Bonum Certa Men Certa

Why Microsoft Still Loves Software Patents

Love coffee

Summary: Some of the latest developments in an unnecessary dimension of patents and how they help show that Microsoft needs software patents

EVERY NOW AND then we find an odd suggestion that Microsoft dislikes software patents due to cases like i4i vs Microsoft. It is immensely valuable for Microsoft to give such an impression -- basically lobbying for particular laws that bring enormous benefits to itself while the public believes the opposite (and thus does not resent Microsoft). Tax law is another example of that and it relies on the whole "job creation" nonsense (phrases which people love to hear without questioning them, e.g. "patents help increase innovation").

Microsoft has already produced some very large patent trolls, including Traul [sic] Allen (the recently-emergent example). A columnist at Mercury News considers it to be proof that the USPTO is broken.

If Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen accomplishes nothing else with his wide-ranging lawsuit claiming that almost every major Internet company has stolen his firm's ideas, at least we can give him credit for reminding us of the troublesome flaws in the U.S. patent system.

Dave Methvin says that Microsoft wins in the Java patents hell storm, which may end without much disruption because the Oracle vs Google case lacks tying to a particular machine. As Wayne puts it:

Another question involves the ‘specific machine’ issue. Pamela Jones wrote about this, and it could be very important. When I read the patents I didn’t see any tie them to a specific machine. The issue surrounds the constantly shifting U.S. Patent rules, which change every time a major patent court case happens. If it is deemed that a patent must be tied to a specific machine, then the patents are invalid, and Oracle looses.

Even if the patents don’t have to be tied to a specific machine, there is a good chance that they will fail, due to the subject matter being predated by something else, or by being ruled obvious, in which case Oracle loses. I’ve read the patents, and the things that they are talking about were implemented at least fifteen to twenty years previously in Unix.

We recently explained how and why Microsoft already makes money from Android [1, 2]. It's due to software patents, or at least an empty allegation relating to them. "Well, well," wrote Groklaw, "And here we were wondering why all of a sudden everyone seems to be suing Android. Microsoft would like you to know that they indemnify, and that the Android lawsuits are costly. That is very like what Microsoft said when SCO sued IBM, after Microsoft paid SCO millions, that they would indemnify and that Linux would be plagued by litigation for years."

“Microsoft would like you to know that they indemnify, and that the Android lawsuits are costly.”
      --Pamela Jones, Groklaw
It is true that Microsoft has many software patents, but lots of them are absolutely worthless. As an example we gave the shutdown patent, which has been covered here at least 3 times already [1, 2, 3]. It is still being covered in some Web sites because it helps show lack of ingenuity that passes the USPTO's tests and the poor quality Microsoft aims for. "This is odd," Groklaw wrote. "Maybe I'm missing something, but Microsoft has gotten a patent on a "scheme" to shut down an operating system. The claims seem to say that it's about when you want to shut down, but you forgot you have unsaved work, so in Windows or a Mac, you get prompted to save it if you want. The patent is a system that saves it for you automatically. The patent says, "The following aspects will focus on a Windows based operating system. It will be understood, however, that aspects of the invention will apply similarly to other operating systems including, but not limited to, Mac and Linux based operating systems.

"But Linux has always done this. It's one of my favorite things about Linux, that if you want to shut down, or even do it by mistake, it saves everything for you. I just wanted to mention it, because if some legal gnome at Microsoft has a "scheme" in mind for this patent, as in $$$ from Linux, this is just to point out that the supremely clueless USPTO just gave Microsoft a patent on something with tons of prior art, unless there is some detail I'm missing."

In addition to "ActiveSync tax" in Android, Microsoft is also said to be in the position of 'owning' simple ideas with digital/physical metaphors such as mail priority (trivial ideas turned digital). "Microsoft had a 'priority email inbox' way before Google, and has patents to prove it," says this one report that's echoed elsewhere. Well, another little report has the headline "The New Xbox 360 Controller Is Really About Patents [Microsoft Introduces A New Xbox 360 Controller With A New D-Pad That Scoots Around Nintendo Patents]".

As the Edison story keeps spreading further (now coming to Wired), it is easy to foresee an analogy between Edison's attitude and Microsoft's. They both merely exploit the system and take credit for other people's idea.

Since Microsoft sells many software licences, software patents are crucial to its survival, especially in an age when it can no longer sell much of its own software. To Microsoft's future software patents are needed and without such patents, software will be freer. Microsoft can't afford letting software be free (not the same as "open").

"There's free software [gratis, dumpware] and then there’s open source... there is this thing called the GPL, which we disagree with."

--Bill Gates, April 2008

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