04.11.16

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FOSS at Risk From Software Patents, Which Are Still Being Promoted by Bristows, IAM, IBM, and Steve Lundberg (Frequent Villains)

Posted in America, Europe, Patents at 7:27 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: Patents on trivial and/or abstract ideas implemented in code still a major barrier to Free/libre software (FOSS) adoption and we look at who’s promoting them, alongside the UPC in the case of Europe

VARIOUS patent offices, the EPO and USPTO for example, try hard to grant software patents even when the courts oppose. What do they care as long as they get their money and let the defendants deal with all the chaos and foot the legal bills (an externality to the patent offices)? The EPO’s President is totally clueless about it and the former Director of the USPTO is now a lobbyist for software patents, which are verboten in Europe. What a rotten state of affairs. The main problem is, Free/libre software developers (more so than proprietary software developers) have their projects literally killed (shut down) by software patents. We gave many examples of this over the years. This often happens quietly, either because the prospective plaintiff demands silence or because there’s fear of retaliation from the plaintiff (sometimes a patent troll and sometimes a real company like Shazam [1, 2, 3]).

“The main problem is, Free/libre software developers (more so than proprietary software developers) have their projects literally killed (shut down) by software patents.”FOSS Force has this interesting new article which we need more of. Not many FOSS sites even bother discussing software patents anymore (Groklaw has been inactive for years) and we still deem it the #1 subject when it comes to FOSS domination (not everyone agrees with us), hence we cover it so frequently.

“Ninety-one percent of the votes cast so far indicate our readers think software patents remain a serious issue, even if the situation has somewhat improved over the last several years.”
      – FOSS Force
“There is no doubt,” FOSS Force wrote, “that there have been many developments on the patent front that have been beneficial from a free tech standpoint. There was the 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Alice Corp. vs. CLS Bank, which immediately made a slew of patents unenforceable. This decision invalidated so-called “abstract” software patents, which basically sought patent protection for merely moving established but previously non-computer procedures to a computer (i.e., bookkeeping “on a computer”). Other developments include online retailer Newegg’s decision several years back to take all disputed patent infringement claims against it to court instead of settling. Although the results of this decision have led to a mixed bag of results, with notable wins and losses, it’s undoubtedly caused the trolls to think twice before threatening the company.”

Here are some figures that are based on a new poll: “We quietly put the poll up on our front page on Thursday morning. Ninety-one percent of the votes cast so far indicate our readers think software patents remain a serious issue, even if the situation has somewhat improved over the last several years.”

There is some perception that things are improving, but where? Maybe in the US, owing to Alice. But what about Europe? Bristows LLP is nowadays promoting UPC (and hence, by extension, software patents) and one of its employees, who habitually defends software patents, has just published an article about the US bill which advocates going after patent trolls (or patent lawsuit venue) instead of patent scope, hence somewhat of a distraction from the core problem. To quote a portion:

Currently, a patentee can commence a patent infringement action in any district where the defendant resides or does business (i.e. where its products or services are available) (see Federal Circuit’s 1994 decision in Beverly Hills Fan Company v Royal Sovereign ) and VE Holding v Johnson Gas (Fed Cir 1990). The rules have made it possible for the Eastern District of Texas, for example, to become so popular (for an entertaining 11 minutes, see John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on Patents). The goal of the VENUE Act is to limit the ability for patentees to abusively forum shop (which can be interpreted as stopping patent trolls from targeting patentee friendly courts). Similar legislation was introduced in the Innovation Act (H.R. 9 – see also here), but that has stalled (as has the companion PATENT Act (S.1137) before the Senate). Some commentators consider that the VENUE Act is an attempt to get some form of patent reform through the 114th Congress before everyone loses interest to the election. By dedicating itself to only one issue, instead of several, this may increase its prospects of success.

This might help impede trolls (not altogether stop them or squash their extortion/rackets), but it does nothing whatsoever to tackle issues pertaining to patent scope. Meanwhile, earlier today IAM said “NPE” instead of patent troll (yes, again!) in relation to the far east. To quote: “In Taiwan, companies are watching the US environment as closely as ever – some of the biggest names among them have been frequent targets of NPE litigation. Now, there’s a cautious belief that this threat has already peaked and that aggressive NPE assertion will continue to decline. There’s evidence that some Taiwan companies perceive some of the risk shifting to Europe, with entities from the island upping their applications for European patents by about 12% in the past year. Many others, however, are taking more of a wait-and-see approach, not least because of the considerable cost involved in European filings. With the UPC agreement currently hanging in the balance, that caution may well be warranted.”

As a reminder, here's why they can't say "troll" and instead say NPE (editor in chief denies the issue and trolls are a funding source). It sure looks like Asian companies too are worried about US patent trolls. Notice the part at the end there about the UPC, which would open Europe to a lot of litigation by patent trolls (even from abroad). It doesn’t seem to be a cause for alarm among patent lawyers, who simply stand to gain from it. Steve Lundberg, a loud proponent of software patents for many years now, is happy to be blessed by IAM (another loud of proponent of software patents, see the right column in this new post) and he now grooms Schecter from IBM (now an aggressor with software patents, as several recent lawsuits show), who is evidently pleased with that. All those lobbyists, think tanks, patent pundits etc. who effortlessly show their strong bias on the topic oughn’t be ignored because they profit from it and they try to change the public perception/consensus. IAM is paid by the aggressors and the trolls (even the big and notorious ones like MOSAID); it still promotes software patents in this month's magazine/issue. So does the EPO (see for example the UPC propaganda in page 4 of this newly-advertised EPO publication); when will EPO stop acting like a UPC lobbyist, having already done so for many years?

Shaming of those who are promoting software patents without having written a single line of code in their whole life isn’t confrontational or rude. It’s necessary because there’s a coup going on and unless software developers (not necessarily just FOSS) stand up and fight back they’ll pay the price in the long run. Their money will flow to patent lawyers, patent trolls, and software monopolists.

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