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Software Patents: India, OIN, the Trolls, and the Monopolists

India a Matter of Urgency



The software patents situation in India is not good. That's the result of a quick assessment from FFII anyway. We last covered this here and here. It's progressing and exacerbating as Microsoft strives to stuff committees and steal the country's voice. Those who are not combative will simply leave room for neo-imperialists to take over that empty space. Revenue comes at the expense of people's freedom.



In response to this atrophy which is software patents, the India press has published this article.

PATENTLY ABSURD

[...]

Here’s what Gates wrote in an office memorandum in 1991. “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. . . I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique.”

This was the year after Microsoft launched Windows 3.0, the first of its new operating systems that would become hugely popular across the world. Yet, three years down the line, Microsoft had changed from a kitten that was content with copyright protection to an aggressive patents tiger. In 1991, Microsoft had filed fewer than 50 patent applications whereas last year it was awarded 1,637 patents, almost a 12 per cent increase in the number of patents it received in 2006. According to IFI Patent Intelligence, the rise in Microsoft’s patents portfolio bucked the general trend in 2007 when the number of patents issued by the US Patents and Trademark Office dipped by 10 per cent. Apparently several thousand of the company’s filings are still pending.

All this may prompt the reader to conclude that there is indeed a direct correlation between IPR and growth — and wealth — as the company claims. Not true, says Mark H Webbink, a US Supreme Court lawyer who is a recognised voice on IT issues. Charting the company’s revenues, R&D spending and patent filings from 1985 onwards, he shows that the spike in patent filings occurred long after the Microsoft “had become well established and was being investigated for its monopolistic practices”. Webbink contends that patents did not spur the launch and rapid growth of the mass market software industry. On the other hand, patents have become a threat to software innovation, he warns.


This was also published here and it's good to see such information reaching the mainstream press.

OIN Under Bergelt's Reign



As mentioned before, the leadership of OIN had quietly changed, but there are some good initiatives lurking over the horizon.

Earlier this week we wrote about a sort of OIN equivalent for mobile Linux ('fire blanket' for patents). Well, it appears as though OIN itself will have a big announcement to make pretty soon.

In coming weeks, OIN will reveal more details of the site, which Bergelt described as "a production environment where we educate and train people to do this. We'll work with them to make sure it's put in a form that is acceptable."

The effort will serve as a counterpart to OIN's existing strategy, under which it provides its patents royalty-free to companies in exchange for a commitment that they won't assert their patents against the Linux system. Its backers include NEC, IBM, Novell, Philips, Red Hat, and Sony. Google, Oracle and Alfresco are among the licensees.


Bruce Perens, who is well aware of Microsoft's patent plot, had this to say:

Plain old published source code is at least somewhat protective, just look for "Perens" in a full-text search of the USPTO database to see an example of where it's worked. There are a few patents there that reference Electric Fence as prior art.

However, you can make more claims in a defensive publication than might be exercised by your source code.


Of Trolls and Sharks



Digital Majority has found this article which talks about "patent sharks". It is important not to phase out terminology like "patent trolls" as that's just what culprits like Ray Niro would want [1, 2]. It's token proliferation. It's dilution.

Technology firms face a serious menace: patent sharks. These predators collect patents through acquisitions in bankruptcy proceedings, licensing agreements, or their own R&D efforts. They hide their intellectual property--to deliberately trap tech firms into inadvertent patent infringements. Then they sue.

And the awards are typically huge. Pure patent holding company NTP, for instance, sued best-selling BlackBerry maker Research in Motion in 2006 for violation of NTP patents. Under threat of an injunction that would have shut down the mobile e-mail service, RIM settled for over $600 million--even though several NTP patents were later declared invalid.


Here is another brand-new example:

Apple, RIM, Palm sued over vague GSM patents



Quick, you ever heard of WiAV Solutions? You know, the owner or exclusive licensee of several vague patents on the use of GSM tech in smartphones? The company that doesn't make anything or even have a web site, but files so many patent lawsuits that some companies have taken to pre-emptively filing suits for declaratory judgment against it?


When will it stop? Can the USPTO put an end to this?

Big Boys and Their Intellectual Monopolies



Brand power (trademarks) and secrecy (copyrights) is not enough for everyone, so patent muscle and other notional things are soon summoned. Facebook is turning out to be a patent pest. It has quite a monopoly in its area and a new report has revealed that, some time in the past, Facebook actually wanted to buy the competitor that it's now suing, instead. They are in direct competition and these are obvious ideas with plenty of prior art.

Before Facebook sued the German social networking site StudiVZ last month for copying its "look and feel," it had been in talks to purchase the site.


Apple is no exception, either. It is a software patent pest and we previously showed how it directly harms GNU/Linux development. The Register claims to be having a patent duel with Apple.

Apple will fill in some long-awaited missing features from its iPod and iPhone mobile players, a patent application published this week suggests. There's just one problem: Much of Apple's "invention" was dreamed up by Reg readers several years ago - and one embodiment is already on the market.


The patent system is a mess. Serenity now.

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