02.09.10

Patents Roundup: EFF Defends VoIP; Google, Apple, and Black Duck Stifle Progress; Microsoft Joins RPX

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Patents at 5:58 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Fighting patents one by one will never eliminate the danger of software patents, any more than swatting mosquitoes will eliminate malaria.”

Richard Stallman

Summary: A quick look at some patent news from the past week, ranging from defence to offence

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

THE EFF still fights one patent at a time. According to this new page, it is going after VoIP monopolies right now.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has won reexamination of an illegitimate patent on voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) that could cripple the adoption of new VoIP technologies.

IDG wrote about this too:

The patent, held by a small company called C2 Communications Technologies, is one of 10 that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been trying to strike down for several years through its Patent Busting Project. On Friday, the patent office granted the EFF’s request for a re-examination, the EFF said. The digital civil-liberties organization argued that another applicant had submitted basically some of the same technology to the patent office before C2 did.

The EFF means well, but a better solution would be abolition of software patents as a whole. The problem is that companies like IBM, Google, Novell, and fronts like OIN are proponents of software patents, which makes them far from defenders of Free software.

Do Know Evil?

Google is acquiring/obtaining some more software patents. Here is the original report:

Google has filed at least four patent applications for technology it’s building into its Chrome browser to try to make the Web a more powerful foundation for applications.

Google is part of the software patents problem, just like IBM. Sometimes it gets sued.

Apple

A few weeks ago we explained why Apple too is part of the software patents problem. Here is Apple applying for some more patents and blocking developers’ use of their associated ideas/functions.

Apple this week notified iPhone developers that they cannot use the device’s GPS data to serve location-aware advertisements to users of App Store software.

[..]

One patent application described a dynamic home screen that would display specific applications automatically populated based on factors like the current location of the phone. For example, when traveling in San Francisco, a specific “San Francisco” icon could appear on the screen, and give users easy access to local weather, time, maps and contacts.

More information here and here:

Apple doesn’t appear to be opposed to location-based targeted advertising in principle. It has filed patents for location-based targeted advertising, especially in relation to offering currently playing songs or videos at a particular location for purchase via iTunes.

 

Is Apple’s banning iPhone applications that would use location data for displaying advertising not as onerous as anything Microsoft tried–and mostly didn’t get away with?

What about banning the word “Android” from the App Store? Like Apple thinks it can control the flow of information its customers receive? Give me a break.

This new article brings back memories of Apple’s patent fight with Microsoft. Well, Microsoft ripped off a lot of companies, Apple included.

Back in the dark ages, around 1991, Apple had some pretty cool Macs while PC users were still mired in DOS. Apple was making good money. Meanwhile, on the PC side, just marrying a mouse with DOS was the big thing. However, over time, Microsoft was able to copy what Apple was doing with the WIMP interface (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing device).

That was due in part to poor IP protections and a strategic error made by John Sculley who opened the door, contractually, to a GUI for Microsoft back in the 1980s. That resulted in a lawsuit by Apple against Microsoft in 1988, one that Apple eventually lost. (The fascinating saga has been documented at Low End Mac.) Once that GUI door was opened, Microsoft was eventually able to mimic the Mac OS look and feel. Today, many non-technical users are not able to differentiate between Windows 7 and Snow Leopard, and that has to irk Apple.

Black Parasite Software

Black Duck’s new patent (mentioned in [1, 2]) is still receiving some press coverage. Confrontation with the SFLC too gets it some attention:

Bradley Kuhn, the technology director of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) expressed dismay this week after learning that Black Duck Software was granted a patent that covers software methods for detecting and resolving open source software licensing conflicts. Kuhn, who plays a major role in the SFLC’s GPL enforcement efforts, contends that Black Duck’s patent is far from novel and describes techniques that he has been using for licensing compliance analysis for over a decade.

Black Duck was founded in 2002 with the aim of providing automated solutions for tracking the provenance of source code in applications. The company’s first product, called Protex, reached the market at a time when the software industry was being confronted by emerging legislation and high-profile litigation that raised concerns about software licensing practices. At the time, the ill-fated SCO trial was just starting to heat up and there were still unanswered questions about whether the newly-passed Sarbanes-Oxley Act would require more rigorous internal audits of software licensing. Black Duck turned the industry’s fear over these issues into a marketing tool and became one of the leading vendors in the compliance management market.

Black Duck ought to withdraw the patent or be perceived as even more of a parasite to the Free software community. With a Microsoft-tied genesis, Black Duck was always difficult to trust. This brings us to Microsoft.

Microsoft

Microsoft has signed a new patent deal, this time with Webmap Technologies.

Webmap Technologies, LLC has entered into a license agreement with Microsoft Corporation, a developer and licensor of software solutions. Webmap Technologies is a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corporation, through its operating subsidiaries, acquires, develops, licenses and enforces patented technologies. All the companies are based in the US.

Here is another new article about Microsoft’s patent deal with Funai — a deal which we previously wrote about in [1, 2, 3].

Software major Microsoft and Japanese home technology firm Funai have struck an IP cross-licensing deal, granting each other access to agreed areas of their patent portfolios. Set to bolster the companies’ mutual research and development (R&D) efforts in integrated media, the deal reflects the growing popularity of cross-licensing and patent pools in the technology field as key players aim to avoid IP disputes.

The most significant news though is probably to do with RPX [1, 2, 3], a patent pool/racket which Microsoft is entering. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Microsoft signed a deal with Acacia and now it joins RPX with the excuse that it needs protection from “patent trolls.”

Microsoft Corp., a technology giant that wins thousands of patents every year, has joined RPX Corp., a start-up network aimed at aggregating intellectual property to shield its members from what are known as “patent trolls.”

Here is a funny headline (“Tech Giants’ New Plan To Fight Patent Trolls”). It is funny given that Microsoft itself created the world’s largest patent troll, Intellectual Ventures. For Microsoft to complain about “patent trolls” would be nonsensical and hyporitical.

Microsoft has signed up for “patent insurance” with a startup called RPX, which buys up patents that could be used against its clients. Microsoft says this approach can save the industry billions of dollars by thwarting the industry’s controversial “patent trolls” and their litigation. But how much can a firm like RPX do to prevent litigation?

This is also covered at Law.com, requiring subscription though. Here is an article everyone can read at the site, as well as a few others:

Frustrated by litigation costs, Microsoft, Sony, and Nokia are paying third-party patent acquirers such as RPX to fend off patent lawsuits

Dallas News has this story to tell:

That’s what Melsheimer of Fish & Richardson PC’s Dallas office found in getting a $511.6 million verdict against Microsoft reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Plaintiff Alcatel-Lucent initially sought $50 billion in damages.

The ruling ended a seven-year odyssey featuring seven different cases and three jury trials. One case hinged on the value of a particular feature of Microsoft’s Outlook electronic mail program. Melsheimer and his team convinced the appeals court that the feature wasn’t part of Outlook’s appeal to customers, hence no damages.

We wrote about Fish & Richardson a couple of months ago.

Patents as Barriers

Against Monopoly has something to say about “Common Sense” and the Economist has published an article against patents (essentially monopolies).

DO PATENTS help or hinder innovation? Instinctively, they would seem a blessing, especially for backroom tinkerers. Patenting an idea gives its inventor a 20-year monopoly to exploit the fruit of his labour in the marketplace, in exchange for publishing a full account of how the new product, process or material works for all and sundry to see. For the inventor, that may be a reasonable trade-off. For society, however, the loss of competition through the granting sole rights to an individual or organisation is justified only if it stimulates the economy and delivers goods that change people’s lives for the better.

[...]

If truth be told, few inventions are really worth patenting. Time and again, surveys show that in both America and Europe companies rate superior sales and service, lead time and secrecy as far more important than patents when it comes to profiting from innovation. And, although applying for patents is relatively cheap, the cost of maintaining them can be horrendous. If the idea behind a patent has any commercial merit, it will attract imitators—and the inventor must be prepared to defend it in the courts. In a majority of cases, the cost of litigation will far exceed any revenue the inventor may subsequently earn from royalties or licensing.

By and large, the inventions and discoveries worth patenting are those in the pharmaceutical and biotech fields, where the pay-off for blockbuster drugs can amount to billions of dollars a year. Also, because the vast majority of inventions in such areas depend on unique molecular architectures, patents for new products are easier to defend in the courts. A me-too drug that is believed to violate a firm’s patent is either based on the same molecule or not.

[...]

An end to frivolous patents for business processes will be a blessing to online commerce. Meanwhile, the loss of patent protection for software could make programmers realise at last that they have more in common with authors, artists, publishers and musicians than they ever had with molecular architects and chip designers. In short, they produce expressions of ideas that are eminently copyrightable.

That could be good news for innovation. After all, who in his right mind would seek a lousy old patent offering a mere 20 years of protection when copyright can provide monopoly rights for up to 70 years after the author’s death? That one fact alone could spur more innovation than all the tinkering attempted so far.

A new study (already mentioned here) shows that patent trolls are taking over the system.

“Adobe pays patent royalties for the h264 codec so that video plays reliably worldwide, across browsers and OS’s,” says the president of the FFII, pointing to this from Adobe:

But in follow the comments from our CTO’s posting “Open access to Content and Apps”, I noticed that there are comments about Flash not being an “open” technology and questions about why we don’t open source the Player, so I thought I’d jump in and provide some details to help clear up some misconceptions and explain how open we are with the Flash Platform.

Another new article shows that one researcher has decided that sharing is better than not sharing (“open-source research”), which probably means that patents too will be affected.

One medical researcher applies generosity of spirit with his open-source research project designed to fight a tropical disease for which medical treatment is expensive and tough to come by.

[..]

Now, Scientific American reports that Australian chemist and entrepreneur Matthew Todd is initiating a totally open-source research project geared to the fight against the tropical disease schistosomiasis.

Sharing is better than not sharing. Scientists understand that. Investors don’t care.

United Nations and World Bank Help Bill Gates and Microsoft Colonise Africa

Posted in Africa, Bill Gates, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents at 4:56 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Gates at Harper's Magazine
Cover of Harper’s in the June 2009 issue

Summary: Microsoft’s and Gates’ incursions in Africa are backed by self-serving Western agenda of patents and proprietary software

THIS is a long post which contains links to the required evidence. For those who are not familiar with the lesser-known activities of the Gates Foundation, here is a place to start. From this point on we shall assume that the reader is already well informed and therefore will not repeat topics that were covered here before.

Bill Gates’ very special connections at the UN seem to be paying off as abusive monopolies beyond Microsoft (in which he is a stakeholder) are given contracts, with the UN’s help.

Microsoft’s PR buddy at CNET, namely Ina Fried, is offering a stage/platform to more blind-folded praise for the world’s notorious monopoliser. It’s about Gates and Monsanto. Over at Groklaw, Pamela Jones responds to it with: “Would those, by any chance, be patented genetically modified seeds? If so, who benefits? The poor?”

Yes, Groklaw too is familiar with how Gates is using Africa to advance his darling, Monsanto [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8].

We are encouraged to find that Groklaw too has begun complaining about the patent games Gates plays with his “foundation”. A lot of people are fearful of criticising the foundation, as though it’s some sort of holy or sacred institution that one cannot question. That’s what PR has led to — a dangerous false consensus that people are unable to challenge without being frowned upon.

“We are encouraged to find that Groklaw too has begun complaining about the patent games Gates plays with his “foundation”.”The GNU Web site has this old cartoon about Gates creating scarcity even in food that can be grown off the ground (soil) and medicine that can be shared to reduce suffering and hunger, much like Richard Stallman’s concept of “infinite bread”.

Gates tries to characterise all this as “charity” by donating access to man-made monopolies that he is funding (patents). The mainstream press plays along, putting some highly inflated prices (maybe 1000 times the production costs) on some medicine and then hailing Gates’ “generosity” [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. People must remember the economics of drug production and also remember that Gates is investing billions of dollars in this (investing, not donating). To him, it’s a win-win scenario; he gets to be portrayed as charitable while at the same time having another opportunity to make big profits. It’s not a lot of money because it’s just patents/licensing, so it’s the illusion of cost. It’s the same when Microsoft ‘”donates” software, putting some imaginary value on the “donation” (which is usually just a tool for blocking competition anyway).

Take this article for example. It’s a patent and PR campaign, not a “vaccine campaign”. As GatesKeepers put it a few days ago, there is too much “worship of the Gates Foundation”.

More worship of the Gates Foundation and it was not even published on a Sunday.

The mainstream press is highly deceiving here because it obeys those who pay the bill (or those editors/publishers who are paid by Bill). Had it actually investigated the issue, then it would discover the other side of the story, which is an inconvenience to banal and “safe” reporting (in the job security sense).

Watch Bill Gates as he makes some new and very silly PR trips [1, 2]. Recently he took his tour to the New York Times and the Huffington Post [1, 2, 3]. He is meeting the editors and chiefs, probably ensuring that they focus on his own side of the story. This whole charade leads to delusional writings from Ziff Davis for example. They too are paid by Microsoft [1, 2, 3]. No wonder a serial monopoliser is portrayed as a hero and saviour of the world. It’s not just Gates who is pulling those PR strings after committing crimes. The loot is usually sufficient to acquire a new public image, which is what a successful PR team is working behind the scenes for (this charade has gone on for years and it is quite relentless, much like a full-time job).

Let’s get to the interesting parts. As we already know, Gates strives to control what tomorrow’s generation will think of computers, patents, and himself of course. When not using or relying on the BBC to rewrite history in his favour, Gates (mis)uses the education systems around the world. We covered the subject in:

  1. Bill Gates Puts in a Million to Ratify His Role as Education Minister
  2. How the Gates Foundation is Used to Ensure Children Become Microsoft Clients
  3. More Dubious Practices from the Gates Foundation
  4. Microsoft Builds Coalitions of NGOs, Makes Political and Educational Changes
  5. Microsoft’s EDGI in India: Fighting GNU/Linux in Education
  6. Microsoft’s Gates Seeks More Monopolies
  7. Gates Foundation Funds Blogs to Promote Its Party Line
  8. Microsoft Bribes to Make Education Microsoft-based
  9. Lobbyists Dodge the Law; Bill Gates Lobbies the US Education System with Another $10 Million
  10. Gates Investments in Education Criticised; Monsanto (Gates-Backed) Corruption Revisited
  11. Latest Vista 7 Failures and Microsoft Dumping

Mr. Reifman, who used to work for Microsoft before exposing the company’s massive tax dodge [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8], has just alluded to the subject:

Given the importance that Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation place on Education and the health of Washington communities, we are eager to hear how the Microsoft chairman squares its tax practices with the state’s $2.6 billion deficit and this dramatic court decision declaring the failure in funding for our public schools.

Retirement for Gates? Not so fast. He only moved on to some other monopolies, one of which is a monopoly on the world’s food supply. Our reader Fewa said that “David Suzuki has a great talk on that topic [...] and comes as a scientist who has done research in the field and is well respected”

Here is an article from David Suzuki which he pointed to:

I am a geneticist by training. At one time, I had one of the largest research grants and genetics labs in Canada. The time I spent in this lab was one of the happiest periods of my life and I am proud of the contribution we made to science. My introductory book is still the most widely used genetics text in the world.

When I graduated as a geneticist in 1961, I was full of enthusiasm and determined to make a mark. Back then we knew about DNA, genes, chromosomes, and genetic regulation. But today when I tell students what our hot ideas were in ’61, they choke with laughter. Viewed in 2000, ideas from 1961 seem hilarious. But when those students become professors years from now and tell their students what was hot in 2000, their students will be just as amused.

“But there is a whole talk to the technical audience [...] and very persuasive,” added Fewa. Here it is on Google Video.

This brings us to the part where Gates is pulling strings like he always does. As we wrote last month, “Gates is already hooked up with the United Nations too (the core of it, nothing less). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is even hanging out in Bill's and Melinda's own home and there are other connections like Microsoft’s Andrea Taylor.”

“Microsoft strikes partnership deal with UN in Africa,” says this article from last week.

At the ongoing African Union summit on ICT, Microsoft has signed an agreement with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa under which it will provide software, technical support and software development.

Why the heck does the UN assist a convicted monopolist in entering Africa? Well, Bill Gates’ connection with the UN is not one that can be immediately dismissed. He has people from the UN invited to his house and few Microsoft employees enjoy overlap with the UN (never mind his UN lobbying). There is more information about this here and here:

United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and global computer giant, Microsoft Corporation have sealed a partnership memorandum of understanding that aims to foster regional cooperation and economic growth in Africa through the use of Information and Communication Technologies’ (ICTs).

Apparently, Microsoft can “spur digital development”, not just train the public to become a voluntary maintainer of Microsoft’s products.

The East African Community (EAC) and Microsoft have signed an agreement under which the latter would assist the regional body in its efforts to spur digital development in the region.

Have Gates & Microsoft have just used the UN to colonise Africa? The connections there could only help and therefore perpetuate the perceptions about UN corruption being prevalent.

A few months ago we showed how Microsoft had taken over Nigerian schools [1, 2] and now we find this in the press. From last week:

Two teenage students, Miss Oluwagbemisola Akinsipe (SS1) and Miss Ibukunoluwa Onaeko (SS2), both from Christ Ambassadors’ International College, Ibadan, Oyo State, have been awarded Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).

The award is one of Microsoft’s certificates given on merit to anybody who registered and passed the qualifying examination.

Microsoft is colluding with the government at times and this one seems like another example.

Microsoft and Nigeria have released a song and video as part of a campaign to dissuade people from getting involved in cybercrime.

We have already shared some videos that show how the West is exploiting Nigeria for its oil. In general, Nigerians do have some reasons to be angry, especially given that Bill Gates, for example, contributes to death of children with his investments in cheaply-produced oil in Nigeria. The Los Angeles Times exposed that. A few days ago we found out that Nigerian militants retaliate.

Nigerian militants calling themselves the Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC) said Sunday they had attacked a major Shell oil pipeline in the volatile Niger Delta, in a statement obtained by AFP.

To understand Nigeria’s oil wars, a longer post that strays off topic would be required. We leave that aside for now.

Last week we shared a Pilger video on IMF's role in crises of the developing nations. We have also covered a lot of stories about Microsoft and bankers working in tandem [1, 2]. They must have found commonalities [1, 2] and areas of collaboration. Anyway, in the news we now find that “World Bank and Microsoft to promote development in Africa”:

The World Bank and Microsoft have announced a new partnership that will seek to reinforce social and economic development in Africa by leveraging information and communication technology (ICT). The two institutions today signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the sidelines of the summit meeting of African heads of state on the theme “ICTs in Africa: Challenges and Prospects for Development”.

Another Memorandum of Understanding (“Project Marshall”). What does the World Bank have to do with this and why make a “new partnership” with Microsoft? Is the World Bank becoming a front for a convicted monopoly abuser? The location, Addis Ababa, might have something to do with another item from the news. Microsoft is releasing Windows Vista (not Vista 7) for the Ethiopian public, as reported by AFP some days ago (also here). That was only announced last week:

Addis Ababa, February 6, 2010 (Addis Ababa) An Amharic version of Microsoft Vista software was launched here last Thursday.

Microsoft is trying to pull them away from other software in ‘creative’ ways (GNU/Linux has decent share in Africa). We have mentioned Ethiopia in relation to Gates' crusades with evil Monsanto, as well. What’s Microsoft’s obsession with Africa anyway? Microsoft is dumping software on them while Gates is dumping patents on life upon them (patented seeds and patented drugs that he holds shares in). It creates debt they will need to service later.

“Bill Gates says banks are dinosaurs, well, some dinosaurs run real fast and bite the hell out of you.”

Unknown

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