03.08.12

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Patents Roundup: Android, FRAND, and Patent Hype

Posted in GNU/Linux, Google, Patents at 5:59 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

World in hand

Summary: Patent news of interest

LINUX/Android is affected in a very real way by patents, with notable cases like this assault by Oracle [1, 2, 3] or even Apple's extortion, in addition to Microsoft’s. If 3 giants want $15 from each Android device sold (plus patent trolls toll/fines), then the tax on Linux becomes significant. This is exactly what they are hoping to achieve because some of the latest numbers from the United States suggest that Android extends its lead, having long ago conquered the #1 spot with almost 1 million device activations per day.

Android was never about patents, but foes of Linux decided to use patents as a last resort that Windows 95 never really had to cope with. The EFF has a new infographic which shows how patents hinder innovation. And to quote:

Patents may have been created to help encourage innovation, but instead they regularly hinder it. The US Patent Office, overwhelmed and underfunded, issues questionable patents every day. “Patent trolls” buy too many of these patents and then misuse the patent system to shake down companies big and small. Others still use patents to limit competition and impede access to new knowledge, tools, or other innovations.

Over at patent lawyers’ sites there is yet more RAND advancement/promotion, neglecting the fact that RAND (or FRAND) is not compatible with Free software. They neglect ZRAND and other options that actually are being marginalised. To quote part of this post:

On its face, it is easy to see why a FRAND commitment might reassure implementers of a standard. If a patent is essential to the standard, the patent holder must license the patent on terms that are fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory. Unfortunately, the devil has proven to be in the details of FRAND, and no two companies seem to have the same view of what constitutes fair, reasonable or non-discriminatory licensing terms. This lack of agreement has troubled regulators for some time and has led to an increasing number of litigation claims alleging that one party or another to a standards effort has failed to comply with its FRAND obligations.

The February FRAND statements by Apple, Microsoft and Google are thus informative and potentially of great importance. To understand the statements, and why the DOJ viewed them differently, it is helpful to compare them side-by-side. The following table summarizes what Apple, Microsoft and Google said FRAND means to them.

Apple and Microsoft pretend to be victims. Google never really wanted anything to do with patents, but it was attacked fiercely by the duopoly. The OIN meanwhile looks for solutions to this duopolistic aggression (not patent trolls) and articles about it reach as far as CNN, which says:

An alliance of technology corporations, including IBM, is expanding the scope of patent protection it provides to developers, vendors, and users of open source software such as Linux. The move cuts against the grain of major companies going after each other, filing suit over patent infringement.

Notice how they single out IBM. It’s not exactly inaccurate though. Other quarters of the business press spread patent propaganda in this week’s press and PR circles.

Adobe, which previously stood up against software patents, is now pursuing them:

Adobe’s patent-pending software technology is used in a variety of plug-ins for popular desktop apps such as Adobe Reader, Microsoft Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. Adobe says it is also working on support for Microsoft Outlook, PowerPoint, and Chrome in the future.

Something called “Patent Research Platform” has just gotten funding:

You won’t have to go far in Silicon Valley to find someone who will tell you that the patent situation in the tech industry is a mess. While trouble has been brewing for a decade, the last year has been marked by a continuous stream of litigation, and some might say it’s beginning to take its toll on innovation. Take Yahoo’s recent threats to Facebook, for example. Back in September, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt warned that “overbroad patents will slow” the progress of the software industry, saying that the current state of patents in the U.S. was “terrible.”

At the time, Schmidt suggested that dealing with patents in a way that is more systematic might be beneficial to the industry, even broadly making reference to the idea of crowdsourcing. The Google Chairman isn’t alone in thinking this approach could help make a difference in the ongoing patent wars, evidenced by the growing community that is Article One Partners’ global patent research platform.

This was already attempted by others, including Peer-to-Patent. The issue with this approach is, it inadvertently helps validate patents. How about companies that base themselves on patents? Here is a funny opening paragraph:

Good news for gamers –start up Numecent has announced further details of its patented cloudpaging technology which could vastly lower the time needed to stream software applications.

Why does it seem necessary to patent it? This a bubble.

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4 Comments

  1. Michael said,

    March 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Gravatar

    I think Android could do well even if those who sell it were made to actually pay for the technologies they use. I do not think they *must* resort to plagiarism in order to be successful… just guess I have more faith in Android than you do, Roy.

  2. mcinsand said,

    March 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

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    Apple is truly the most disgusting of all; they copy from FOSS, market and patent as if they had invented it, and then try to extort from FOSS licensing fees that Apple copied.

    The problem is that the FOSS culture behavies ethically, where Apple and MS can only compete through extortion and racketeering through patents that are only granted by the US government not paying attention to its own definitions. Abstract ideas (software) are not supposed to be patentable, and for many good reasons.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Consider who is funding election campaigns. It’s not FOSS.

    Michael Reply:

    It always amazes me how ignorant the "FOSS" folks are in terms of open source. Of course Apple and MS use open source for their own reasons – that is the primary way open source is used and written. That is why Linus Torvalds is involved in open source:

    I agree that it’s driven by selfish reasons, but that’s how all open source code gets written! We all "scratch our own itches". It’s why I started Linux, it’s why I started git, and it’s why I am still involved. It’s the reason for everybody to end up in open source, to some degree.

    So complaining about the fact that Microsoft picked a selfish area to work on is just silly. Of course they picked an area that helps them. That’s the point of open source – the ability to make the code better for your particular needs, whoever the ‘your’ in question happens to be.

    So the argument that MS and Apple are doing something wrong to use open source to their benefit is just absurd – and unless you are going to complain about Linus Torvalds doing the same thing, it is completely hypocritical.
    As far as people patenting open source… what? The whole idea of open source is that it is not patented and is open to all. Again, you show no understanding of what open source is about.
    Open source is available to all – and Apple and MS use it. That does not mean they are obligated to give their own property away, nor does it give others the right to plagiarize from them. Really, these are not complex concepts.

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