29 August 2013

Software Remains Patentable in New Zealand


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Image: Kiwi Sign by Mrs. Gemstone on Flickr
Kiwi Sign

Yesterday’s passage of New Zealand’s new Patents Acts sparked a fire of media headlines reading like „New Zealand bans software patents“ (here, here and here).

While I hate being the messenger of bad news, I think I should clarify the issue at least for the readers of this blog, since the information above is simply incorrect, if not misleading.

The truth is that software or computer programs, as the kiwi’s patents law refers to it, remains patentable.

According to this source, the all-dominant and newly introduced Article 10a reads as follows:

(1) A computer program is not an invention and not a manner of manufacture for the purposes of this Act.
(2) Subsection (1) prevents anything from being an invention or a manner of manufacture for the purposes of this Act only to the extent that a claim in a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such.

(3) A claim in a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such if the actual contribution made by the alleged invention lies solely in it being a computer program.

When reading this language, anyone familiar with the European Patent Convention will commemorate the text of its article 52 stating that

(1) European patents shall be granted for any inventions, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step and are susceptible of industrial application.
(2) The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions within the meaning of paragraph 1
(a) discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods;
(b) aesthetic creations;
(c) schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers;
(d) presentations of information.
(3) Paragraph 2 shall exclude the patentability of the subject-matter or activities referred to therein only to the extent to which a European patent application or European patent relates to such subject‑matter or activities as such.

While it is obvious that New Zealand has elected to adopt the European „as such“ exclusion, one might ask what impact this could have on the patentability of computer programs Down Under?

This blogger is of the humble opinion that New Zealand’s judicature could follow the view of the European Patent Office (EPO), pursuant to which claims for an invention cannot be excluded for being a „program for a computer as such“, if they contain a technical or physical feature such as a computer device or even a piece of paper.

In other words, software in New Zealand is a way too far from representing a non-patentable subject matter and, when assessing its patent eligibility, the local courts could apply EPO’s well established authority of the so called „any hardware approach“.

26 October 2011

Twitter Hit By A Software Patent


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Image: I use Twitter wrong by topgold on Flickr
I use Twitter wrong

According to a report on the popular patent blog PatentlyO the Virginia based VS Technologies LLC commenced legal proceedings against Twitter earlier this year, claiming the infringement of its US Patent # 6,408,309.

The ‘309 patent was filed in 2000 and comprises basically

a method and system for creating an interactive virtual community of famous people, or those people who wish to attain the status of a famous person, in a field of endeavor, such as arts, accounting, animal rights, business, education, engineering, entertainment, financing, government affairs, human rights, legal, medical, philanthropy, politics, religion, research, science, sports, etc. The virtual community of the present invention is unique in that the members of the virtual community can update, modify or revise their individual profile, and interact with other members of the virtual community, as well as the non-members of the virtual community.

Interestingly, Justice Henry Coke Morgan Jr. denied Twitter’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that VS Technologies’ patented technology satisfies the machine-or-transformation test under Bilski.

Hear ye, hear ye.

A patent attorney led patent troll in an attempt to put the fear of God into the micro-blogging giant.
Sounds promising, does it not?

However, being a doubting Thomas would not be one of my firm principles, if I was convinced of the ‘309 patent’s novelty and non-obviousness. Hence, I do not expect that the patent in suit will stand serious judicial review.

Anyway, I will stay tuned in the matter and provide you with the updates.

19 October 2011

Patent Troll Goes On Sale


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The Troll

Just read about the company Innovatio IP Ventures LLC, which was formed only some months ago in 2011 and, which is considered a patent troll, had purchased a number of patents that, according to Innovatio, encompass certain WiFi and WLAN technologies.

Innovatio are currently approaching small businesses such as coffee shops, hotel and restaurant chains that offer WiFi to their customers demanding the payment of royalties in the range of $ 2 000 – 5 000.

Does anyone still believe that software patents do not merit talking about?

Well, Innovatio have allegedly pledged not to pursue individuals using WiFi, but for how long since they are dealing from the bottom of the deck?

10 June 2011

Where “Preponderance Of Evidence” Is Not Enough: Microsoft Defeated Before SCOTUS


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Image by Matt Wade on Flickr
Supreme Court

The cold war of software patents has reached the status of a nuclear winter: earlier today the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) delivered its ruling in the case of i4i v Microsoft.

Background

Some years ago I blogged on how Microsoft got hit by a software patent.
However, the Redmond company denied infringement and sought a declaration that i4i’s patent was invalid and unenforceable.
Specifically, Microsoft claimed that i4i marketed the software known as S4 more than one year prior to the filing for its statutory protection.

Not surprisingly,  Microsoft contended that a defendant in an infringement action need only persuade the jury of an invalidity defence by a preponderance of the evidence.
In the alternative, Microsoft insisted that a

preponderance standard must apply at least when an invalidity defense rests on evidence that was never considered by the PTO in the examination process.

Nevertheless, Microsoft lost its case before the (patent owners friendly) District Court for the Eastern District of Texas which applied the long-standing jurisprudence of the Federal Circuit according to which

a patent shall be presumed valid and the burden of establishing invalidity rests on the party asserting such invalidity.
Under the Federal Circuit’s reading of §282, a defendant seeking to overcome this presumption must persuade the factfinder of its in-validity defense by clear and convincing evidence.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the decisions of the District Court and granted a certiorari to the Supreme Court which issued the final rejection to Microsoft’s claim of invalidity.

As PatentlyO‘s Dennis Crouch writes, Microsoft will now likely be forced to pay the $250+ million judgment for infringing i4i’s patent.

What Is The Moral Of The Story?

We must not forget that Microsoft was smote and consequently struck down by a patent troll. Since patent trolls are usually interested to sue “infringers” and force them into settlement agreements, I personally wonder why the guys from Redmond did not undertake such an agreement.

I was made aware that the patent troll allegations towards I4I might be unjustifiable.
Indeed and, unlike non-practicing entities, the company appears to have developed a product and established a sizable client base, particularly among pharmaceuticals such as Bayer, Merck and Schwartz Pharma. Obviously, Microsoft had showed an initial interest on I4I’s patented technology, but finally decided not to enter into a commercial agreement. The patent infringement lawsuit was the consequence.

One question remains: why did Microsoft act that way? Did they attempt to establish a new authority with regard to bad patents, since I4I’s patent grant showed some flaws and that remained undisputed before the Supreme Court? Was Microsoft’s challenging of the governing standard of proof, which currently favours patent owners and, their attempt to replace it with a standard more favourable to defendants in patent suits, a part of a larger strategy?

Either way, the creators of Windows failed.

All in all a disappointing decision – the Supreme Court has had a good chance to lower the threshold to invalidate bad patents, but acted pretty much as Pontius Pilate instead:

Congress specified the applicable standard of proof in 1952 when it codified the common-law presumption of patent validity. Since then, it has allowed the Federal Circuit’s correct interpretation of §282 to stand. Any re-calibration of the standard of proof remains in its hands.

4 May 2011

Who Can Win The Cold War Of Software Patents?


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Looking out for Bilski: software patents v. FOSSphoto © 2010 opensource.com | more info (via: Wylio)

You know it already: Google got hit by a software patent (5,893,120).
Well, that was the decision of the court at first instance and Google is expected to appeal it, but nevertheless it must have hurt. Not the loss of USD 5 Million which Google can easily reimburse out of its petty cash account.
It is about more, far more.

According to Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents the decision is highly significant and will put all of Linux into doubt. On the other side there is Dana Blankenhorn who, citing the CTPN decision, disagrees.

Either way, the question here is why does a case like this attract such attention? I guess the reason lies in that it deals with the highly controversial issue of software patents…

What Are Software Patents All About?

A citation from Van Lindberg’s book  Intellectual Property and Open Source provides for a very good answer: Patents are the most expensive and powerful weapons in an IP arsenal. For some companies, particularly pharmaceutical companies, patents are the lifeblood of invention and the key to profitability. For other companies, particularly software companies, patents are the rough equivalent of madly proliferating nuclear weapon arsenal.

It is obvious: the current legislative framework in which software companies work and compete, allows the patenting of software-related inventions. As a matter of fact, software companies appear to amass software patents not to market and sell them, but to either drive a competitor out of business or to prevent that their competitors drive them out of business.

Having read this, you truly felt the frosty breeze of the Cold War, did you not?

Let me even further amplify this feeling: the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signed during that time between the nuclear powers stands a good comparison to the nowadays patent cross-licensing agreements entered into by technology giants such as Microsoft, Apple, HP and Google.

But even when a nation has a

Powerful Nuclear Arsenal

it is still vulnerable to non-conventional attacks or asymmetrical threats of non abiding adversaries. Last two decades’ terror acts were a good demonstration thereof. They were not performed by the armed forces of “competing” nations, but rather by decentralised rogue organisations.

Likewise, Google’s participation in cross-licensing agreements or patent pools could not hold it harmless from the claims of Bedrock Computer Technologies (BCT).
But who or what is BCT?
It is not a technology vendor, but a so called non-practicing entity (NPE). Or a patent troll, if you prefer. Other such trolls that have gained public attention in recent time are NTPi4i and Acacia.

The end of the Cold War was accompanied by the rise of rogue organisations I mentioned above.
By the same token, patent infringement proceedings under the involvement of patent trolls emerged in the last couple of years. NPE v RiM, Software Tree (an Acacia affiliate) v Red Hat or i4i v Microsoft, to mention some.
Is this a sign that the software patent cold war is over? Well, not really and Nokia’s patent infringement lawsuit against Apple is a good demonstration. Will there be a winner? I strongly doubt it.

What does it mean? It means that the economy simply needs

Another Solution

Something in the sense of the SALT and START treaties which heralded the end of the Cold War. In addition, the economy needs protection against patent trolls whose objective is not to drive innovation but rather the opposite of it.
We as individuals and consumers have also a great interest in finding a solution since we pay the price of its procrastination.

The US Supreme Court missed its historical opportunity In Re Bilski.
Will it err also in i4i v Microsoft?

I hope not and will therefore provide it with a piece of advice, thereby citing (a portion of) the statement of Adobe’s Douglas Brotz during a hearing before the USPTO:

Let me make my position on the patentability of software clear. I
believe that software per se should not be allowed patent protec-
tion.  I take this position as the creator of software and as the
beneficiary  of the rewards that innovative software can bring in
the marketplace...
The problems inherent in certain aspects of  the  patent  process
for  software_related inventions are well_known, the difficulties
of finding and citing prior art, the problems of obviousness, the
difficulties of adequate specifications for software are a few of
those problems. However, I argue that software should not be  pa-
tented,  not  because it is difficult to do so, but because it is
wrong to do so.