Bonum Certa Men Certa

Economics, Trolls, and Software Patentability Revisited

Patents Versus Economics or Patents Versus the Economy?



THIS is a continuing discussion about the patent crisis and what can be done to end it (end the broken system to end the crisis). Digital Majority found this new academic paper which explores the economic effects that patents in general may have, so it's worth a look.



Today one of the most controversial issues in economic policy is that of patent law. Is a patent just an extension of property rights to the realm of ideas? Or is it an unwarranted interference by the government into the rights of individuals who have purchased goods and services to use them as they see fit? Should the Western system of patents be extended worldwide? Or should we get rid of patents entirely? Is the patent system responsible for modern miracle drugs? Or is it to blame for the millions dying of HIV in Africa? Do patents lead to greater innovation and economic growth? Or do they kill the goose that lays the golden egg?

[...]

Even the modern controversy over the current effort of the Free Software Foundation to limit software patents through the General Public License Version 3 finds reflection in the earlier Cornwall experience. Familiar with the negative impact of the Watt patents on innovation, Cornwall mine engineers were reluctant to patent their inventions. From 1781 to 1852 Cornish residents took out a grand total of 15 patents on steam technology—against 994 patents on steam technology in all of England during that period. Will it surprise you to learn that the area with the fewest patents also was the area that contributed the most to the innovation and development of steam technology?


Companies are clearly complaining about the patent system, which is increasingly abused. Even large companies like Cisco are among the complainers.

Later in the day, the chief judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over all patent appeals, said that neither Congress nor the executive branch should be actively involved in overhauling intellectual property.

[...]

Cisco Vice President Mallun Yen said that the number of patent lawsuits against the company has quadrupled over the past five years. “The patent system overvalues patents, particularly weak ones, and thereby suppresses innovation,” she said.

Yen disagreed with Peter N Detkin, founder and vice chairman of Intellectual Ventures, who attempted to recast the patent debate as one between big players, like Cisco and IBM, against individual inventors.

[...]

All panellists agreed, however, that the global patent marketplace had changed considerably since 2002-2003, in particular by the trend that Intellectual Ventures had pioneered by seeking to make the marketplace for patents more liquid. The panellists also agreed that more data about private licensing of intellectual property is necessary to help make the marketplace friction-free.


So Microsoft "pioneered" massive-scale trolling? Where can it pick up the trophy?

Linux Defenders Revisited



In this previous post about OIN and Linux Defenders (aka "let the little people play games and offer free labour to big corporations"), we covered some of the more glaring issues with the chosen approach. Here is the welcoming page and an associated page in OIN's Web site.

OIN is actively seeking to address problems that arise from patent trolls and industrial companies whose business models and behaviors are antagonistic to Linux and true innovation. If your company is being victimized by any entity seeking to assert its patent portfolio against Linux, please contact us so that we can aid you in your battle with these dark forces.


Yes, it says "dark forces" and shows an image only to be associated with children's cartoons. This is so corny that it's hardly even funny. It also requires the proprietary Flash plug-in. They market this thing as an anti-Microsoft initiative [1, 2].

IBM could assist more effectively by fighting software patents as a whole, but it relies too heavily on imaginary property that keeps its investors hopeful yet deluded.

There is a page in FFII's Web site which explains why IBM's approach is flawed. Basically, patent trolls are the key issue, the question of software patentability to be left aside.

Microsoft can 'proxify' its patents (hand them over to an aggressor) and harass Linux via a this proxy. There is nothing that OIN can do about it other than to denounce the system or the legitimacy of patents, including its own (Novell, by the way, is among the members of OIN).

It is very surprising that the SFLC supports this initiative [3] because they should invest their money in building a coalition against software patents, not waste their time trying to "finding prior art" in binary code.

___ 1. Consortium launches 'LinuxDefenders'

"Our activities by their very nature are a deterrent to Microsoft or any other company to engage in hostile action or rhetoric," he said. "We didn't acquire our existing patent portfolio by accident."


2. Linux, Open Source Get Patent Protection Program

"The open source community is getting an IP rights tool that will limit distractions created from organizations that like to play the FUD [fear, uncertainty, doubt] game," he said. "We enthusiastically encourage the Linux and open source communities to contribute to Linux Defenders."


3. Web site launched to safeguard against patent trolls

I guess the concern of patent trolling gives these companies a common enemy. The Linux Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center are co-sponsoring this as well.


Piggy bank OIN

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