Software Patent News
Follow the latest on the fight over Android. [more...]
- 2011-08-22: rms: "Beware: Europe's 'unitary patent' could mean unlimited software patents" [Guardian]
- 2011-08-17: "Court Ruling Opens The Door To Rejecting Many Software Patents As Being Mere 'Mental Processes'" [TechDirt]
- 2011-05-20: Facebook granted patent for "Tagging Digital Media" with user's identities (US 7,945,653). [Engadget]
- 2011-05-13: Is using an API designed and implemented by someone else enough to infringe a patent? Lodsys thinks so, going after 3rd-party developers using Apple's in-app buying API (which Apple has already licensed from Lodsys). [Macworld]
- 2011-04-26: Rob Tiller (Red Hat) discusses FTC's recent report, "The Evolving IP Marketplace: Aligning Patent Notice and Remedies with Competition" [blog]
- 2011-04-26: Growlaw explains why software is mathematics; mathematics is free speech; and patents should not apply. [Groklaw]
- 2011-01-19: Nathan Marz argues aginst software patents for their economic impact in creating "accidental monopolies". [blog]
- 2010-12-30: Paul Allen's Interval Licensing refiles its patent lawsuit against AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube. The amended complaint [pdf] details alleged infringements of four patents (listed below). [paidContent.org]
- 2010-12-18: FlightPrep goes after competitors in the realm of flight planning software for general aviation with recent patent (US 7,640,098). Nelson Minar provides background on prioro art, obviousness and the parties involved. [blog]
- 2010-12-10: Court dismisses Paul Allen's Interval Licensing patent infringement case as vague: "lacks adequate factual detail to satisfy the dictates of Twombly and Iqbal" and "fails to provide sufficient factual detail as suggested by Form 18". Interval has until 28 December to refile an amended complaint. [Groklaw]
sues security vendors Check Point Software Technologies, McAfee,
Symantec and Trend Micro for software patent infringment.
- US 5,987,610, "Computer virus screening methods and systems" (1999)
- US 6,073,142, "Automated post office based rule analysis of e-mail messages and other data objects for controlled distribution in network environments" (2000)
- US 6,460,050, "Distributed content identification system" (2002)
- US 7,506,155, "E-mail virus protection system and method" (2009)
- 2010-12-03: USPTO affirms (and extends!) Droplets' US 6,687,745, System and method for delivering a graphical user interface of remote applications over a thin bandwidth connection. THe examination considered 70+ prior art citations, a number of new prior art cittaions, validated all original claims and granted 68 new ones. [PR]
- 2010-11-15: Bruce Perens on "Red Hat's Secret Patent Deal and the Fate of JBoss Developers" [gigaom] and response from Bradley Kuhn [blog]
rbpasker writes on "Assessing the Value of Software Patents in Early Stage Companies":
I see a lot of pitches a year. Hundreds of them.
Probably about 1 in 10 claim "patented" or "patent-pending" technology.
Since one component of venture capital is assessing the current and future worth of a company, how much value should an investor assign to a company's patents, particularly in software or business processes, as opposed to hardware/networking, biotech/medical, or green?
I would say the value of each patent is about negative $50,000.00. [blog]
- 2010-11-09: The Boston Phoenix and Facebook trade software patent lawsuits. Last year, the Phoenix sued Facebook for user profiles, "Method and apparatus for providing a personal page", [6,253,216]. Now, Facebook has countersued the Phoenix citing its "band guide" and music player as infringing on "System, Method and Medium for Managing Information" [6,199,157]. and "Apparatus and Method for Communication Between Multiple Browsers" [6,314,458].
- 2010-10-28: NASA to auction off 5 software patents in November covering automated software development methods. TechEYE has the patent numbers. [TechEYE]
Apple awarded US patent
for "anti-sexting" software.
Messages may be controlled based on "required text, banned text,
authorized text, and designated language", and then must be edited
before sending or deleted
Abstract reads as follows:
Systems, devices, and methods are provided for enabling a user to control the content of text-based messages sent to or received from an administered device. In some embodiments, a message will be blocked (incoming or outgoing) if the message includes forbidden content. In other embodiments, the objectionable content is removed from the message prior to transmission or as part of the receiving process. The content of such a message is controlled by filtering the message based on defined criteria. The criteria may be defined according to a parental control application. These techniques also may be used, in accordance with instructional embodiments, to require the administered devices to include certain text in messages. These embodiments might, for example, require that a certain number of Spanish words per day be included in e-mails for a child learning Spanish.
- 2010-10-01: In "Why the Sun is setting on Software and Business Method Patents," Daniel Gross interprets what the Supreme Court might have had in mind in its Bilski decision. [NAIP]
- 2010-10-01: Amicus briefs in support of Microsoft in i4i v. Microsoft. [Groklaw]
A study by John Allison, Mark Lemley and Joshua Walker,
"Patent Quality and Settlement among Repeat Patent Litigants," has some
surprising results (excerpts):
The patents and patentees that occupy the most time and attention in court and in public policy debates – the very patents that economists consider the most valuable – are astonishingly weak. Non-practicing entities and software patentees almost never win their cases. That may be a good thing, if you believe that most software patents are bad or that NPEs are bad for society. But it certainly means that the patent system is wasting more of its time than expected dealing with weak patents. And it also suggests that both our measures of patent value and our theories of litigation behavior need some serious reconsideration. ...
Once-litigated patents win in court almost 50% of the time, while the most-litigated – and putatively most valuable – patents win in court only 10.7% of the time. ...
The results are equally striking for patents owned by non-practicing entities (NPEs), and for software patents. NPEs and software patentees overwhelmingly lose their cases, even with patents that they litigate again and again. Software patentees win only 12.9% of their cases, while NPEs win only 9.2%. [SSRN]
- 2010-09-01: Simon Phipps, "Hold The Celebrations; H.264 Is Not The Sort Of Free That Matters". [blog]
- 2010-08-31: Glyn Moody, "What Paul Allen and Larry Ellison have in common". [blog]
- 2010-08-31: Pamela Jones on "Paul Allen's Complaint against the World" (including some great quotes from Terry Winograd on how Interval missed the web revolution). [Groklaw]
Interval Licensing (i.e., Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft) sues
AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot,
OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo! and YouTube, claiming infringement of
four US patents:
- Interval claims all of the above defendents but Facebook infringe on: 6,263,507, "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data".
- Interval claims all of the defendents infringe on: 6,034,652, "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device".
- Interval claims AOL, Apple, Google, Yahoo! infringe upon: 6,788,314, "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device".
- Interval claims AOL, Apple, Google, Yahoo! infringe upon: 6,757,682, "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest".
- 2010-08-13: Oracle sues Google over Android [More]
- 2009-10-12: Tele-Publishing, Inc. is bringing suit against Facebook for infringement of its 2001 US Patent 6,253,216, "Method and Apparatus For Providing a Personal Page." Meanwhile, Mekiki Co Ltd is bringing suit against the social networking site for infringement of its 2005 US Patent 6,879,985, "Human relationships registering system, method and device for registering human relationships, program for registering human relationships, and medium storing human relationships registering program and readable by computer." [Ars Technica]
- 2009-10-06: Eolas is back! After a settlement with Microsoft in 2007, Eolas is suing 23 companies (including Adobe, Apple, Frito-Lay, Google, JP Morgan, Playboy, and Yahoo) for infringing: its 1998 US Patent 5,838,906, US Patent 7,599,985 (awarded today!), and related patents. [Ars Technica] [BeatNews]
Bilski v Kappos update:
Government files response.
Amicus briefs from FSF, SFLC, Red Hat, LL Bean and the AARP among others.
Links to many of the briefs:
[End Software Patents wiki]
- 2006-11-16: Software Patents: A Time for Change? A Conference held 16–17 November 2006 at MIT and Boston University
The non-patent side
of software patents
This April 2003 business presentation by Gérald Sédrati-Dinet considers the usual justifications behind software patents and shows how debatable they are. Gérald also published a research article in French in July 2003 titled La face non patente des brevets logiciels. PDF and LaTeX versions of the article are also available, on this page.
Note: Some of the material about patents below is dated, and some of the patents mentioned may have expired in some countries. Many of the older external links below are out-of-date and no longer work. These will be updated or removed as time permits.
on SBC 'Structured document browser' patent:
This column is about U.S. patent 5,933,841, which [...] is now owned by [...] SBC Communications. [...] Called a "structured document browser," the patent [...] claims as Ameritech's original idea the concept of having elements on a web page that don't change, yet apply directly to other parts of the page that do change.
Stallman: 'Patent licenses discriminate' (ZDNet)
[Many standards bodies] often refer to such licenses by the term "RAND," which stands for "reasonable and non-discriminatory." That term whitewashes a class of patent licenses that are normally neither reasonable nor non-discriminatory. It is true that these licenses do not discriminate against any specific person, but they do discriminate against the free software community, and that makes them unreasonable.
- 2001-08-10: Richard M. Stallman gave a speech about the danger of software patents in India. Ogg Vorbis recordings are available.
Melbourne man patents the wheel:
John Keogh wanted to prove the innovation patent system was flawed because submissions could be prepared without professional help and did not need to be examined by the Australian patent office.
Patent on Network Address Translation (NAT):
A system and method are provided for translating local IP addresses to globally unique IP addresses. This allows local hosts in an enterprise network to share global IP addresses from a limited pool of such addresses available to the enterprise. The translation is accomplished by replacing the source address in headers on packets destined for the Internet and by replacing destination address in headers on packets entering the local enterprise network from the Internet. Packets arriving from the Internet are screened by an adaptive security algorithm. According to this algorithm, packets are dropped and logged unless they are deemed nonthreatening. DNS packets and certain types of ICMP packets are allowed to enter local network. In addition, FTP data packets are allowed to enter the local network, but only after it has been established that their destination on the local network initiated an FTP session.NAT is crucial for firewalling, load balancing, and failover.
- 2000-08-10: Adobe Systems Files Lawsuit Against Macromedia for Patent Infringement (press release): the patent covers tabbed dialogs...
- 2000-06-24: No Patents on Ideas – The Letters of Thomas Jefferson: 1743-1826.
Telecommunications (BT) claims ownership of hyperlinks
The monster telco believes a patent filed in 1976 - and granted in 1989 - proves it owns the intellectual property rights to those natty little devices that link Web content together.Also, see this press release: EuroLinux Congratulates British Telecom for Demonstrating the Absurdity of Software Patents
- 2000-05-24: Who's Really Being Protected?: An Interview With the Patents Office Director and Tim O'Reilly.
- 2000-05-24: A critical Forbes article on the US PTO (Patently Absurd).
- 2000-05-01: Product Designed to Ease Patent Process Wins Patent (New York Times):
- 2000-04-11: The Economist: Patent wars - Better get yourself armed. Everybody else is
- 2000-04-11: A Prior Art Page against software patents has been started by Enrique Perez.
PTO Becomes Performance-Based Organization: This PTO
press release is commented by Don Marti and Richard
Stallman in this
message. The PTO commissioners may be graded on the
amount of time it takes to issue patents.
I [Don Marti] am nominating Richard for the Patent Public Advisory Committee, and I encourage everyone else to think of a person who can represent the interests of users and inventors harmed by software and business methods patents and nominate that person. More info at: http://zgp.org/~dmarti/uspto_committee
An interview with Richard Stallman:
"The unpatentable RMS teaches us about the problems with software patents."
In his interview with J.S. Kelly, Richard M. Stallman, the father of the GNU project, talks about how software patents have been a problem for programmers for nearly 20 years and why he's leading the boycott against Amazon.com.
- 2000-03-29: The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age: this is a new book which was recently released by the National Academy Press, publishers for the National Academy of Sciences. It is "an in-depth look at intellectual property issues and their relevance to computer networks and the Internet." The fully searchable text of the entire book is available online without charge.
- 2000-03-17: The US PTO shows its competence by approving a patent on a "hyper-light-speed antenna".
- 2000-03-13: The Harm of Patents: An Exchange Between Richard Stallman and Tim O'Reilly.
- 2000-03-12: James Gleick's article on software patents (Patently Absurd), which originally appeared in the March 12th New York Times Magazine is now online on www.around.com.
Patents on compression of random data: Jean-loup
Gailly reports that The US patent office has recently
granted at least two patents on a mathematically
impossible process: compression of truly random data.
Making abstraction of the legalese, claim 7 says in short that you can compress an arbitrary sequence of two bits down to one bit. It took three years to the patent office to ascertain the validity of such a patent. A person with basic knowledge in mathematics and data compression can find the flaws immediately upon first reading.
- 2000-03-10: Slashdot interview with Jean-loup Gailly: Gailly is responsible for gzip and zlib and maintains the comp.compression FAQ. In this interview, he talks namely about the problems with compression patents, like for example the patent on a basic technique like run-length encoding.
- 2000-02-23: A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct. This patent illustrates the general incompetence of the U.S. Patent Office. See more details about this patent.
- 2000-02-18: Paul Rubin has reported the following
patent. It illustrates the general incompetence of the US
PTO. It should interest those who ask us to assume that the
PTO will "understand software" if we wait a few decades.
Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2000 13:44:18 -0800 (PST)
From: Paul Rubin
Subject: more bogus patents (not software)
From AIP What's New (today's issue):
2. PATENT NONSENSE: INFINITE ENERGY MEETS INFINITE BANDWIDTH. On Tuesday, BlackLight Power was awarded a patent for a chemical means of shrinking hydrogen atoms into "a state below the ground state." The, uh, inventor, Randall Mills, calls his teeny little hydrogen atoms "hydrinos" (WN 22 Jan 99). Mills describes them as, "the most important discovery of all time...up there with fire." The second most important discovery, I suppose, would be to find the hydrino line in the spectrum. In November, a patent was awarded to Media Fusion for Advanced Sub-Carrier Modulation, a method of transmitting data over ordinary power lines with a 10 GHz bandwidth. The claim is that magnetic fields surrounding the conductor can act as a waveguide. In a classic understatement, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has issued a warning to members that Media Fusion's claims "lack scientific merit."
- 2000-02-15: Q&A:
Bruce Perens on Patents and Politics:
We have an old system that was adapted to a new technology without being thought through, with unfortunate results. If it turns out that the software patent system is actually a hindrance to business - and not a boon, as the patent system was in mechanical engineering, back when steam engines were being invented - well, gee, maybe we should do away with software patents.
- 2000-01-18: Jesse Berst column - How
Patent Attorneys Are Stealing Our Future:
The problem is simple: The #%@$# Patent Office is handing out exclusive rights so broad and general they cover everything. And greedy attorneys are in a frenzy. If the trend continues, innovation will be halted.
- 1999-12-23: Feed
Magazine column on the recent patent insanity:
Lawsuits are threatening to dampen the dynamism of the internet because, even when they are obviously spurious, they add so much to the cost of doing business that soon amateurs and upstarts might not be able to afford to compete with anyone who can afford a lawyer.
Internet Patents: Giving Away the Store:
How could sound legal reasoning lead to a patent policy that so obviously undermines competition, discourages innovation, and distorts market dynamics in an important, emerging industry? As you'll learn in this essay, you don't get the answer until you trace this reasoning back to the earliest decision that enabled patent seekers to win government-guaranteed monopolies for software algorithms [...]
- 1999-12-15: Surviving a War With Patents: an editorial from UpsideToday on the history of patent law and corporate America.
- 1999-12-01: Fugitive
From Justice: an article by webmaster Lincoln D. Stein,
who wrote a Perl module called GD.pm that interfaces to
Thomas Boutell's libgd library.
libgd allows CGI scripts and other programs to create GIF images on the fly. With GD.pm, Perl scripts could do that, too. [...] According to the Unisys Corporation, I'm a fugitive from justice. A rogue Webmaster. A flaunter of national and international treaties. My Web site uses (gasp!) GIF images. Chances are that you're a fugitive, too.
- 1999-08-31: In August 1999, Henri Lesourd submitted a proposal (in French) that would allow computer science Ph.D. candidates to decide that their thesis work will be in the public domain. Students of the Laboratoire d'Informatique de Paris 6, which is a public university, are presently forced to sign a "confidentiality agreement" that gives the institution all "intellectual property" rights to their thesis.
- 1999-05-31: In May 1999, Jason V. Morgan submitted the article Chaining Open Source Software: The Case Against Software Patents.
- 1999-04-23: The Problem With Patents: an article by Lawrence Lessig.
- WIRED 2.07: Extras from "Patently Absurd" by Simson L. Garfinkel
- 1990-01-01: This short text about an article in "Think" magazine, #5, 1990 illustrates the how software patents give a lot of power to large companies like IBM which can afford to collect thousands of patents. A company like IBM can defend itself by using its large patent portfolio, but small companies and individual developers will not have that power.
In The Great
Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. vs. Supermarket Corp., 340
U.S. 147 (1950), Justice Douglas said:
It is not enough that an article is new and useful. The Constitution never sanctioned the patenting of gadgets. [...] It was never the object of those laws to grant a monopoly for every trifling device, every shadow of a shade of an idea, which would naturally and spontaneously occur to any skilled mechanic or operator in the ordinary progress of manufactures.This article mentions a list of patents that were judged obvious by the Supreme Court and were thus invalidated.
The fact that a patent as flimsy and as spurious as this one has to be brought all the way to this Court to be declared invalid dramatically illustrates how far our patent system frequently departs from the constitutional standards which are supposed to govern.
LPF Position on Software Patents
- Against Software Patents: This is a 1991 paper which explains our position (also available in ASCII text, postscript, and Texinfo). (One can also browse the Table of Contents, which gives access to individual sections, each in its own HTML file.)
- Why Patents Are Bad for Software: another good introduction to the problem.
- The Danger of Software Patents: a speech by Richard Stallman at Cambridge University, 25 March 2002.
- The Anatomy of a Trivial Patent: a May 2000 article by Richard Stallman that shows how an obvious idea can be made to look complex by the way it is described in its patent.
- Mutual Defense Against Software Patents: this article describes a proposal for an interim strategy while we work to change the law.
- No Patents on Ideas – The Letters of Thomas Jefferson: 1743-1826.
- Sequential Innovation, Patents, and Imitation (PDF, 179k): a January 2000 article by James Bessen and Eric Maskin, is a mathematical model showing how patents can impede progress in fields like software. It gives theoretical support to what we have observed.
- Software Useright: Solving Inconsistencies of Software Patents: an overview by Jean-Paul Smets of "the principles, the economic impact and the potential juridical contradictions of patents and especially software related patents."
- Browse through the net discussions or read some of the software patent papers to hear what LPF members have to say about software patents.
- The Problem With Patents: an article by Lawrence Lessig, Berkman Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.
- In The
Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. vs. Supermarket Corp.,
340 U.S. 147 (1950), Justice Douglas said:
It is not enough that an article is new and useful. The Constitution never sanctioned the patenting of gadgets. [...] It was never the object of those laws to grant a monopoly for every trifling device, every shadow of a shade of an idea, which would naturally and spontaneously occur to any skilled mechanic or operator in the ordinary progress of manufactures.
- This short text about an article in "Think" magazine, #5, 1990 illustrates the how software patents give a lot of power to large companies like IBM which can afford to collect thousands of patents.
- A letter from Donald E. Knuth to the U.S. Patent Office (translated in Spanish by Colibrí in Sept. 2003).
Politicians and Software Patents
If you can get your elected representative to take a position on software patents, we would be interested in publishing it on this site.
- 2003-10-30: FTC
calls for US patent reform (The Register):
The FTC has issued a report calling on the US Patent and Trademark Office to apply tougher standards in granting patents. Congress should also establish a mechanism to permit companies to challenge patents more easily, it advises.
French Secretary for Industry Against Software
[...] Commercial software raises the issue of computer security, since one does not know what is inside. This is why I am against software patenting in Europe. It would kill innovation and reinforce litigation terrorism
- 2000-11-22: Software
patents stay banned in Europe - for now:
The tide was turned by a groundswell largely co-ordinated through EuroLinux, although it would be wrong to assume that the issue is just of concern to open source proponents, as there are major implications for the ethical part of the software industry. Oracle opposes the patentability of software and believes that existing copyright law and trade secret protection is adequate, while Adobe, Autodesk, Borland, Novell, Synopsis and Wind River Systems have also developed their businesses without resorting to building a portfolio of software patents. Content-king Bertelsmann regards them as "inhibiting innovation". [...] Yesterday's skirmish in Munich was a well-won battle, but much work remains to be done in convincing national governments and the EU that software patents are fundamentally wrong, anti-competitive, and only in the interest of those trying to establish toll roads along the previously-open highway.
- 2000-11-04: U.K.
Patent Office consultation on software patents (From
Linux Weekly News:)
The U.K. Patent Office has put up a request for comments on how software (and business method) patents should be treated in the U.K. and Europe. There is also some interesting information to be found in there, including the fact that some 15% of all U.K. patents now are "software-based." They seem truly interested. "We want to know what you think about this so that Government policy is evidence-based and relevant to business, commerce, and consumers - in other words to you. So, whether you are in the software industry, financial services, are a software user, a consumer, or are otherwise interested, we want to hear from you." The deadline for responses is December 15. (Thanks to Alan Cox).
EuroLinux Software Patents Consultation:
On Thursday 19th October 2000, the European Commission announced the opening of an official consultation on the economic and social impact of software patents in Europe. In order to help European Authorities to conduct an open consultation, the EuroLinux Alliance of software publishers and non profit organisations debuts a public forum and a rich knowledge base.
Net Patent Bill Introduced:
The way current regulations are written, you could probably get a patent for the practice of selling hair dryers over the Internet. If two congressional Democrats get their way, the days of "obvious" business practice patents are numbered. Congressmen Rick Boucher (D-Virginia) and Howard Berman (D-California) have introduced the Business Method Patent Improvement Act of 2000
- 2000-09-14: EU Board Votes To Allow Software Patents: An administrative board for the European Patents Office has voted 10-9 to allow patents for software in Europe. There's still a final conference to be held in November to ratify the decision - so there's still time to sign the petition against it.
- 1999-10-21: Eurolinux Alliance delegation meets European Union legislators.
BT's Hyperlink Patents
- 2002-08-23: BT Loses Case Over Hyperlink Patent: Slashdot mentions a Bloomberg article, its original story on the subject, and a link to the PDF of the court decision.
- 2001-11-20: BT,
Prodigy U.S. hyperlink patent trial date set:
BT owns what it calls the Hidden Page patent, which was filed in the U.S. in 1976, granted in 1989 and isn't due to expire until 2006, giving the company the intellectual property rights to hyperlink technology. [...] Berners-Lee's work was based on, among other things, earlier work carried out by Ted Nelson, who is generally acknowledged to have coined the term hypertext in his 1965 book, "Literary Machines."
- 2000-12-14: BT
launches US hyperlinks legal action
BT - which owns the patent to hypertext links - has begun its legal fight to claim back millions of dollars in licensing revenue from US ISPs. [...] Intellectual property attorneys, Kenyon & Kenyon yesterday filed a case on behalf of BT against Prodigy [...] The monster telco said a patent (# 4,873,662) filed in 1976 - and granted in 1989 - proves it owns the intellectual property rights to those natty little devices that link Web content together.
Film evidence challenges BT's claim to hypertext
Apparently, on December 9, 1968, Douglas C. Engelbart and 17 researchers at the Augmentation Research Center, Stanford Research Institute, in Menlo Park, California presented a 90-minute live public demo in which hypertext was wheeled out for all to see. The demo also included the first public appearance of the "mouse". Real Player footage of the demo can be seen here.
The Limits of Copyright: Harvard Law prof. Lawrence
Lessig responds to John Warnock, CEO of Adobe, who
supports software patents.
Warnock is quite right that our forefathers expressly recognized the legitimacy of government-granted monopolies to subsidize "authors" and "inventors" in their work to "promote the Progress of Science and useful arts." But this is not because the framers were especially fond of "intellectual property." (Jefferson, for example, hated it.) Their purpose instead was as much to limit that power as to grant it.
The GIF Situation
In December 1994, UNISYS announced it would sue developers based on their patent on LWZ compression, an integral part of the GIF specification which is used by web browsers and tools that display GIF files. The U.S. LZW Patent expired on June 20, 2003. Check out our GIF page for some history.
The MP3 music file formatMP3 (MPEG-1, Layer 3) is a very popular coder/decoder that compresses standard audio tracks into much smaller sizes without significantly compromising sound quality.
- 2001-06-26: MP3
owners get stroppy with open source coders
[...] Hence the message Dutch developer 8Hz Productions ("two students in Amsterdam programming for the sake of learning") recently received from Fraunhofer regarding its open source 8Hz-MP3 software. Says the organisation: "We have received an email from Fraunhofer (as have more developers) to negotiate the licensing for the MP3 encoder. As we are poor students, paying the license is not really a viable option." Fraunhofer wanted $25,000 a year from the two students So what is viable? Well, nothing beyond charging for the software or scrapping the project. 8Hz has chosen the latter [...]
- 2001-06-25: Thomson
Announces Royalties For MP3 Streaming:
RMS has been pointing out that MP3 is hampered by patents for a long time now; the proof-bearing pudding is on the way.
Open-source MP3 project continues after parent's
The owner of most of the intellectual property inside the MP3 format is Germany's Fraunhofer Institute [...] That company already charges MP3 download companies about 1 percent of royalties, while hardware companies must pay 50 cents per unit shipped. MP3 encoder companies, such as Musicmatch, pay Thomson about $5 per unit, contributing to the relative scarcity of free MP3 "rippers."
- 2000-06-16: Programmers
prepare new, free MP3 format:
Worried about steadily rising royalty fees for online MP3 music companies, a group of open-source developers has created a new music format they say will be free and will equal or better MP3's quality. [...] the German research institute that helped create the format is beginning to collect its dues, charging companies that create MP3 software and hardware or sell MP3 downloads. Next year it will begin charging Webcasters, it says.
Y2K Windowing Patent
- 1999-11-01: Firms may face fees for using patented Y2K fix. The Washington Post published an article about the "inventor," Bruce Dickens, titled Y2K Patent Fortune Pending?
- 1999-12-22: Patent office to review controversial Y2K fix.
- 1999-12-27: US PTO ordered the re-examination of Y2K "windowing".
IBM patents vs. Informix
- 2000-02-08: IBM sues Informix for patent infringment.
RTLinux real-time operating system patent
- 2000-02-10: Real Time Linux, Now Patented: Victor Yodaiken, the developer of RT-Linux (Real Time linux) has been granted a patent on method used by RT-linux. See the patent itself in the IBM "Intellectual Property" Network: Adding real-time support to general purpose operating systems. Yodaiken appears to want to grant a license to some users but not others.
Geoworks' Patent on the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)
- 2000-05-15: WAP - The Patent Problem: this article by the Free Protocols Foundation describes the problem that patents pose to the Wireless Application Protocol. It is a very good brief description of the issue.
- 2000-01-19: Geoworks Announces Intellectual Property Rights Position on WAP and Initiates Licensing Program: this company press release concerns a patent that encumbers the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and the Wireless Markup Language (WML) Specification. The company claims to favor an "open" standard while still claiming ownership of abstract ideas. Infoworld has a column by Ephraim Schwartz on this story.
Amazon's E-Commerce Patents
- 2002-03-12: Amazon, Barnes & Noble settle patent suit. In related matters, after being featured for two years on Amazon's web site, Jeff Bezos' "radical patent reform policy proposal" suddenly disappeared without a trace sometime over the past few weeks. The "Amazon.com Patents" link has been removed from the "About Amazon.com" page and links to An Open Letter From Jeff Bezos on the Subject of Patents are now redirected to Amazon's home page. With last week's secretive, sealed BN "1-Click" lawsuit settlement, it kind of looks like Amazon no longer has any use for Jeff Bezos' "call for radical patent form" that helped quell the Amazon boycott movement. Noting that "The Web is fragile" and "Archive.Org is scotch tape that holds it together", Scripting News' Dave Winer runs an item that illustrates how all those folks who posted links to Jeff Bezos' original "call for radical patent reform" are now unwittingly hawking Amazon products thanks to a simple redirect. Those people can change those links to the GNU Project's Boycott Amazon page.
Court Hands Barnes & Noble.com a Legal Victory:
A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a preliminary injunction granted by a lower court judge in Seattle in December 1999 prohibiting Barnes & Noble.com from using one-click shopping technology that allegedly infringed on arch-rival Amazon.com's online shopping tool. [...] "We have said throughout this case that we do not intend to sit back and allow Amazon.com to stake a claim upon any technology that is widely used. Allowing them to do so abridges our rights as a leader in e-commerce, but more important limits the choices of customers," [Barnes & Noble] said.
- 2000-10-13: Amazon
Tastes Its Own Patent-Pending Medicine:
In late September OpenTV applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to broaden the scope of a patent originally awarded to the company in 1998 so it includes "one-click" shopping. [...] Should the Patent Office decide in OpenTV's favor, Amazon could be forced to either pay licensing fees for one-click shopping or abandon it altogether. Ironically, that's the same position Amazon has been trying to put Barnesandnoble.com into for the past year.
- 2000-09-18: Apple Licenses Amazon.com 1-Click Patent and Trademark: Apple is the first company that is not an Amazon partner of affiliate to license this patent on an obvious use of a Web cookie.
- 1999-10-12: Amazon.com Receives Patent for 1-Click Shopping. This is the press release from Amazon.com itself.
- 1999-12-13: Richard Stallman
-- Boycott Amazon!
Amazon is not alone at fault in what is happening. The US Patent Office is to blame for having very low standards, and US courts are to blame for endorsing them. And US patent law is to blame for authorizing patents on computational techniques and patterns of communication--a policy that is harmful in general.
- 1999-12-18: Amazon does not seem to be willing to change its practices, according to this December 18th Wired article.
- 2000-02-26: Amazon patents affiliate programs technology.
- 2000-02-29: Puslisher Tim O'Reilly publishes an open letter to Amazon that customers are invited to sign. Tim gives his position about Amazon's patent practices.
- 2000-02-29: NoWebPatents.org runs an anti-Amazon boycott.
- 2000-02-29: NoAmazon.com reports that a founding programmer of amazon.com has posted a denunciation of amazon.com's patents.
- 2000-03-11: Here's a message that Richard M. Stallman sent to Tim O'Reilly on March 11, in regard to the statement by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, which called for software patents to last just 3 or 5 years.
Priceline's Patent on Name-Your-Price Bidding
- 1998-08-16: Priceline patent sparks debate: a ZDNet article about a new software patent related to electronic commerce.
- 1999-12-21: Expedia.com Files to Dismiss Priceline Suit.
IPIX vs free software for image processingHelmut Dersch of Germany has written an image processing program called "Panorama Tools". Anyone could download this free program from Helmut's web site. IPIX have their own fisheye derived spherical VR system/software where they charge the user for every spherical VR created. IPIX have tried to intimidate Helmut Dersch by hiring a London law firm, Olswang. See the original April 1999: email messages that describe this situation. News item:
- 1999-07-22: IPIX: Our Patents Are Rock Solid: IPIX CEO Jim Phillips speaks up about the company's patent on a technique that allows VR photographers to take wide-angle photographs and stitch them together into 3-D panoramas. IPIX is going public in August 1999.
I would like to nominate Helmut Dersch for the next Free Software award. Helmut wrote the Panorama Tools suite which are really cool programs (can be used in conjunction with GIMP) that are GPL'd and are used not just for stitching panoramas, but for correcting geometric distortion and color distortions found in most digital cameras, and can also be used to flatten out pictures taken with fisheye lenses. IPIX based their whole sleazy company on a patented program that takes fisheye images and flattens them out to look rectilinear, and then charging people $25 per license key where you need a new key for every picture; of course that flattening is just one feature of Panorama Tools. IPIX threatened Helmut with the patent and he located some articles from optics journals in the 1960's saying how to do that remapping and told IPIX to bug off. He was forced to shut down his web site temporarily but was able to reopen it without giving in to anything as far as I can tell. I'd like to be able to say that IPIX was totally hosed, but amazingly, for unfathomable reasons, people continue to buy their product.
E-Data and the Freeny PatentIn 1996, E-Data attempted to aggressively enforce the Freeny patent. Read more (from 1996). News items:
- 2001-07-17: Patent
On Software Downloads Upheld:
This latest ruling indicates that the courts consider the patent, filed by a company called E-Data in 1985, a valid patent. E-Data's plan is to charge a license fee for all data downloaded over the Internet.
More Software Patent Items
- Patents Infringing on the Infosphere: a site by Hartmut Pilch against the legalisation of software patents in Europe. See also the original German version.
- The Wacky Patent of the Month is devoted to recognizing selected inventors and their remarkable and unconventional patented inventions.
- A modem bug: this October 1998 message from Mark Spencer shows a good example of how a patent on something very trivial can be upheld by the courts, and can cause real trouble.
- The IBM Delphion Patent Server lets you access over 26 years of U.S. Patent & Trademark Office patent descriptions as well as the last 23 years of images. The first entries date back to January 5, 1971.
- Don Lancaster's Patent Avoidance Library: this library has excerpts from Don Lancaster's The Case Against Patents book of reprints, in which you'll find many tested and fully proven real-world alternates to patents and patenting.
- Some Statistics
- Visit the Gallery of Software Patent Horrors -- if you're feeling up to reading legal documents, we have a few dozen software patents online. Submissions welcome.
- Software Developer Survey: a survey from October 1994 shows that many software developers are unhappy with the existing patent law, and want to see it changed.
- January 1994 PTO Hearings: In January, 1994, the U.S. Patent office solicited opinions from the community-at-large about the state of software patent law. From the 1994 hearings.
4,197,590: Method for dynamically viewing image elements stored in a random access memory array.
And just for fun ... check out some good quotes!
The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work....This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate. It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art.
— Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 US 340, 349 (1991)