Posts Tagged ‘Intellectual Property’

A curse on the patent bullies

13 March, 2010

There is an argument that, in their original conception, patents were for the general good. They encouraged companies to publish the details of developments they had made, while protecting their exclusive right to control the exploitation of the development for a period of time. This argument has some credibility when it is applied to the development of concreted techniques and technologies.

However, the majority of software patents amount to little more than an idea. Rather than taking months of painstaking effort to develop a single patentable technology, a handful could be dreamt up over lunch. They frequently fail the tests of both obviousness and prior art, but are granted anyway by the US Patents and Trademarks Office.

It is very likely that these patents would be overturned if ever tested in the courts The problem is that a smaller company faced by being sued by one of the giants, often cannot take the risk, so they settle as TomTom did with Microsoft last year. Larger companies tend not to face the same risk, as they are likely to have large piles of patents themeselves, and simply threaten to counter-sue. Thus, instead of being means to protect innovation, patents become weapons to fend off competition, or to defend against such attacks, as ex-Sun boss Jonathan Schwartz said recently

Apple is currently gunning for Google Android. They are not attacking Google directly, but instead suing HTC, the manufacturer of a number of Android-based phones. As many people have been saying, there is prior art in the case of most (if not all) of these patents. One of them, which was granted this year, is for a “device with a touch-sensitive display [which] may be unlocked via gestures performed on the touch-sensitive display.” The thing is, I’ve just been watching an early episode of Babylon 5, which shows a character activate a wall-mounted display by running his finger down the edge of the screen. Prior art if ever I saw it, and this “technology” was probably “invented” when a set designer said “I know what would look cool…”

There was hope that the US Supreme Court decision in the Bilski business-method patent case would blow a large hole in the concept of software patents as well. It has not proved to be so simple, and the decision in i4i’s case against Microsoft has brought them back into play.

There are many people who are feeling a sense of schadenfreude at the likes of Microsoft and Google being targeted in patent suits. It is true that there is a kind of poetic justice in it, but victories for the companies bringing these cases will be a bad thing. Software patents stifle innovation, and utimately will be most harmful to Free and Open Source software. Like any weapon, nothing guarantees that right will be on the side of the one who wields it most effectively.

So, a curse on all those who use software patents in this way. May all such cases ultimately end as did SCO’s case against IBM, with the ruin of the plaintiff.

Advertisements

Copywrong

23 November, 2008
Yes Steve Hillage The Eagles Gong
Bishi Christy Moore Kraftwerk

What do these artists and groups have in common? Not much – except that I like their music, and that in each case I first heard them through illegal copies, or videos posted illegally on YouTube or elsewhere. I now (legally) own at least one album by each of them, and have seen one of them live (twice). There are also, of course, artists whose albums I haven’t bought after listening to bootlegs, but then or I probably wouldn’t have anyway (or the albums were no longer available).

The video and music and software industries groan as if they are being done an injury. Meanwhile, the digital rights management (DRM) software with which they encumber their products are an inconvenience (only) to those who buy them legally, and we are forced to sit through tediously preachy infomercials at the beginning of every movie. The thing is, there is no direct loss to them from illegal copying (it is not like stealing a car, whatever the Federation Against Copyright Theft claim), and the indirect loss is arguable, because:

Illegal copying is good advertising and it’s free

At least it looks like the music industry is starting to come to its senses, and offer legal DRM-free music for download. However, as the December ’08 issue of PC Pro says, the same mistakes are being repeated by eBook publishers. I have already failed to buy an eBook from Wrox, due DRM restrictions. They publish a number of titles on Linux in a DRM-nobbled format that requires the Adobe Digital Editions reader which, ironically, is not available for Linux. By contrast. O’Reilly supply their eBooks as plain, un-encumbered, PDF files.

Guess who will be getting my custom.