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Patents Roundup: Microsoft, RAND, Extortion, and Ending Software Patents

Novell newspaper



THERE ARE some bad news and some good news this week. We'll begin with some of the bad.

Microsoft Against Free Software



Microsoft has just entered a extortion licensing deal with 123map.

Microsoft Corp. and 123map GmbH & Co. KG, a supplier of high-quality geographical services, announced a patent licensing agreement that will enhance 123map's ability to bring digital point-of-interest mapping technology to its customers.


The text above is pseudo-journalism, recasting a press release [1, 2]. The press release also comes from Redmond and it more or less tells which side is winning.

According to this report, there might be an element of open source software involved.

Microsoft in pact with semi-open source map maker



[...]

"123map's products are developed with a diverse mix of proprietary and open source software, and this business agreement is a testament to the importance of mutual respect for IP, regardless of development models," Microsoft officials said in a statement today.


Once again they label "open source" a "development model" (nothing to do with rights or freedom) and they use the term "IP" in order to blur the gap between copyrights, trademarks, and software patents in this case. Why does a German company engage in such a deal? Are these patents legitimate over there at all?

Another brow-raising development comes from AXIGEN, a Romanian collaboration server company that is (or was) focused on BSD and GNU/Linux. It is joining something which is called "Microsoft's Empower Initiative for ISVs."

AXIGEN (http://www.axigen.com/), the professional messaging solution vendor, announces it has joined the Empower for ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) initiative, partnership program designed by Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com/), worldwide leader in software, services and solutions. Empower combines deep industry knowledge, useful tools, powerful research expertise and innovative thinking aimed at supporting global business growth.

[...]

Winner of the ServerWatch 2007 Product Excellence Award for the Communications Server category, AXIGEN Mail Server features a carrier class technology and outstanding support. Now at version 6.2, AXIGEN runs on several Linux and BSD distributions, on Solaris, on Windows operating systems, on PowerPC and SPARC architectures and is becoming the messaging solution of choice for a growing number of service providers and enterprises worldwide.


This has nothing to do with patents, but it's another timely example of Microsoft co-opting rivals.

Ambush/Abuse



The nuisance which is Rambus [1, 2, 3] has been leeching off its competitors using patents that it hid inside standards. The European Commission did strike back with accusations, but over in the United States it has been a subject of active debate. Well, sadly enough, Rambus eventually got its way.

The Supreme Court rejected the US Federal Trade Commission's request to resurrect antitrust accusations the District of Columbia Circuit tossed out in April. Its latest rebuff effectively kills the regulator's seven-year saga against Rambus for allegedly monopolizing four key technologies found in DRAM chips.

The FTC accuses Rambus of deceiving the memory standard-setting group JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) by not disclosing its intentions to patent technologies that would become part of the DDR SDRAM specification.


This important development which can serve as precedence is also covered in:



"That's great news for Microsoft," writes Jose. They have sneaked patents into formats like OOXML, which they committed many crimes to make standards.

Europe



Philips is one of the most vicious lobbyists for software patents in Europe. It even uses 'attack dogs' to do its extortions [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]. Well, Digital Majority has just found this text from Philips regarding the Enlarged Board of Appeals referral [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. It says:

Observations: In view of the above discussion on the statutory background, the examples in Article 52(2) EPC should be understood in the light of the principle that all technical inventions are patent-eligible, while all non-technical subjects are not. So, it is not relevant whether some computer-related wording is used in a claim, as the question that needs to be answered is whether the claim relates to a technical invention. Moreover, it is not that relevant whether a claim in the area of computer programs avoids exclusion under Article 52(2)(c) and (3) EPC by using some smartly chosen wording, as it still needs to be new and involve an inventive step in order to be patentable. As has been aptly mentioned in T 154/04, only technical features can contribute to novelty and inventive step, so that there must be technical features that distinguish the invention from the prior art in a non-obvious way.


Also in Europe -- the spats-thirsty lawyers from IPKats are trying to force software patents upon the UK using ZDNet as their platform. Glyn Moody rebuts.

Professionals who work in the field of intellectual monopolies have a problem. Most of them are quite able to see there are serious problems with the system, but since their entire career has been built on it, they can hardly trash the whole thing. Instead, they not unreasonably try to come up with a "reasonable" compromise.

[...]

There are simply *no* good reasons for software patents, and hence no justification for halfway houses, however reasonably framed, and however intelligent and reasonable the framer.


Economics of Software Patents



Another good find from Glyn Moody is this paper which shows that patents decrease innovation and therefore harm consumers.

This work basically shows that recent attempts to introduce intellectual monopolies into science in order to "promote innovation" have actually been counter-productive.

[...]

In this context at least, it's openness that leads to more innovation, not its polar opposite.


Some people are still trading software patents. This trend leads Mike Masnick to asking some hard questions.

The Chicago Tribune has an article claiming that intellectual property sales are "growing" despite the recession, as companies look to sell off what they're not using. Except... the article doesn't present any evidence whatsoever


End Software Patents



There are two strands of news in this area; first is the Free Software Foundation's support for the second phase of EndSoftwarePatents.org. This attacks the problem at its root.

The Free Software Foundation today announced funding for the End Software Patents project to document the case for ending software patents worldwide. This catalog of studies, economic arguments, and legal analyses will build on the recent success of the "in re Bilski" court ruling, in which End Software Patents (ESP) helped play a key role in narrowing the scope for patenting software ideas in the USA.


This also appears here and Glyn Moody sets his sights (probably hopes) very high:

Here's to Phase III: victory.


The EFF is doing its own share of activism and reporting, as well. It typically targets one patent at the time as opposed to the system which makes them possible in the first place.

In April 2007, as part of our Patent Busting Project, we asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to revisit its decision to grant NeoMedia a patent that broadly claimed to cover database lookups using things like barcodes. In October 2007, the PTO agreed to take another look, and last July, it issued an initial opinion that all 95 claims of the NeoMedia patent were invalid.


The next battleground for Free software is likely to be legal, not just technical. Programmers prefer to focus on technical aspects alone, but ignoring all those 'peripheral', man-made aspects does not mean that they will magically disappear. The maximalists always work on new laws to protect their monopolies and banish their competition.

"Value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history. "Don't bother us with politics," respond those who don't want to learn."

--Richard Stallman

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