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Patents Roundup: Microsoft, CSIRO, Patent Hawk, and “Corrupt, Malicious” EPO

"The European Patent Office is a corrupt, malicious organisation which should not exist."

--Richard Stallman



Summary: The latest news about patents (software in particular) that affect Free software

TT HAS BEEN a very busy week for patents, whose relevance is being questioned quite a lot these days. Mike Masnick took a look back at some of the recent developments when he wrote about the GPL FUD (lies even) from Microsoft's buddy, White & Case (White & Case subsequently intimidated an open source reporter). Masnick also commented on the Patently-O report which shows patent filings on the decline. We wrote about it earlier.



Considering the large number of bad patents that got through over the years, and the resulting flood of applications from others hoping to strike it rich by gaining monopolies on obvious ideas, it should be seen as a good thing that applications are finally dropping. If anything, we should be wondering why they're not dropping more. Patents were supposed to be given out in the rarest of circumstances, when other incentives weren't enough. Somewhere along the way, those who controlled the patent system seemed to forget this and lose their way.


Intellectual Monopolies Versus Microsoft



Microsoft realises that somehow it must elevate the price of its #1 competition (GNU/Linux) because it's going out of control. But by promoting software patents around the world Microsoft is also injuring itself. Consider this report from Bloomberg (same report here):

Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software maker, settled a lawsuit with Australia’s science agency over a patent used for wireless local area networks.

Microsoft and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, didn’t disclose terms of the settlement in a filing April 10 in federal court in Tyler, Texas. CSIRO claimed Microsoft had been wrongfully using the patent, while the software maker sought a ruling of noninfringement for its networking wireless technology, which includes an adaptor for the Xbox video-game system.


There is also this slightly older one from Australia: US jury orders Microsoft to pay $500m to Australian inventor

Groklaw drew attention to this essay from Patent Hawk, adding that "it's a case that could test his theory, but considering Microsoft's lawyers will presumably argue for Bilski exclusion, it should be interesting."

Odom invented active tool groups, which Microsoft popularized with its Office 2007 Ribbon. In an ongoing licensing campaign, having previously filed suit against Microsoft and Autodesk, today Odom filed against 28 other infringers.

[...]

As an aside, punters who have commented that Odom's claims are Bilskied out don't know what they are talking about. The CAFC has been concerned about overreaching business method patents. Bilski required, for software patents, that claims transform the subject matter, and have tangibility (according to one interpretation), i.e., representational of non-computer existence. Odom's tool groups are like containers in a toolbox, and his claims alter the condition of those groups....As Patent Prospector readers already know, this entry is first person, written in the third person, as Gary Odom is aka Patent Hawk, patent technical consultant.


For some background about Patent Hawk, see this post from December. Additionally, Law.com has just published the article "Microsoft's IP Losses Don't Always Stick." It's about Microsoft's other confrontations.

The software company set the record when a San Diego jury ordered it to pay $1.53 billion for infringing on Alcatel-Lucent's patents for MP3 digital audio technology. It was hit for $512 million in another case with Alcatel-Lucent. And Eolas Technologies Inc. won a $521 million verdict against it.

But appeals courts have been kinder than juries to the software company. The $1.53 billion award was tossed last year . Microsoft appealed the $521 million verdict and ultimately settled with Eolas for $30.4 million in 2007. The $512 million award is currently on appeal. Fish & Richardson has represented Microsoft against Alcatel-Lucent in both cases, at trial and on appeal.

"Microsoft has certainly seen some large verdicts against it in the last few years," observed Stephen Akerley, a patent litigator with O'Melveny & Myers who wasn't involved with this week's case. "However, there are always appealable issues in these cases. And if you look back, Eolas ultimately settled, Alcatel-Lucent is still going on — it's impossible to tell where this case will end up."


Intellectual Monopolies Versus the Internet



IPJur has just dropped some bits of wisdom about how dying monopolies daemonise the Web with "piracy".

One important cornerstone for the proponents of that 'ancien regime' in this context is to promote the notion of piracy in conjunction with the Internet.


It's worth bearing it in mind after the Pirate Bay ruling. Will Google and Yahoo be sued next (for linking to potentially 'illegal' content)?

Richard Stallman: "The European Patent Office is a Corrupt, Malicious Organisation Which Should Not Exist"



The animals too will be suffering from Intellectual Monopolies, so the pigs -- literally -- took it to the streets along with their human representatives.

Stallman's participation in last week's protests has finally received some more coverage. We found two more articles:

i. Farmers, Politicians, Free Software Fans Demonstrate Against Patents

Stallman warned against the threat patents pose to free farming and free software engineering, and heavily criticised the EPO for its grant practice. He called it an “evil and malicious organisation” Europeans should try to get rid off and should in the first place try “to stop treating every EU institution as if it was sacred and inscrutable.”


ii. Richard Stallman, Farmers and the German CSU Party Unite Against Patents

Members of the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), the Piratenpartei (Pirate Party), Greenpeace, the Misereor Catholic organization, and farmers' unions against the European Patent Office (EPO) recently assembled at a rally in Munich, Germany. Demonstrators included Richard Stallman, who added his own testimonial to those united against the EPO.


These protests in Germany, which were last mentioned here and whose photos can be found here, will be remembered for quite some time. They were a smashing success.

“Staff at the European Patent Office went on strike accusing the organization of corruption: specifically, stretching the standards for patents in order to make more money.

“One of the ways that the EPO has done this is by issuing software patents in defiance of the treaty that set it up.”

--Richard Stallman



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