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Linux Heavyweights Speak Out Against Patents

Rob TillerSummary: Tiller and Zemlin join the movement against patent monopolies that impede development

QUITE a few Linux figures -- Torvalds included -- speak out against software patents this month. This becomes an urgent matter because of what happens in the market.



Firms whose main or only business is arms trade of patents make their appearance and patent battles go further by targeting increasingly abstract ideas. Consider this from the news:

Patent disputes are nothing new in the technology market, but they have typically centered around consumer product usability and design. Now, IBM partner BrightStar Partners (BSP) is under fire for its work on IBM Cognos analytics software--and the suit comes just as BSP is set to be snapped up by electronic component distributor Avnet. In a world where solving problems seems to always involve lawyers and courtrooms, what does this latest patent problem mean for midsize IT?



Rob Tiller, self-professed "Rock Star", asks about abolishing software patents -- an issue that he and Red Hat have been rather equivocal about (Red Hat follows IBM's lead). Tiller writes:

The paper by two distinguished professors of economics, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, is titled The Case Against Patents. Boldrin and Levine review some of the lamentable realities of the U.S. patent system, including the dramatic increases in issuance of patents that block future innovation, and in the quantity and cost of patent litigation. They also point out that patents are often detrimental to consumer welfare, as once-but-no-longer innovative companies use patents to block competitors.



The corporate press is promoting patents again, only to meet reality check:

CNN Counts Patents, Mistakes Them For Inventiveness



For many years, we've pointed out that the research shows that patents are not a proxy for innovation. In fact, they're not even clearly correlated. There is no link between the amount of innovation and the number of patents received. The only thing that patents seem to spur is... more patents. But... because patents are often falsely associated with innovation and because they're easy to count, it's a very easy way for the lazy press (and politicians) to assume that they're showing how innovative a certain geographic region might be. We've actually called CNN out on this lazy trope before, but it hasn't stopped them from coming right back and posting a silly article about the "most inventive states" based entirely on patent counts.


Patent maximalists infiltrate patent panels, only to be called on it:

We've been talking a fair bit about the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU) -- the legacy group that's been around in one form or another for over a century and a half, trying to regulate how telco systems work across national borders. Much of the concern has been about its plans to expand its purview over the internet.


Wired is to start a whole series of articles about the patent problem:



We already know the patent system is broken. And it desperately needs to be fixed: Patents affect and will continue to affect nearly every technology business or product we use. So for the next few weeks, Wired is running a special series of expert opinions – representing perspectives from academia to corporations to other organizations — proposing specific solutions to the patent problem.


Patents are on their agenda as an alternative form of protectionism. Now that Free software is under attack from patents we must make it a priority to tackle this whole issue. Apple is trying to ban Android devices around the world while Google (Motorola) is battling Microsoft in court. Usefully enough, despite funding from IBM, Intel and other promoters of software patents, Mr. Zemlin speaks out against patents (he abstained from that several years ago):



The innovation and collaboration inherent in Linux and open source technologies can also fuel scientific breakthroughs and a burgeoning economy, but that innovation and collaboration is being threatened by a culture of paranoia and exploitation of the U.S. patent system. A recent New York Times story reported that Apple and Google are spending more on patent litigation than on research and development (R&D). The story also pointed to data from Stanford University: $20B has been wasted on patent litigation and patent purchases in just two years - in just the smartphone market.

This starts to illustrate why the U.S. has lost ground in the global science and technology space.

Most importantly and most disturbing, though, is how this culture of paranoia is discouraging our would-be entrepreneurs, the individuals who form the foundation of our economy, who are the most innovative among us, and who understand the power of collaboration. The same New York Times articles tells the story of Michael Phillips who, after spending three decades developing software that began to attract the attention of both Apple and Google, was targeted by a patent owner. At this point in any scenario like this, the options for the entrepreneur are limited: death by lawsuit (go bankrupt trying to pay fight the case) or succumb and turn over all your hard work. In Phillips’ case, he ended up selling his company to the patent holder.



How timely must this lawsuit be. Microsoft's slaves at Nokia are said to be making Android devices more retarded. There are workarounds though, as "[t]he word “mobile telephone” is mentioned four times in the Nokia patent, but obviously it says nothing about tablets. The wording of the Nokia patent could very well be why Google left the feature off of smartphones. If Android-based phones would have supported multiple users it could have opened up the door to a lawsuit, or even required Google and its partners to pay licensing fees to Nokia. Keep in mind this is just speculation at this point."

Microsoft's co-founder is also suing Android with some software patents. Here is the latest on that:



Interval Licensing's infringement suit against AOL, Apple, Google and Yahoo! moves forward, the stay pending the USPTO reexamination outcome having been lifted. Now it is on to claim construction, and not surprisingly the parties have highly divergent views of what the claims mean or if they mean anything whatsoever (i.e., they are ambiguous).



Watch what Apple has just patented:

Referred to as "Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for providing maps, directions, and location-based information," the patent, which was awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, describes -- as one might expect from the title -- the way in which maps, directions, and location-based information are displayed on a touch-screen-equipped device.


Apple has already used such patents offensively. These can be assumed to be a weapon. Techrights will focus on the issue of patents until it's properly addressed by governments; the goal now is to educate people (voters). Many were smart enough to understand what Novell's deal with Microsoft was all about.

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