Information/Mental Process Patents

Information/Mental Process Patents can include everything from computer software, business models, and possibly even methods of organizing people (Roberts Rules), parliamentary processes, and acts of parliament/law.

See: (EU), Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (EU), League for Programming Freedom (US).

JPEG Patent Ruled Invalid

In a ruling that is expected to be a sigh of relief for many corporate internet giants (and surfers), Forgent's "submarine patent" claim of ownership of the common JPEG file compression format was ruled to be broadly invalid by the US Patent Office. The original patent was granted by the USPTO to Forgent but The Public Patent Foundation (PubPat) challenged the patent claiming prior art. Since 2002, Forgent has said it would enforce it's patent and has sucessfully extracted over $90 million USD from dozens of companies using JPEG images on the internet. In 2004 it also initiated lawsuits against dozens more who refused to pay royalties and sign licensing agreements. Those lawsuits and licensing agreements may now be in jeopardy.

EU Now Says No to Software Patents

The European Commission, in an official reply to a parliament Member's question, last week stated that computer programs will not be patentable in the new European patent law. This directly contradicts the executive body's earlier stances on the issue. No reason was given for the change in position, though recent wins in the EU Parliament and in various courts have begun to build momentum against software patents. After the law is passed, software patents already granted by the Eupoean Patent Office are likely to be struck down (as some already have been in the UK). European Parliament member Adam Gierek (Poland) stated:

OpenDocument Movement Gains Steam

An eWeek article by Peter Galli includes:

Membership in the OpenDocument Format Alliance has almost quadrupled over the past month.

The Alliance, a coalition of organizations from across the world whose goal is to enable governments to have direct management and greater control over their documents, was launched on March 3 with 36 initial members, but that has now grown to 138 members worldwide.

I'm wondering where Canadian Government departments stand on this issue. We need to move to vendor and business model neutrality for file formats. This not only means adoption of standards like ODF, but the clear rejection of business-model centric file formats such as Microsoft's OpenXML. OpenXML uses RAND (Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) patent licensing which is an appropriate for licensing tangibles like hardware but fails in software as it excludes FLOSS, the largest growing segment of the software marketplace.

RIM chairman calls for overhaul of U.S. patent laws

A Globe and Mail article by Barrie McKenna talks about how James Balsillie, chairman and co-chief executive officer of Research In Motion Ltd., called on U.S. lawmakers yesterday to fix a system that he says boxed the company into one of the largest legal settlements in U.S. history.

But what about Canadian lawmakers? What about WIPO and the patent cooperation treaties? Many of the problems are international in scope, and RIM should be pushing the Canadian government to ensure domestic and trade policy is helpful rather than harmful to innovation.

Interview with the "inventor" of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

BCS (The British Computer Society Ltd) did an interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the person who primarily designed the protocols (HTTP) and markup language (HTML) that formed what we call the World Wide Web.

Programming is always about reassembling existing stuff - novel ideas are rare. Even with the development of the Web hypertext was already there and so on.

A bright idea is OK, but getting people to adopt common standards is impeded by patents. At W3C we have a working group that had to stop work on a project for 18 months (a lot in Web years!) to answer a patent issue. This affected the livelihood of people in companies that were doing really good work.

RIM calls for patent reform

A Message To All BlackBerry Supporters from Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO, and Jim Balsillie, Chairman and Co-CEO of Research in Motion (RIM) includes:

As to the lingering question of why the patent system should allow such a bizarre set of circumstances to threaten millions of American customers in the first place, we share your concern. The good news is that this topic is currently receiving much more attention from policymakers and the Supreme Court and we hope the patent system will evolve to close the loopholes and become more balanced.

Is this receiving adequate interest from Canadian policy makers? Will Canadian policy makers be reviewing whether different categories of patents promote or stifle innovation? Will they be reviewing the question of patent quality, whether the default should be to grant or deny uncertain patents, and who should be paying for the increasing costs of the patent system?

If you write a letter to your MP, the Industry Minister or the Industry Critics on this issue, let us know so what we can publish them -- and hopefully some replies.

Lawyer insists Microsoft infringed antipiracy patent

This CNet article by Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh includes:

A Texas lawyer named Kenneth Nash owns a patent on a method for detecting pirated software by assigning each program a unique ID and verifying it over the Internet.

Nash sued Microsoft over its product activation program
Software patents have irked the free software community and many programmers, and have been rejected in Europe. So-called "patent trolls"--people who never use a patent except in litigation--have drawn fire from Congress and companies like Hewlett-Packard and Intel. Last week's narrowly averted shutdown of Research In Motion's BlackBerry service has also spurred calls for patent reform.

RIM, NTP and Patent Madness

This eWeek article by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols includes:

Opinion: Is this a great country or what that millions of users and a billion-dollar company can be held hostage by a court that's taking seriously patents that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has already rejected?

If there are still people who doubt the essential stupidity of software patents, they haven't been following RIM vs. NTP.

Canada Lobbies for Maker of BlackBerry (or was it just a publicity stunt?)

This Washington Post article by Yuki Noguchi includes:

Canadian Minister of International Trade David L. Emerson, when he was minister of industry, sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez requesting that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office publicize its timeline for a review of the patent claims held by NTP. The letter and other communications were obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

We need to remember that during Mr. Emerson's watch at Industry Canada that the Canadian Patent Office radically changed the Manual for Patent Office Practises (MOPOP) by re-interpreting and bypassing legal precedent to justify increasing the granting of poor quality information/mental process patents. While the letter he sent to the USPTO makes for good politics, actions speak much louder than publicity stunts.

Emerson might easily have written to the USPTO saying he would be their "worst nightmare", for all the value his threats have.

The RIM case is not an infringement case, but the outcome of the policy failure of many patent offices, and the failure of governments to fix these problems that chill innovation.

Patent office issues final rejection of NTP patent

This CNET article by Tom Krazit includes:

The USPTO has already issued nonfinal actions rejecting the claims in four out of the five NTP patents in question, but a final rejection is required before the appeals process can begin.

We need to remember that the issue here is not NTP or RIM, or any "violations" of patents, but major flaws in the patent system. Patent quality for software is extremely low, with estimates being somewhere between 5% and 40% being of reasonable quality (IE: far less than half). A reasonable response to protect innovation would be to direct patent offices and courts to never grant or honour patents in a specific subject matter where a certain level of patent quality has not been achieved.

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