I recently discussed how Microsoft is charging Android phone manufacturers a $5-$15 fee per smartphone to license Microsoft patents. Now Oracle has its hand out and is asking for a whopping $15-$20 per Android smartphone for royalties on its patents. So far none of the major phone manufacturers have coughed up any money to Oracle, but it’s only a matter of time before the Oracle lawyers get involved, and the money starts flowing.
Apple Inc. has filed a federal lawsuit against “the world” for violating its U.S. Patent 3,141,5926 “Removing a Booger by Performing Gestures with a Finger.” Apple is demanding licensing royalties from all world citizens who pick their nose, and a cease & desist order against Kleenex tissues for providing citizens with an alternate method to jailbreak boogers and avoid Apple’s patent.
This new legal action follows a similar lawsuit that Apple filed against rival phone maker HTC for allegedly violating 20 of Apple’s mobile phone patents. The Apple patents include “novel” inventions such as U.S. Patent 7,657,849 for unlocking a phone with a finger swipe.
Microsoft is applying its Community Promise to the C# programming language and Common Language Infrastructure (CLI). This means that anyone can freely build, sell, distribute or use programs with C# and the CLI without signing a license agreement or otherwise communicating to Microsoft. This applies to all distribution models including open source and GPL. Under the Community Promise, Microsoft will not assert its Necessary Claims.
In other words, build all you want with C# and .NET, Microsoft won’t sue you for copyright or patent infringement.
“The Community Promise is an excellent vehicle and, in this situation, ensures the best balance of interoperability and flexibility for developers,” said Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President for the .NET Developer Platform.
Microsoft received its 10,000th U.S. patent earlier this month. This makes Microsoft one of the leading patent filers, though IBM still files the most patents and in 2008 became the first company to issue 4,000 patents in a single year.
“Logging the 10,000th patent really is a testament to all of the innovation that has been taking place,” said Microsoft chief patent counsel Bart Eppenauer. Although Microsoft maintains its patents are mostly for defense, its huge patent portfolio hasn’t kept it out of the courtroom. The number of patent lawsuits filed against Microsoft has actually increased significantly in the past few years.
“That increase has come almost entirely from entities that do not produce products,” Eppenauer said. Most of the patent suits come from “patent trolls” whose primary business function is acquiring patents and suing for royalties. In those cases, having a large patent collection is of little use since the patent troll has no products of its own for which it can be countersued. But Microsoft’s patent portfolio has other uses such as licensing its technology to companies such as Novell or bullying Linux.
Microsoft’ has become so prolific filing patents that it dedicated a staff of 100 people including 40 attorneys that focus solely on the 2500-3000 U.S. patent applications the company files each year.
This news bodes poorly for independent software vendors, for whom it is nearly impossible to create original software without violating literally thousands of patents.
We are constantly bombarded with news of stupid software patents, so it’s nice to see the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) actually reject a stupid patent once in a while.
The USPTO rejected all 20 patent claims for Internet subdomains held by the Hoshiko company. The USPTO ruled that the idea of subdomains — domains hosted within larger domains, such as mail.google.com — is too obvious to patent. Hoshiko was using the patents to litigate against large web companies like Google and LiveJournal, which hosts more than 3 million personalized subdomains for its users.
The story started in 1999 when the IdeaFlood company applied for a patent on Internet subdomains. As usual, the USPTO blindly approved the patents in 2004. IdeaFlood immediately went to court, filing suit against Google and About.com. The Google case was dismissed, and About.com settled out of court. IdeaFlood then transferred the patents to Hoshiko.
Since neither Google nor About.com strongly challenged the patent, the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took up the fight and requested that the patent be re-examined. The EFF was able to prove that the idea of virtual subdomains was developed long before the patent was filed in 1999.
Apparently America hasn’t cornered the market on stupid patents and trademarks. A Russian businessman has obtained a Russian trademark for the emoticon 😉 which is used to convey a wink in text messages and e-mail.
Oleg Teterin, president of the mobile ad company Superfone, said he doesn’t plan to sue individual users. “I want to highlight that this is only directed at corporations, companies that are trying to make a profit without the permission of the trademark holder,” Teterin said. He plans to send legal warnings to companies that use the symbol without his permission. “Legal use will be possible after buying an annual license from us,” Teterin continued. “It won’t cost that much — tens of thousands of dollars.” He also said similar emoticons 🙂 or 😉 or 🙂 resemble his trademarked symbol and therefore fall under his ownership.
“Imagine the next wise-guy who trademarks the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet and then says anyone who uses the Russian alphabet has to send him money. It’s absurd,” said Alexander Manis, director of a broadband Internet and mobile company.
Scott Fahlman, a Carnegie Mellon professor, believes the trademark is invalid due to prior art. Fahlman claims he was the first to use three keystrokes — a colon followed by a hyphen and a parenthesis — as a horizontal “smiley face” in a computer message 25 years ago.
This is scary, folks. If you use Microsoft Visual Studio to create web services, you could be subject to lawsuits for patent infringement. Yes, simply using a software program puts your company and livelihood at legal risk, yet another sign of how terribly flawed is the U.S. software patent system.
Fortunately, Microsoft is coming to save the day. Microsoft filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco last week to defend users of its Visual Studio development tools. The lawsuit seeks to invalidate several patents that WebXchange is using to sue three large companies: Allstate Insurance, Dell computer and FedEx.
As currently implemented in the United States, software patents suck. Microsoft’s recent patent of page up/down proves by example how flawed the system is. DevTopics supports the protection of intellectual property, but is against the current software patent system, which hinders innovation, rewards bureaucracy, and fails to protect the little guy.
We are not alone in this belief. Today, September 24, is World Day Against Software Patents, a campaign designed to bring awareness to this bureaucratic nightmare that threatens all software developers. The StopSoftwarePatents.org coalition has produced a comprehensive list of why software patents are bad.
Here is a cute but informative video on the software patent system:
You’ve spent thousands of hours developing a new software program. Now how do you ensure that your competitors don’t copy your program and steal your market? The sad truth is you can’t, as Apple discovered when Microsoft “borrowed” its graphical user interface to build Windows and corner the PC operating system market. But there are steps you can take to give you an edge over your competition and make it more difficult for others to copy or steal your work. You can protect your software with patents, copyrights and trademarks. Continue reading »