07.10.10

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Patents Roundup: FFII Founder on IBM, Shazam Has No Case, Microsoft Wants to ‘Own’ Page-flipping, and Software Freedom is Hurt

Posted in America, Europe, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, OIN, Patents at 9:40 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Flipping pages

Summary: Founder of FFII says Florian Müller’s IBM-bashing currently does not have a basis in any existing movement; other new examples of patent news

TODAY we would like to deal with some bits of news about software patents. Much of this was covered before but with different sources at hand.

Hartmut Pilch, the FFII’s founder, has commented on Florian Müller's IBM phobia in the comments section of this post we mentioned a few days ago. He wrote:

I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that Florian M. could once more gain some following, even though some parts of his agenda, such as IBM-bashing, currently do not have a basis in any existing movement.

This is not entirely true because while the FFII remains critical of some aspects of OIN, it is not alone either. Criticism of IBM does have its place, but Müller goes too far and “FOSS” is not a priority of his, based on what he writes at least.

“One software patents story which makes a lot of people angry is Shazam’s action, which is carried out through a litigious proxy.”The patent troll called NTP was mentioned here yesterday and its lawsuit against almost everyone has generated hundreds of English headlines, including this report from AP (there is a load of other coverage [1, 2], which makes it easier for historians to find and there is therefore no need for lists of pointers). NTP has been doing this for years (targeting fewer companies) and this case will help define people’s perception of software patents. In this case, wireless E-mail is the claimed infringement. It’s rather outlandish.

One software patents story which makes a lot of people angry is Shazam’s action [1, 2], which is carried out through a litigious proxy. The story of the victimised Dutch developer has received some wider exposure [1, 2] and as TechDirt puts it, Landmark Digital is a “BMI subsidiary which owns the patents on Shazam’s music recognition technology” (i.e. it’s another front like the RIAA). Michael says:

The story is a perfect example of the ridiculous situation with patents today. Basically, the guy noted that what Shazam does in recognizing music is really not that complicated, and explained how to create something similar yourself, which he did himself in a weekend. He had not released the code, but was planning to do so when the legal threats came in. The guy wondered what patents they were talking about specifically, especially considering that in Europe, the standards to patent software are much higher. In response, he was only told about two US patents (6,990,453 and 7,627,477 — oddly, on that last one, Google still shows it as being patent pending, even though the patent was granted last year).

According to this news report, Roy van Rijn is doing something legal as long as he is in Holland. People should help van Rijn spread his code samples so that Landmark Digital/BMI/Shazam give up their patent bullying. They can fight one person more easily than they can find a whole crowd from all around the world (where their software patents are not even applicable).

Roy van Rijn, a developer based in the Netherlands, last month posted about his plans to release open-source Java code to implement a music matching algorithm similar to that used in Shazam, which lets users identify songs from brief audio samples.

His blog post describes how he implemented song matching in Java, with snippets of code. He said that while the code is not in a releasable state, he might clean it up and release it if there’s enough interest.

[...]

EFF Fellow and patent attorney Michael Barclay agreed that posting code covered by a patent could put van Rijn at risk of a lawsuit, but noted that some critical details need to be determined.

“Merely posting the code on a Netherlands Web site would not infringe any US Patents,” he said.

Landmark’s claim, he said, appears to be overreaching unless the company has patents in the Netherlands. “If there are no issued Netherlands patents, he’s free to ship and deploy all he wants in the Netherlands,” he said. “The really sketchy part, and I don’t know that this has ever been litigated, is he says don’t post the code.”

Some legal experts have gone on the record saying that software developers should consider leaving the United States because it’s too risky to develop there. That’s how Richard Stallman justified rejecting software patents in Europe; it puts Europe in a position of tremendous advantage. Brad Feld, an American VC who is strongly against software patents [1, 2], mentioned the story of van Rijn in a new post of his:

In case you need more evidence around the stupidity of the whole situation, take a look at the crap van Rijn is going through. Or maybe this patent from Microsoft on “how to turn a page in an electronic book.”

Here is an article about this Microsoft patent:

As if to dispell all doubt that innovation is alive and well in Redmond, Microsoft has filed a patent application for – wait for it – the “Virtual Page Turn”.

Yes, with filing number 20100175018 at the US Patent and Trademark Office, Microsoft is seeking to patent the animation of a page-flip when a user makes the appropriate gesture on an ebook’s touchscreen. As the filing reads:

A page-turning gesture directed to a displayed page is recognized. Responsive to such recognition, a virtual page turn is displayed on the touch display… The virtual page turn curls a lifted portion of the page to progressively reveal a back side of the page while progressively revealing a front side of a subsequent page… A page-flipping gesture quickly flips two or more pages.

John Boyd responds to Brad Feld and Paul Kedrosky, who co-wrote an article against software patents a few days ago. Boyd says:

I wholeheartedly agree most software patents are nonsense however and serve neither society, innovation or business.
Given the complications here, is it natural to suggest that the Supreme Court make law here? Should this not be within the realm of are ever capable and cogent Congress to adapt patent law to modern types of innovation and invention? Or do we need to clone Jefferson, grow him in a lab until he can make a new law for us?

For background about Jefferson and patents, see this post. Software patents may in fact be unconstitutional. “Business methods and software still patentable in U.S. following closely- watched Bilski decision,” says this new headline from the Montreal Gazette. It may take years to reverse this troubling trend, assuming it ever gets reversed. In the mean time, Free/open source software like ZFS will continue to be hurt by software patents [1, 2, 3]. The ZFS story is now among Slashdot’s promoted submissions where it is discussed extensively.

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