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Intellectual Monopolies: Microsoft, McCain, Trade Secrets, and Apple

This is a roundup of news relating to Intellectual Monopolies, sometimes also referred to as "IPR".

Microsoft's Junk (Software) Patents



Microsoft's appetite for patents -- a virtual ownership of any stupid idea for that matter -- was well illustrated by the PgUp/PgDn kerkuffle [1, 2, 3]. This newly-granted patent was applies for by Microsoft back in 2005, probably decades after this so-called 'invention' first appeared (not to mentioned the three-finger salute, better known as CTRL+ALT+DEL). Patents appear to be Microsoft's latest strategy amid disguised financial difficulties [1, 2] and possibly fraud.

Here is another new and baffling patent from Microsoft.

The US patent might be a bit daft, especially when it comes to software, but it does offer some interesting insights into what crazy things the big companies might be working on for future products. One such patent emerged today: Microsoft applied in 2005 (and was granted in 2008) a patent which describes how different windows may be coloured differently, or that they may have different transparency settings.


Corrupted Politics of Software Patents



McCain is a long-time Microsoft ally, who even pondered making Steve Ballmer his partner. McCain's role in lobbying and attitude towards software patents were recently discussed in [1, 2, 3]. The following article is more explicit about it.

Rai has signed a brief in the case arguing for a broad scope in what can be patented. But Obama co-sponsored a patent reform bill in 2007 that would have prohibited patents on tax-avoidance strategies, Reines noted. He suggested that McCain supports wide patentability on technology, including software. “Software is a very important industry, and Senator McCain believes we need to support our innovation economy critically,” Reines said.

The McCain side didn’t take a position on business method patents.


This is hardly surprising, but at least we now know that while he argues in favour of a reform, he remains loyal to his friends at Microsoft with a pro-software patents stance.

Patents Versus Freedom and Innovation



Here is a good new example of how Intellectual Monopolies harm freedom.

In short, the problem here is probably not VIA per se, but a patent licensor (or a whole bunch of them) who would not exactly be thrilled to see trade secrets spilled out for all to dissect. What's ironic is that such worries are typically overblown beyond belief -- something Steve Mosher of OpenMoko pointed out when I spoke to him. There's no secret that can be kept indefinitely, and the whole point of technological innovation is not to sit on the same secrets forever but to keep moving forward.


This little article about Apple suggests that "digital music player" was a patent.

Hertfordshire based Kane Kramer, now 52, came up with and patented the design of a digital music player when he was just 23. Dubbed the IXI, the original music player had only enough capacity to store three and half minutes of music – although Kramer expected this to increase over time.


Copyrights Against Today's Talent



Friends of monopolies (and enemies of those 'little people', whom they purport to represent) such as McCreevy and Sarkozy [1, 2, 3, 4] are causing some more anger as the implications of their action become more apparent.

As with Congress and Disney, the EU's proposed 45-year extension would make the rich richer, and would perhaps put roughly 30 Euros per year in most artists' pockets. It's a terrible idea with limited benefit for its intended beneficiaries, and huge detriment to the public and would-be artists growing up in the shadows of today's artists.

If the EU wants to baby artists, set up a pension plan for them. Coddle them with milque toast in their old age. Do something. Just don't extend copyright terms. That helps few and hurts many.


So much for "protecting poor artists". This is about ensuring that the children and grandchildren of dead people continue not only to enjoy inheritance but also enjoy an active money flow along with monopolistic record labels. Nancy Sinatra is among the lobbyists for such ridiculous extensions that deprive today's new artists from further exposure and opportunities.

Jon Maddog Hall has just published this item expressing similar discontent with the law.

Maddog finds out that copyright prevents preserving paper player piano rolls.


Slightly less related to this, Michael Roberton is calling for change as well.

Lala, for those who don't know, is a free streaming music venture. Invested in by Warner Music group to the tune of $20m it streams about five million songs, but also offers 89 cent MP3 sales, and song rentals for 10 cents each. But why is almost nobody using their well-designed, expansive, free streaming service?

I'm not talking about the song rentals for 10 cents - we all knew that was a non-starter. But people aren't streaming songs even for free. While Imeem is streaming more than 1m sessions per day, on Lala only 25 daily listens will get your song into the weekly Top 10. The service just isn't attracting users at all, in spite of the marketing major label WMG has committed to do. Lala appears to be just another in a long list of industry endorsed companies that tries to make the labels happy - and in so doing, apparently forfeits its chance to build a user base or a business.


When Everyone is a Criminal by Default



The BBC published a report yesterday on copyrights enforcement using DRM. It's specifically about Spore.

DRM is used to combat piracy and protect copyright, but players of Spore complained that this meant the game was "for rent, not sale".

"The DRM on this thing is less friendly than my recent colonoscopy - you get three installs. That's it. No install returned for uninstallation, or anything else," wrote one reviewer.


Spore is already being smashed as a result of the poor decision.

EA's big title gets 1-star rating

For software that appeals to a wide audience like EA's latest sim game Spore, it's sometimes the first time the average person gets a good taste of how digital rights management (DRM) puts the screw on legitimate users.

Spore's DRM limits customers to only three activations after the game is installed. That number isn't restored even if the game is uninstalled. Three is what you get unless you call up Electronic Arts customer support and give them your sob story.


Intellectual Monopolies are bad. Sooner or later people discover what these are and what the implications may be. And they're not flattered to have been deceived.

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