02.19.15

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The Old Obsession With Patent Trolls Continues to Distract From Debate About Software Patenting

Posted in Law, Patents at 7:06 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The root problem is monopolies on mathematics

Logic homework

Summary: A roundup of recent coverage about monopolies on algorithms in the United States

THE FIGHT against software patents (in the US in particular) is going quite well as courts combat this irrational phenomenon, which has come to dominate the patent system and now saturates the patents pool. Nike is now patenting software, showing us again that, demonstrably speaking, it is large corporations that typically rely on such patents. These almost always hurt the ‘small people’, unless they are patent trolls and opportunists.

“These patent lawyers continue to debate the patentability of software (usually if not always spinning in favour of software patents in the United States) while in another article by lawyer Rob Tiller (Red Hat) the wrong kind of approach is being floated, debating once again “patent trolling” rather than software patenting.”Software patents are typically being hoarded by evil companies (lots of abuses other than patent abuses) and Samsung, which is pressured by Microsoft using software patents extortion, is now the victim of yet another evil company. As a trolls expert put it, “Gordon Bremer didn’t invent Bluetooth 2.0. In fact, as he admitted on the stand last week in an East Texas federal court, he hadn’t even read the specification for it until 2007—three years after it was on the market.

“Despite that, Bremer may be getting paid a hefty royalty by Samsung, after a jury ruled that the Korean electronics company infringed Bremer’s patents. He stands to get 2.5 percent of the $15.7 million verdict [PDF] won by his employer, Rembrandt IP, one of the oldest and most successful “patent trolls.””

Until or unless the USPTO is ready to stop its horrible patent policy, patent trolls will continue to harm real companies with actual products. Microsoft, for example, uses patents to harm Android and force Android to play into the loser’s game (Microsoft).

Here are some new “Comments on USPTO’s Interim Patent Eligibility Guidance”, coming from the Bilski Blog (no connection to the Bilski case, just opportunism): “[t]he Interim Guidance made a slight change from the Preliminary Instructions to address this issue, by stating that “certain methods of organizing human activities” (emphasis added) are abstract ideas, to avoid suggesting that “all” such methods are ineligible. But that does not fully address the problem, and indeed may exacerbate it. The use of the adjective “certain” gives no useful instruction to the examiners—it says no more than “some methods” are ineligible, without saying how to identify which methods. As noted by the commentators, the only instruction from the Court is that it is those methods which are themselves already “fundamental building blocks” as in Bilski. As an example, a method of making ice cream sundaes by mixing ice cream and toppings on chilled blocks of granite is a method of organizing human activities that is not “fundamental” or “abstract.”

“The Office should revise the Guidance to specifically address the interpretation of “abstract ideas” as being fundamental, and advise examiners to demonstrate such fundamental status by proper citation to authoritative references. The Office should explain to examiners precisely how to establish which “certain” methods of organizing human activity are ineligible, and if it cannot, then it should remove the alleged category entirely.”

These patent lawyers continue to debate the patentability of software (usually if not always spinning in favour of software patents in the United States) while in another article by lawyer Rob Tiller (Red Hat) the wrong kind of approach is being floated, debating once again “patent trolling” rather than software patenting. Here is what he wrote a few days ago:

Patent reform is once again in the air. A few days ago, Congressman Bob Goodlatte and others re-introduced the Innovation Act, which was passed by the House in the last Congress but died in the Senate. It has several good ideas, including fee shifting, clearer pleadings, patent ownership disclosure requirements, combatting discovery abuse, clarity in ownership of patents, protection of downstream users, and others. Some of these could improve the chances for businesses facing attacks by patent assertion entities (PAEs, aka patent trolls).

But in preparing for a talk last week, I came upon an idea that could go as further than any pending legislative proposal towards undermining the business of patent trolling. Professor Mark Lemley of Stanford Law School titled his paper with becoming modesty: Why Do Juries Decide if Patents Are Valid?. This caught my eye, because I’ve long wondered the very same thing. The risk of a runaway jury is one that costs all patent defendants (including most every innovative technology company) some sleepless nights. Even when a patent claim seems clearly without basis, the possibility of a jury trial gives us pause.

What depresses us about Rob Tiller’s approach (he heads Red Hat’s work in this area) is that while Red Hat continues pursuing some of its own software patents it does virtually nothing effective to stop them; it mostly talks about “trolls”, neglecting to recognise that many of these trolls that harass Red Hat are Microsoft-connected and Microsoft itself acts no differently than patent trolls, it’s only bigger. To really combat this problem we must speak about patent scope, not the scale of the plaintiffs.

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