10.14.12

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Opposition to Software Patents and Trolls in the Press

Posted in Patents at 11:13 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: A roundup of news about software patents and the increased levels of attention this topic has been receiving

Now that large companies like Samsung, LinkedIn, and Facebook get sued for alleged software patent violations [1, 2] we are hearing more and more from the press about the problem. Many Facebook users and Android/Galaxy users are royally pissed off. Even the world’s biggest patent troll is being denounced openly by the British press, which states: “A division of Intellectual Ventures, the IP-holding company founded by Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft’s former CTO, has been granted a patent on a system for introducing digital rights management (DRM) controls to 3D printing.

“Under the system described in the patent, files containing plans for printed objects would be encased in a digital envelope that would check if the original designer had either given permission for the plans to be used or been paid for their product. Software to handle this would be embedded in 3D printers to make sure they couldn’t produce unauthorized copies.”

DRM and patents — two evils for the price of one. So, who can still oppose a reform? Days ago we found an apologist who says that software patents opposition has merit but may be required for startups. We do, however, agree on the subject of trolls: “This is bad enough for a large corporation, but for a small startup, the cost of fending off trolls can be fatal. Trolls don’t play fair, and their weasely behavior hurts not only those they attack directly, but the entire system. I don’t doubt for a second that the patent system should be reformed. When an empty company’s raison d’etre is the procurement and enforcement of patents, purely as a revenue resource, with absolutely no intention of practicing those patents, than that company is behaving unethically, immorally, and the law should absolutely reflect that.”

Needless to add, patent lawyers continue promoting software patents, but they are outnumbered by far. Dissent against them in the press has gone very mainstream [1, 2, 3] all across the world, with Apple's abuse paving the way. It helped sway public opinion or stress the importance of the topic.

Joe Mullin went to Texas to cover the patent trolls epidemic and he says that “[a] long-dead dot-com business, revived as a patent-holding company called DDR Holdings, today has new life with a Texas patent victory. Two patents owned by the company, both of which cover a way of creating an online store that it says is widely used in e-commerce, were found valid and infringed.

“The victory wasn’t clear-cut though. The two defendant companies, Digital River and World Travel Holdings, were ordered by the jury to pay $750,000 each, for a total of $1.5 million. That’s a lot of money, but it’s less than 10 percent of the $16.2 million that DDR asked for. Putting on a patent trial can cost as much as $1 million, so DDR may not make much from this case.”

Mullin explains that designs can be patented if you add “over the Internet” or something along these lines, e.g. slide to unlock. Mullin notes all this in a separate article where he writes: “The slide that defense lawyers showed to the jury read: “This isn’t new.” In a patent case, it could have been a smoking gun—after all, it was written by the inventors themselves. They were describing their business, Nexchange, to a San Francisco conference back in 2000; it was three years before they received their first patent and turned their focus to litigation.

“But hours later, inventor Daniel “Del” Ross Jr. was on the stand, and he seemed none too concerned that the crux of his idea was old—if not ancient. He had a patent, twice reviewed by the US Patent Office, and a simple story to tell: “The big difference is, we invented this for the Internet,” he told the jury.”

This helps show how unhinged from reality this whole system became. “It’s a bit ironic that people think that for pharmaceuticals patents are the only answer,” writes David K. Levine. This is another family of very controversial patents.

Over at Groklaw, another article opposing software patent has just been published. PolR writes: “You probably have heard computer professionals say that software is mathematics. You’ve certainly read it on Groklaw more than once. But is it true? What does that statement mean? I want to show you, first, why it’s true, and I will also answer some typical criticisms. My purpose, however, is to suggest a way to develop a test for when a patent involving software is or is not patent-eligible, now that the Federal Circuit has granted an en banc review of CLS Bank International v. Alice Corporation.”

Let us hope that many such articles will continue to be published. It’s no longer a niche; likewise, Linux advocacy becomes somewhat obsolete now that Android promotion is everywhere — from the press to billboards, from word of mouth to shops.

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