09.17.13

Media Focus in the US is on Patent Trolls, Patents on Software Hardly Even Mentioned Anymore

Posted in Patents at 10:00 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

A collage

Summary: Examples of recent coverage which deals not with the core issue but with the nuisance to large corporations

The “smoke screen hiding software patents themselves,” as iophk put it, keeps revealing itself in US media. To quote NPR’s report from the other day: [via]

Patent trolls — a term known more among geeks than the general public — are about to be the target of a national ad campaign. Beginning Friday, a group of retail trade organizations is launching a in 17 states.

They want to raise awareness of a problem they say is draining resources from business and raising prices for consumers.

Patent trolls, known officially as nonpracticing entities, or NPEs, are companies that don’t make or sell anything. They just own patents. They make their money by getting licensing fees from businesses that use technologies covered by the patents they own.

Another article by Joe Mullin (the trolls expert) deals with trolls cases. Mullin has taken great interest in those. This is what’s being relayed to the government:

Anti-patent-troll ads launch on radio and in print in 15 states

Tech companies join retailers, restaurants, and grocers to get Congress’ attention.

This, however, is not the key issue. iophk sent us another example which “blames trolls rather than software patents themselves,” quoting this article which focuses on trolls only and says: “With decks stacked like that, most organizations simply surrender, often settling for tens of thousand of dollars. It’s a shakedown, it’s extortion.”

Actually, some very large companies like Microsoft do exactly that. So why focus on trolls? As another article which “doesn’t address that the actual problem is the software patents themselves,” explains iophk, here is an Apple fan site which portrays Apple as the victim of patents and only trolls as the problem. Here is a new article about Soverain. To quote:

Patent Troll Tries To Reanimate Dead Patent With Desperate Ploy Over Effective Typo; Court Shoots Zombie Claim Dead

Back in January, we wrote about Newegg’s fairly complete victory over patent troll Soverain Software’s attempt to claim it had patents on basic online shopping cart technology. This was a fight that had gone on for many, many years, in which many e-commerce companies just paid off Soverain rather than fight it. Newegg has taken a “we won’t settle with patent trolls” pledge, and successfully destroyed the patent. Everyone thought the patent and the case were finally dead… except it appears that Soverain sought one last desperate attempt to reanimate the corpse, basically by focusing on what was, in reality, a typographical error.

US retailers seem to be seeking change only when it comes to plaintiff scale, not patent scope, and that of course is a recipe for disaster when large retailers control policy (the government is funded and run by corporations). It means that almost nobody is left to help abolish software patents in the US.

New Zealand Shows the United States How to Deal With Software Patents

Posted in America, Patents at 9:43 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Czech landscape

Summary: The world is trying to tackle patents on algorithms, whereas the US, which is unique on that matter, mostly focuses on trolls (scale of plaintiff) and not patent scope

In our latest update from NZ (see some recent history) we mentioned the reversal of a move which nearly brought software patents to the island, a former British colony which nowadays seems to be getting its commands from the United States (this includes national policies and surveillance). As the British Pirate Party put it:

Its not often that we see positive reforms of copyright or patent systems, in fact the vast majority of changes that we see are tightening of regulations, a tightening that is too often driven by corporate lobby groups over the objections of innovators, developers and creators. It seems like an ever rising tide of restrictions, covering more and more areas, limiting what any of us can do, reuse or build upon.

Well that tide seems to be on the verge of turning. Not in the UK yet perhaps, but certainly in New Zealand. The long awaited Patents Bill, amending legislation from 1953, has been passed in New Zealand. It is a bill has been a long time coming, first proposed in July 2008, it was met with intense lobbying from multinationals and spurred almost 5 years of debate and controversy.

Meanwhile in the United States, following the GAO’s already-distorted report which calls for the end of software patents we find Red Hat’s lobbyist Mark Bohannon (officially “Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Global Public Policy at Red Hat”) shifting attention to patent trolls:

During the August Congressional recess, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its long-awaited study on Non-Practicing Entities (NPEs), required under the America Invents Act (AIA).

The report paints a rather grim picture of the current patent system. It reinforces the call by key leaders in Congress for legislative reforms that address abusive patent litigation as well as action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the courts, and the US PTO.

The truly interesting point of this report is the issue of patent scope, not trolls. As Mr. Pogson, a Canadian, put it, this reports represents what he called the “Death-Spiral Of Software Patents”. To quote his short analysis:

The US GAO has studied the matter and software-patents stick out like a sore thumb. They just don’t make any sense in the modern world. They are sand in the gears of progress. They are knee-deep syrup on the race track. Their report does not ensure elimination of software-patents but I expect something clarifying SCOTUS and GAO findings will emerge and bring US R&D back onto a firmer footing.

The continued obsession with patent trolls in the US (this does not happen in Europe and NZ, where focus remains on software patents) will be further tackled in the next post.

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