Bonum Certa Men Certa

Patents Roundup: Linux, Microsoft, Trolls, Deform, Apple and Google

"My message to the patent world is: Either get back to the doctrines of forces of nature or face the elimination of your system." —Hartmut Pilch, Paraflows 06



Linux



A LOT OF things have been happening recently in the patent scene and they directly affect GNU/Linux too. We'll go through them very quickly because there is more to cover than time permits.

The notion of making money from products you do not even make is ludicrous enough, but when this money is extracted from GNU/Linux, then it becomes even outrageous.

Call me pessimistic if you wish: Bad habits take a long time to die. Sometimes, they don’t even disappear at all. They keep on surviving. This time, it seems that Microsoft has decided to roam around and privateer against anything that looks even remotely like a company that could use patents on software. This is how Microsoft announced an agreement on “Intellectual Property” with Brother, focused on printing technology. Now, as Matt Asay has rightfully pointed out, Microsoft does not manufacture nor design printers, but the hell with it! Printers are like the rest, a whole bunch of patentable paraphenalia anyone with capital should invest into. Note: The point is not to invest in printers themselves, it is to patent everything you can imagine is patentable.


This has already been covered and/or discussed in:

  1. Microsoft Distorts the Linux and Virtualisation Markets
  2. Boycott Brother Industries
  3. Microsoft: Deal with Brother Similar to Novell's
  4. 2
  5. Microsoft & Acacia's Extortions Roadshow


There are some newer articles about it:

  1. Microsoft and Brother Sign Cross-Licensing Deal


  2. Microsoft, Brother sign patent-sharing deal


  3. Brother forges patent deal with Microsoft


The deal is the latest in a growing list of diverse, and occasionally controversial, patent-sharing agreements that Microsoft has secured in recent years. These include deals with Kyocera, Nikon and Novell.


Here is another little nugget about "Linux Defenders" [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] and a new article about Peer-to-Patent, which resembles it.

Patenting used to be a lonely pursuit. Patent applicants would work in isolation, secrecy being their only protection before the patent application was filed. The patent would be granted or rejected in a pas de deux involving just applicant and examiner. Once a patent was granted, licensing battles were also fought mano a mano while other potential infringers watched anxiously from the sidelines.


Patent Deform



There is some alarming news from Europe where it can now be pretty much confirmed that the Community patent is to serve as a back door to software patenting in the EU. Benjamin has all the detailed reasoning/proof.

The Council seeks to legalise software patents with the Community Patent, says Mr Pellegrini, ex-advisor of Michel Rocard, former MEP and rapporteur on the rejected software patent directive. The ultimate goal of this move is to create central caselaw on software patents by a specialized patent court.


Over in South Africa, the pro-software patent lobby is trying to find new creative ways to achieve something similar. [via Digital Majority]

Burrell further suggests the Copyright Act and Patents Act do not provide adequate protection for computer programs and that South African courts should adopt the approach outlined in the "Guidelines for Examiners in the European Patent Office".

Fortunately, as will be seen later, there have been many cases on this subject matter in the US and Europe, in particular, and substantial progress has been made in clarifying what similar or identical wording to that found in these sections means. Recent cases and patent office practice notes in the UK have also clarified the position there. The net result is that computer software is largely patentable in foreign jurisdictions, and we can extrapolate to some extent from such jurisdictions to SA.


Microsoft



Microsoft has chosen CNET for its latest propaganda, yet again [1, 2]. It's seeding the "innovation" deception via the Ina Fried talking head and smears it around ZDNet for good measure. The Microsoft 'yes men' follow, as expected. Having put the promotional message in place (e.g. patents against Linux), the pro-Microsoft crowd is intended to fuel what what had been planted, so after a while, not just 'yes men' cover the unimportant story, not truly realising that it's an investor relations stunt.

Microsoft gets its 10,000th U.S. patent



[...]

The company in 2003 began a commitment to broaden IP licensing efforts and has since signed more than 500 licensing agreements with companies of all sizes and types, Microsoft said. The company's 2006 IP agreement with Novell, though, has been a controversial one, raising ire in the Linux community over whether Novell made too big a concession to Microsoft over Linux IP issues.


The only prominent coverage that contains some sobering morsels of sanity is this one.

Microsoft: Not much to show for 10,000 patents



[...]

[I]nnovation is what hasn't actually done Microsoft much good, at least as measured in terms of new product lines that generate material amounts of revenue for the company. It still gathers the vast majority of its revenue from Windows and Office, two product lines that have only incrementally improved (or, in the case of Vista, degenerated) over the past decade or two.

[...]

Companies and people buy products, not patents. I'm sure that 10,000 patents is a nice symbolic achievement for Microsoft, but 10,000 products would be better.


Microsoft's own patent troll is still receiving flak for trying to 'engineer' material that justifies what he does.

According to Xchange, a former Microsoft executive has underwritten a study aimed at patent trolls. The study will be aimed at determining who is to blame for the large amount of patent suits -filed by non-practicing entities - that have hit the U.S. courts in the last decade.


Why blame someone else? Nathan has already resorted to outright extortion to achieve goals of profiteering, which makes him a huge part of this problem.

Google



GNU/Linux-powered phones are being stifled by Apple. And yet again, Apple is pretty much attacking Linux-based products [1, 2, 3] for no reason other than expanding or securing a monopoly (not yet a monopoly, but they can hope for a monopoly on a feature). Here is some coverage about the latest:



Google's smart phone may have been a little smarter were it not for an Apple intervention, according to sources

As a legal showdown between Apple and Palm mounts over Palm's use of multi-touch technology, which Apple recently gained a patent on, new details are emerging about Apple's efforts to prevent its competitors from offering multi-touch.




Did Apple ask Google not to put multi-touch capabilities on the Android-based G1? Rumor has it that Apple may have approached Google while the company was developing the G1 with HTC, and asked the search giant not to put gesture capabilities like pinching on the device. The news comes from an anonymous "Android insider" who spoke with Venture Beat.


In other news, Google paid Microsoft for the 'privilege' to merely interoperate and Microsoft uses this as an opportunity to crow about "innovation" all over the press.

Google today launched Google Sync, a service that allows people to easily move and synchronize contacts and calendar items between devices. The company is licensing patents from Microsoft "covering Google's implementation of the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol on Google servers," according to a Microsoft statement.


This is also covered in Slashdot and it's bad news for reasons we've been through before.

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