01.21.10

Patents Roundup: ACTA Threatens Free Software in New Zealand, the Rambus Extortion Racket Expands, and Google Earns New Monopoly

Posted in Australia, Free/Libre Software, Google, Law, Microsoft, Patents, Samsung at 8:28 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Patent tax is rammed down people’s throats in New Zealand; Rambus gets about a billion dollars from Samsung after an ambush; Google vainly claims ownership of MapReduce

AT the behest of big corporations, politicians are now trying to advance ACTA [1, 2, 3], which is the wishlist of those seeking to maximise profits and marginalise rights.

As we have shown here before [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], the ACTA [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14] is also a weapon for a monopolist like Microsoft, not just the copyright cartel. ACTA can make Free/libre software illegal and this issue is being raised in LCA, which takes place in New Zealand (NZ). To quote the opening of a new IDG article: (also published here and here)

Open source under threat from ‘grey’ IP laws

[...]

In a presentation at this year’s Linux.conf.au Linux and open source conference in Wellington, New Zealand, Jackson said free software remains under threat from the expansion of copyright, misguided software patents, the desire to control the Internet by companies whose business model it threatens and the secretive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) treaty.

Crikey.com.au writes about this too:

The copyright outrage the geeks forgot to mention

[...]

I know this to be true because I’m at what’s undoubtedly the geekiest place in the Southern Hemisphere right now: linux.conf.au 2010, the annual gathering of Australian Linux enthusiasts. With commendable broad-mindedness, this year’s event is actually taking place in Wellington. Yes, in New Zealand. You’ve probably heard of it.

You might just have heard of Linux, the open source operating system favoured by people who know Windows is too unstable and Macs are too expensive. If you haven’t, just imagine a random mixture of your work IT department, some super-enthusiastic students and some scarily clever people, and a penguin mascot. There’s about 700 Linux supporters in Wellington this week, and they know more about technology than you (or I) will ever manage.

But back to the main issue. When ACTA got mentioned during a linux.conf.au keynote presentation by NYU anthropology professor Gabriella Coleman, the audience reaction was instantaneous: much booing and hissing. This crowd knew that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was potentially very bad news. But that bad news hasn’t been passed along much, even though a crucial meeting to decide the future of the proposal will take place next week.

“NZ is pushing for software patents,” says the president of the FFII, “the law is NZ has been postponed because of number of submissions.” We wrote about this last week.

FurnaceBoy says that “there’s a bit of history there in NZ… regarding the pro-Microsoft factions there, especially lobbying government.”

“The patent ambush is shameful and Rambus should be denied the patent and forced to refund their extortion money (the loot)…”New Zealand hopefully pays attention to the worrisome developments which are occurring in its patent law [1, 2]. Microsoft New Zealand, which is in a bit of a chaos these days, is always trying block Free software in New Zealand — if not by back-room deals, then using legal means. This afternoon we mentioned the New Zealand government attempting a migration to GNU/Linux on the desktop. It is a development like this which usually leads Microsoft CEO to making emergency trips (like the one to Munich [1, 2]) and ‘pulling an EDGI’.

Controversial Rambus Ambush

In other patent news, the Rambus ambush (submarine patent) is again being exploited in order to extort competitors [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. The patent ambush is shameful and Rambus should be denied the patent and forced to refund their extortion money (the loot); instead, Rambus’ extortion racket finds another victim, this time Samsung.

KOREAN ELECTRONICS GIANT Samsung has raised a white flag and agreed to pay $900 million to make Rambus lawyers go away.

More here:

It was a good day at the office yesterday for Rambus; it made $900m when Samsung caved in on the eve of a court case, which the Korean firm had planned to fight alongside Hynix and Micron.

All Your MapReduce Are [sic] Belong to Google

Slashdot reveals that the “do no evil” company has just earned a monopoly on MapReduce:

theodp writes “Two years ago, David DeWitt and Michael Stonebraker deemed MapReduce a major step backwards (here are the original paper and a defense of it) that ‘represents a specific implementation of well known techniques developed nearly 25 years ago.’ A year later, the pair teamed up with other academics and eBay to slam MapReduce again. But the very public complaints didn’t stop Google from demanding a patent for MapReduce; nor did it stop the USPTO from granting Google’s request (after four rejections). On Tuesday, the USPTO issued U.S. Patent No. 7,650,331 to Google for inventing Efficient Large-Scale Data Processing.”

Ars Technica correctly points out that Google may just be claiming ownership of a public good (taking away from the commons).

The USPTO awarded search giant Google a software method patent that covers the principle of distributed MapReduce, a strategy for parallel processing that is used by the search giant. If Google chooses to aggressively enforce the patent, it could have significant implications for some open source software projects that use the technique, including the Apache Foundation’s popular Hadoop software framework.

The H says:

The concept of mapping and reducing fuctions has been a fundamental idea behind distributed parallel processing for many years, and in a dispute it could be reasonably claimed that Google didn’t invent MapReduce itself, but that would just move the argument on to the specific claims within the patent.

For Google, this already acts as a weapon that intimidates competitors. It gives Google leverage that it probably does not deserve; the matter of fact is that many nice inventions are never claimed by anyone in the form of a patent, until some greedy corporation comes along and decides to become “first to file”. Many simple “inventions” — PageRank included — come from academia (Stanford in Google’s case) and TechDirt debates whether or not academic research should be eligible to earn patents; after all, the purpose of patents is not to promote creation but to exclude parallel innovation, which is crucial in the mostly taxpayers-funded academic community, unlike in a shareholders-driven industry.

Should Data Collected For Academic Research Get Intellectual Property Protection?

[...]

Now, while the economic setup in the academic world may seem to be slightly different (researchers aren’t necessarily trying to maximize revenue), the overall incentive structure remains effectively the same (and money is still a part of it all). Freeing up your data so that more people can analyze it increases the overall value of the data and is more likely to lead to additional breakthroughs or interesting findings from that data. In turn, that can lead back to more interest for the original data collector and more opportunities to do more or to be involved in more relevant projects. Locking up the data, on the other hand, takes away many of those incentives for no clear benefit.

In my thesis I was strictly required to exclude others by including a statement about ownership of something called “intellectual property” (which I don’t believe in and in fact all my code is Free software). Universities really ought to rethink this if they want to innovate rather than exclude. Ideas do not spread and inspire others by decreasing their distribution and means of dissemination. The Internet has changed everything and regulations should change accordingly (in the arts, in software, and in knowledge).

“People naively say to me, “If your program is innovative, then won’t you get the patent?” This question assumes that one product goes with one patent.” —Richard Stallman

“The day that the software sector forms a clear front against software patents, as pharma does for a unitary patent system… will be the day our cause comes close to winning.” —Pieter Hintjens, Fosdem07 Interview

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3 Comments

  1. Yuhong Bao said,

    January 22, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Gravatar

    In practice, Google’s patents in general aren’t going to be much of a problem, though, as mentioned in the same sources. Also note that design and normal patents are different too.

  2. Needs Sunlight said,

    January 22, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Gravatar

    Roy, a point of information: software patents affect closed source applications at least as much if not more than Free Software. It is not a matter of code, but of function.

    So as much as we may rely upon Free Software for getting things done at work, it is the closed source that is threatened at least as much.

    BUT make no mistake, this is not about software producers, distributors, vendors, or developers. They would be concerned about copyright, because that covers distribution. Patents cover usage of software and in that way it is anybody using a computer who are at risk.

    Microsoft talking points make use of the misdirection about developers or Free Software or Free Software developers to mislead about the scope of the population at risk and the potential costs.

    dyfet Reply:

    That is an excellent point which I think is too often forgotten.

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