Wednesday, July 20, 2011

US Patent Expiration for MP3, MPEG-2, H.264

Josh Cogliati at OSNews has a well-written essay about "software" patents, and discusses how patent term calculation works - including results from a calculation for MP3, MPEG-2 and H.264 patent expiration.

US Patent Expiration for MP3, MPEG-2, H.264 (OSNews)

These are all underlying technologies used in digital music and video. If you own an iPod, or watch videos on YouTube, this affects you in some way.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Developers quitting app stores over patents

Since the beginning of this blog, I've commented on many examples where companies are hindered from real innovation, due to fear of "software" patents. Too often, we see examples of one company suing another over "software" methods. Resources are being wasted in patent fights, when they would be better spent on Research and Development.

"Software" patents also scare off newcomers to the industry. And these start-up companies are often those that bring revolution to the market. When the PC revolution was just beginning, Microsoft and Apple worked out of basements. Amazon started in a garage. Mark Zuckerberg wrote Facebook from his dorm room.

Yet our patent system is placing a direct barrier to the "next generation" of innovators. Case in point:

App developers withdraw from US as patent fears reach 'tipping point' (The Guardian)

The article focuses on developers outside the US, but does discuss US-based developers:
He told the Guardian that it's "far too dangerous to do business" in the US because of the risk of software patent lawsuits.

But for US-based developers, the problems remain. Craig Hockenberry of Iconfactory, developer of Twitterrific, remarked that "Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, they do and tweeted that "I became an independent developer to control my own destiny. I no longer do". Iconfactory is among those being targeted by Lodsys, but earlier this week was granted a 30-day extension to reply to Lodsys's claim.
This is why I believe "software" patents have gotten out of control. We need to reform the US patent system. Again, I urge everyone reading this blog to please contact your Senator or Representative, and ask them to take action. They do listen, but you need to speak up. Call or write today!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Apple wins in Trade Commission case

Bloomberg reported on a ruling from the US International Trade Commission, that Android maker HTC was found in violation of 2 patents held by Apple. HTC plans to appeal. From the article:
Should the commission uphold the finding, the ITC may ban U.S. imports of some HTC phones that run on Google’s Android, the most popular smartphone operating system in the U.S. The HTC decision may serve as a barometer for other cases Cupertino, California-based Apple has against makers of Android devices, including Samsung Electronics Co. and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc.
I'll admit that this is a somewhat-clever use of patents to block a competing product. But I don't think this is a good idea.

OSNews provides more details about the patents:
The patents in question are the following two software patents:
  • 5,946,647 - 'system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer-generated data'
  • 6,343,263 - 'real-time signal processing system for serially transmitted data'
Even if you dive into these software patent filings, it still looks like incredibly generic crap we've been doing for ages, with tons and tons of prior art. Then again, and you may call me cynical, but I'm not exactly surprised; a bunch of random US judges, most likely with little to no technological expertise, ruling in favour of one of the largest US companies, against a relatively small Taiwanese company.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Patents vs standards-setting organizations

If you aren't sure if "software" patents affect your every day life, let me ask you a simple question: Do you use the web? You're using it right now to read this blog post. You probably even use Facebook, or Google, or visit other news web sites. Web sites are all built on standards. For example: "HTML" is one standard that defines how pages are put together, so web browsers can interpret them correctly.

In an earlier post about patents and standards-setting organizations, Xiph made these comments to the FTC Patent Standards Workshop about how patents affect open standards:
However, patents essential to the implementation of a standard gain their value from network effects. The innovation often plays no role. This gives the holder of such a patent the ability to hinder or eliminate entire markets which would compete with their own offerings.
Yet we see an example of this today, with the World Wide Web Consortium ("W3C") chastising Apple on "software" patents related to HTML version 5. From the article:
The patented technologies are core components to the W3C's Widget Access Request Policy, which specifies how mobile applications can request sensitive material. It is one of a number of specifications that are closely tied to the W3C's next generation standard for Web pages and applications, HTML5.
At issue:
  • patent 7,743,336, which covers "widget" security
  • patent application 20070101146, which covers access control procedures
The W3C has set up a page asking to help identify prior art, so they can invalidate the Apple patents.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A generation of software patents

James E. Bessen (Boston University's School of Law) recently released A Generation of Software Patents, a study of a generation of "software" patents: "This report examines changes in the patenting behavior of the software industry since the 1990s. It finds that most software firms still do not patent, most software patents are obtained by a few large firms in the software industry or in other industries, and the risk of litigation from software patents continues to increase dramatically. Given these findings, it is hard to conclude that software patents have provided a net social benefit in the software industry."

It's 30 pages, but an interesting read.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The virtual gift patent

Patent 7,970,657 has been awarded to Facebook, for "giving gifts via a social network and displaying icons representing assets that have been acquired via the social network."

There are 52 claims, but as is the case in many software patents, claim 1 sums up the patent pretty well: (the other claims are details)
1. A method for representing ownership of an asset in a social network environment, the method comprising: receiving a request from a first user of the social network environment to purchase the asset for a second user; recording information about a purchase of the asset from a vendor; associating, by a server for the social networking environment, the purchased asset with a profile of the second user; sending for display to a viewing user an association between the purchased asset and the second user on a feed display page; sending for display to the viewing user, in connection with the association between the purchased asset and the second user, information indicating that a third user, with whom the viewing user has established a connection in the social network, owns the asset, and information including a name of the first user who gave the asset to the second user, on the feed display page.
Let me put this in a different context: If you've played online multiplayer roleplaying games, you may have used the concept where you can "gift" or "give" an item to someone else, typically a member of your party. In these games, there's usually a "log" of messages between your party, which would indicate that player "A" gave player "B" a "Sword of +1 damage".

That's essentially what this patent describes, except patent "657" is within the specific context of a "social network".

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Apple to pay $8M damages

A federal jury in Texas ruled Apple must pay $8 million in damages to Personal Audio LLC, as reported on Bloomberg. The jury decided Apple infringed patents for downloadable playlists, a "software" patent held by Personal Audio.

Actually, they are two patents:
  • 6,199,076 is for "An audio program and message distribution system in which a host system organizes and transmits program segments to client subscriber locations."
  • 7,509,178 describes "An audio program and message distribution system in which a host system organizes and transmits program segments to client subscriber locations."
Apple argued these patents were invalid - and that it wasn't actually using the same technology, anyway. But the jury disagreed, ruling Friday in favor of Personal Audio.