaw calls it all FUD, insinuating this this is a non-event. People might find out soon.

Another Patent Dies

After those endless and vicious legal assaults [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16], the Nokia-Qualcomm case turns out to be a total waste of time and money.

The German Federal Patent Court ruled Wednesday that a Qualcomm GSM patent claim against Nokia is invalid, said the Finnish phone giant.

This was also published here and here. What a disappointment. In other words, the patent should never have been granted in the first place. If it hadn’t, there would not be this basis for unnecessary fights.

And they say patents encourage development and productivity…

Europe Almost Goes Mad

Fortunately, the following proposal got abandoned, but the BBC tells its story. [via Digital Majority]

The Treasury has ditched controversial proposals to raise additional tax from companies that locate intellectual property, such as drug or technology patents, in low-tax countries.

[...]

A number of multinationals had warned that their tax bills would rise to unacceptable levels if the Treasury were to tax earnings generated abroad from patents and other forms of intellectual property.

Some threatened to move their headquarters overseas to escape the incremental tax.

A Treasury official said that the government had been surprised by quite how many companies feared they would pay additional tax.

This may be another subversive way of extending the scope of software patents.

Europe and ACTA

The abomination known as ACTA is not shredded yet, either. It’s revolving around Europe, but the following article is more of a status report on the controversial “Intellectual Monopoly Tsar”.

It comes as bodies, such as the European parliament and the French government, have proposed having a European high commissioner for IP. “The high commissioner could be an interesting model for abroad and for Europe,” said Kessler.

He added that people in similar positions in different countries could help harmonize the work of law enforcement bodies overseas, but was sceptical about discussions on an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA): “ACTA is a future issue and a difficult one. It is something for our children.”

Also of interest:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and ranking member Arlen Specter will join Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, on Thursday in unveiling new legislation intended to boost government efforts to crack down on counterfeiting and piracy.

ACTA is still making headlines, including in this good new article from Linux Journal.

The name of the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” – ACTA – is indicative of the overall approach being taken. First, this is a trade agreement, which means that it by-passes many of the more open processes for drawing up international agreements. This has allowed it to be discussed in secret, amongst a cosy club of interested parties and their chums – notably, those in industries based on exploiting intellectual monopolies.

Moreover, this is an invitation-only club, which has led to the exclusion of most developing countries, and hence most of the world in terms of population. It is nothing less than cyber-imperialism by the rich countries that for so long have imposed their agendas on the rest of the globe, but which finally see their traditional hegemony threatened by the rise of new powers – and new ideas. ACTA is a last-ditch attempt to lock the world into an old and outdated mindset.

For further information:

Ubuntu’s insistence that Bug Number 1 is to do with market share seems to totally overlook the danger that is corruption of existing laws as means of illegalising Free software. What good are a few new users (at the expense of a Mono-free, Microsoft-deal-free existence) if another SCO strikes tomorrow?

patent threat
Photo under the GNU Free Documentation license

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