Wednesday, December 28, 2011

FOSS developer's campaign against software patents moves ahead

Melbourne developer Ben Sturmfels is sure of one thing: his campaign to end them in their entirety will succeed in the long run.

He began with the collection of signatures last year to submit to federal parliament. In February, Sturmfels' petition was accepted by the government's Petitions Committee, in three batches. "Collecting 1000 signatures on paper is a hard task and a huge one in terms of the amount of paper needed," he said with a grin.

He argues that patents are not necessary to encourage innovation in their industry, that the term of a patent (20 years) is too long, and that the cost involved (in avoiding infringing patents, and defending against patent lawsuits) is not viable, particularly for small to medium-sized businesses.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Apple gets U.S. ban on HTC Android phones sales... for now | ZDNet

Apple gets U.S. ban on HTC Android phones sales... for now | ZDNet: This particular junk patent covers clicking a phone number on a phone list and your smartphone automatically dialing that number!

British Telecom joins patent attack on Google Android

BT joins patent attack on Google Android - Telegraph:
"In a broad complaint, BT claims that Google Maps, Google Music, Google Search, Android Market, location-based advertising and the Google social network all infringe its intellectual property. [...] “BT brings this action to recover the just compensation it is owed and to prevent Google from continuing to benefit from BT's inventions without authorization,” the court papers say."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

That patents comment, The Gameshelf

Andrew Plotkin's "The Gameshelf" blog has a posting about the difference between having an idea and having a fully expressed idea as well as a number of other musings.
"The basis of our patent system is ensuring that innovators get paid." I came back with "That's the goal, not the basis", which was probably overcondensed. I was trying to point out that goals are not results. If the existing system isn't doing its job, the system is broken. In theory, you can't patent a naked idea; you have to put it in some kind of physical form. In practice, the boundaries between "idea" and "invention" have gotten very fuzzy; the physical form of software (or process, or a procedure) is irrelevant. Okay, that makes my quote fuzzy as well. The question, as several tweeters have pointed out, is obviousness -- or, the difference between the easy part and the hard part.
Full posting

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

US heavies NZ on software patents

Paul Matthews wrote this opinion piece for The National Business Review:
A pending international trade treaty could override a recent New Zealand law change that excluded software from patent protection. All the political parties supported the controversial change.

But the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) could see the US pro-patent view override our local law makers.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Essay about Software Patents

Long essay by Daniel Tunkelang

A Practical Rant about Software Patents: "As things stand today, software patents act as an innovation tax rather than as a catalyst for innovation. It may be possible to resolve the problems of software patents through aggressive reform, but it would be better to abolish software patents than to maintain the status quo." Read More...

He's very clear that he's opposed to software patents in their current form, and presents an overview on what is going on with software patenting today from his basic view point on how software patents are damaging innovation in software development.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Threat Of Parallel Filing

Thoughtful article from Simon Phipps of Computerworld on how corporations hiring programmers get them to watch their innovation for ideas that could potentially be patented. "In the corporations where I have worked, programmers have been incented along with other engineers to constantly watch their work for ideas that could be encapsulated in a patent. This 'parallel filing' - developers doing work and filing patents on their innovations at the same time - results in the creation of a ring-fence around each activity in which the engineers participate." Full Article

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Software Patent “Rant” Misses The Point

"Another day, another uniformed rant about the evils of “software patents.” The author quickly demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the nature of NPE patent litigation[...] Examining this sentence by sentence, it’s easy to demonstrate what’s wrong here"
Patrick Anderson, the author of this blog takes a paragraph by a software patent opponent and deconstructs it sentence by sentence rebutting each point as he goes.

Full Article

Obama plans to reduce US patent issue delays

Silicon Valley Sleuth Reports that Obama plans a fundamental rethinking of software patents and a substantial speeding up of the US patent issuing process which currently takes a minimum of three years.

They say "The US government has announced plans to cut the amount of time it takes to get patents cleared by the US Patent and Trademark Office.[...] The new plan is to set up a fast-track system that will aim to get important patents issued within 12 months. A review process will also be set up to examine problems with existing patents without companies needing to resort to legal action." Full Article

Saturday, March 05, 2011

US Justice Department investigates Web video group

Stephen Shankland at CNET News has reported that the US DOJ is investigating whether the actions of patent licensing group MPEG LA are stifling the Google VP8 video encoding technology. The problem seems to be that MPEG LA is actively seeking businesses with patents related to V8 to see if it can assemble a patent pool like the H264 pool. The complaint is that by publicly doing this, they are scaring businesses away from adopting V8 for fear that they may be faced with excessive royalty charges in the future and using this fear to unfairly force people to licence H.264.

There's a lot of background on the MPEG patents history and some interesting quotes from people who have previously attempted to break the H.264 licensing model

On2 (2002):
"'MPEG-4 is trying to monopolize the substantially software-based interactive video compression industry, plain and simple,' ... 'It is a move by a few very large companies to dominate a market and fix prices. Recent pricing policies by MPEG LA for MPEG-4, and the customer reaction to them are ample evidence of this.'"

Nero (2010):
"'Absolute power has corrupted MPEG LA absolutely,' said Nero, which makes CD- and DVD-burning software, in its complaint. 'Once MPEG LA obtained monopoly power in the relevant technology markets, it used that power to willfully maintain or extend its monopolies for years beyond their natural expiration...and administer its licenses in an unfair, unreasonable, and discriminatory manner that stifles competition and innovation, and harms consumers.'"


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake Community Response

Completely off-topic for this blog, but I'm a New Zealander and am trying to publicise this as widely as I can. A dedicated volunteer team of Internet people, programmers, web masters, and other computer savvy helpers have built the Christchurch Earthquake Community Response site to coordinate help efforts. If you need help or can offer help, please go there.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Glyn Moody Submission to UK Independent Review

In his Open Enterprise blog Glyn Moody has provided a late draft of his submission to the UK Independent Review of "IP" and Growth. Hecovers both software patents and digital copyright in his submission. The following is purely related to his points on Software patents. His submission includes:
"There are two central problems with software patents. First, software is essentially a series of algorithms - sets of computer operations; algorithms are purely mathematical techniques; which means that software patents are patents on mathematics - that is, pure knowledge. Attempts to frame software patents are being “applications” of this knowledge “in the real world” have failed dismally to draw any convincing dividing line between knowledge and its application, or between the “real world” and the digital one that exists inside computers. "The other problem is that software patents are often granted on key ideas that cannot be coded around. This creates a kind of choke hold on knowledge. The situation has got so bad that programmers no longer investigate whether their code infringes on software patents, since it is almost inevitable that it does - so many broad and trivial patents have now been granted around the world. Moreover, in the US penalties for infringement are trebled if there is “knowing” infringement, which leads to the ridiculous situation that it is better not to try to find out whether you are infringing."
His submission continues in a similar vein and concludes "to promote the UK computer industry, and encourage innovation here, software patents of all kinds should be eliminated"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quora: Costs and benefits of patents for start-ups

Advice and experience from someone who's been there Ken Tola's answer to In what scenarios will software patents filed during the early stages of a startup become a defensive barrier?:
"patents and NDA's are only as good as your lawyers and your legal budgets. Having been involved in patent litigation, I can tell you that they are easily some of the most complex cases around and the uncertainty of winning a case is extremely high. "To go further down the negative path, it takes 2-3 years to get a patent and about $50K - do you really have that kind of money?"
It looks like his experience hasn't been that great but he sees them as a necessary evil to get early seed money.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Qualified support to draft patent guideline by NZOSS

The New Zealand Open Source Society was given a briefing by the IPONZ office of the MED and their president, Don Christie, says:
"When MED walked us through it, we found we were largely in agreement, we went into the meeting thinking software that merely improves the operation of the computer itself could be patented under the guideline.

"On careful reading, the guideline makes it clear that efficiency gains are only a relevant test for inventions containing embedded software, not the operation of general-purpose computers. The guideline also distinguishes physical effects from logical effects — merely transforming or displaying information is not a physical effect.

"NZOSS believes there is room to improve the guideline ..."

Original released under a CC BY creative commons licence.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Software Patents are worse than useless

Kiwi software developer Dave Lane on Why Software Patents are worse than useless:
"MS had tried to submit the same patent in New Zealand after the applications were denied by the US, Europe, South African, and Japanese patent offices for being obvious and subject to prior art. They thought they could count on the incompetence of the NZ patent assessors - and they would've been right had it not been for our challenge! It was a disgusting and highly unethical move by Microsoft. But if we had only caught one, how many other trivial software patents (or those subject to prior art) had already been passed?"
Quite a long personal essay on his experience with Software patents, his opinions and his involvement in opposing them. This is pertinent as New Zealand is being lobbied by the USA which want it to adopt their Software Patenting system in place of the recent law that makes software essentially unpatentable.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Florian Mueller on Android Round 2

A few days ago I reported that Florian Müller had found some proprietary code in the Android code base and various bloggers from ZD Net and Ars Technica had disputed his claims.

Müller has now published a rebuttal of the ZD Net rebuttals. His claims broadly are
  • He did find proprietary Oracle code with licences altered in the Android code,
  • He did find this Oracle code in more than one Android device,
  • He did not claim it was in every Android device,
  • The counter arguments against his discovery are largely straw men.

 Müller has given links to where he found the code he considers infringing, so anyone wanting to verify his claims is able to do so.

The Oracle Android suit is about both patents and copyright. Müller is known as a software patent commentator, but Müller is only addressing the copyright issues in his post.  (That's not a criticism, just an observation).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Declining to have your name put on a software patent?

Interesting question over at Stack Exchange by Chase Seibert:
legal - How would you decline to have your name put on a software patent? - Programmers - Stack Exchange: "Your company wants to patent something you implemented. You do not agree with the concept of patenting software. How do you proceed?
  • Would it be acceptable to file the patent, but keep your name off it?
  • Would you attempt to convince your company to NOT file the patent?

Are there any downsides to having your name on a patent? "Read More
There's been a few answers so far, more showing opinion than anything else.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Florian Mueller on Android Patent Case

The blogs are all abuzz this morning on this blog posting by renown software patent expert and campaigner Florian Müller. The standard statement seems to be that his findings seriously weaken Google's defence against Oracle's patent claims over Android's Dalvik not-really-a-jvm jvm.

Müller himself doesn't seem to go that far. My reading of his blog posting is that what he has done is compare a number of source files and shown that Google's source files appear to be direct copies of Sun Java source files that were not  released by Sun / Oracle under an open source license that permits Google's use or relicensing. He also reports that it looks like someone has attempted to disguise this copying.

Oracle are suing Google over both patent and copyright for Android.  The facts  Müller reported would certainly have a bearing on the copyright claims. I can't see where Müller makes claims that his analysis could be directly relevant to the patent claim.

Update (23 Jan 2011 16:34 NZT)

Müller's analysis isn't uncontested. ZD Net blogger Ed Burnette has posted disputing the importance of the file copying Müller reported.  While fellow ZD Net blogger Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has updated his earlier posting to include a rebuttal from Android Central.

Meanwhile Müller through his twitter page @FOSSpatents has said that he he intends to post a follow-up article addressing points made by these articles. I'm not sure which of the articles he was referring to when he said "That article attacks strawmen put up by its author, and contains factual errors"

This looks like there is more to be said by both sides of the argument.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More details on Novell's software patents sale

Novell have filed this proxy statement with the US Securities and exchange commission, included in it are some details of the patent sale to CPTN (Microsoft, Apple, EMC Corporation and Oracle).

The issued patents and patent applications to be sold to CPTN pursuant to the Patent Purchase Agreement relate primarily to enterprise-level computer systems management software, enterprise-level file management and collaboration software in addition to patents relevant to our identity and security management business, although it is possible that certain of such issued patents and patent applications read on a range of different software products. Approximately 43% of these are US issued patents; approximately 30% are US patent applications; approximately 22% are foreign issued patents, and approximately 5% are foreign patent applications.

Historically, the issued patents and patent applications included in the patent sale have been used to facilitate and protect our current and planned business activities, and to reduce the risk of potential infringement claims against us. We do not currently license any of these issued patents and patent applications on a royalty-bearing basis, but the patents are subject to specific non-royalty bearing licenses granted by Novell during the period of its ownership of the patents.
There is a lot more detail in the filing surrounding the sale but precious little detail on the sold patents.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Quora Do software patents help or hurt innovation?

There's an interesting discussion at Quora, the question is "Do software patents help or hurt innovation?" and there are 7 substantive replies, many from IP lawyers and the majority view is that software patents are only advantageous for litigation lawyers. Well worth a read

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reply to "depth first search"

Software Patents : depth first search: "That the people behind the standard get (relatively low) fees seems both fair and a reasonable price to pay in terms of aligning incentives with the need to innovate in order to develop technologies for new markets. It’s hard to square these obvious benefits against somewhat nebulous objections of open source developers."
The problem isn't that open source developers don't like software patents. The problem is that open source developers are effectively unable to use patented technology. If you give your software away and allow other people to give away copies of your software and modify your software and give that away there
  • Is no revenue stream to pay licence fees, no matter how small (on a unit basis)
  • Is no central register from which a count of numbers of deployments can be made
  • The end users of the software with whom you have no relationship may be exposed to patent claims
There are licences that allow the patent owner to offer free use of their patents, but they have to agree to waive all hope of an income from the patents to do that.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Seeking Stupid Software Patent Examples

Over on Google Groups, Linux advocate Kari Laine has posted a request for examples of stupid software patents, preferably from Microsoft, to be referenced in a paper opposed to software patents and the cross-licencing mania that leaves Open Source Software out in the cold.