Links related to software patents
6. August 2011 at 12:46 by Jörn Worth Reading

This post is meant to gather articles or other links on the topic of software patents. If you have something to add, let me know!

  • To start with, Dilbert takes the opportunity to make fun of ‘em today.
  • Next up, Martin Fowler on software patents, but starting of with some background on where patents originally came from and how they likely helped enabling much of the industrial revolution, laying the ground for the world of regular change we live in today. He also outlines how certain core principles got disposed, making especially software patents reverse the effect they were originally intended for.
  • The term “patent troll” refers to a company that holds certain software patent, yet has no product on its own, allowing them to sue other, usually bigger, companies for infringing their patents. Unlike one big company with a patent portfolio sueing another big company, which can then count-sue them, the patent troll has no product, therefore nothing to infringe with. A prime example of such a patent troll is Eolas – their one or two patents are about basic browser technologies. Microsoft spent more then a decade with them until finally giving in, and in 2009 they sued a bunch of other big companies. The Wikipedia article has a full list and more details.
  • The item above claims that big companies don’t sue each other due to both sides holding enough patents. Of course the reality isn’t as simple as that. Just this week Google posted a non-subtle piece on how they are getting sued by Microsoft and Apple, apparently with the goal of killing Android, with Apple (iPhone) and Microsoft (Windows Mobile) having an interest in getting rid of that.
    • As everything, that Google piece should be taken a grain of salt. Which, for example, this Forbes article doesn’t seem to do. It quotes parts of the Google post, then adds how they should go further on lobbying to get rid of patents completly: “So if abolition is the right reform (and I think it is), then companies that say so early are going to look prescient”. There’s no attempt in looking at the other side of the coin.
    • A much more reflecting post is, pure coincidence I guess, by Dennis Forbes, a software architect from Toronto. He starts out calling the Google post what it really is: “Google has started an assault by posting some hypocritical and self-serving missives. I would expect absolutely nothing less in such a situation. When you’re in a position of weaknesses you attack the things that make you weak. It is predictable and consistent with every corporation since the dawn of time”. And then goes into detail on the relationships between Google and IBM (covering each others back right now), Oracle, Apple and Microsoft. In the end he concludes: “Patents by their definition are anti-competition on the premise that they’re pro-innovation. In current practice they are anti-innovation.”
    • Yet another article goes a bit further in in not-fanboying Google, but instead calling them out as pussies. He does so a bit too often, but its still well worth a read. Basically he goes into detail how Google is making billions from the search and ads monopoly, then using that money to buy or destroy other businesses, without any innovation anywhere. There’s obviously a lot of bullshit in this article as well, but when put together with the other pieces, presents a much more interesting picture of the overall situation.
    • Another post, Groklaw on “A Brief Explanation of Microsoft’s Anti-Google Patent FUD”, more on the “Google isn’t whining” side, takes the Google post a apart, and unlike the other articles above, provides a lot of links and references, including tweets from Microsoft employeers and emails related to patent bids. The article also links to another post on the site, about “What to Do If You Receive a Lodsys Letter“. This one goes into detail on another patent troll, Lodsys, targeting small companies developing for iOS.

Finally one more link to a subgroup of a special-interest commission of the german government, the “Projektgruppe Interoperabilität, Standards, Open Source”. If I don’t happen to find someone to help out with that, someone with more experience in this area, I’m planning to post a proposal there covering software patents, with the general idea of making sure that, while software patents are granting in Germany, won’t ever get to a point where they can get enforced in court. Right now I need more information on the actual situation here. The resources I’m gathering here should help providing references for that proposal.

In regards to german legislation, there’s a petition against software patents, sponsored by the absurdly german named “Förderverein für eine Freie Informationelle Infrastruktur e.V.” (FFII). Online petitions are kind of silly, but at least here the petition site seems to be gathering some useful references.

For resources as they come in:

-Jörn