Microsoft and Linux trade patent words in Europe
Microsoft has teamed with General Electric to petition European regulators on a fundamental principle that will continue to drive a wedge between the company and open source supporters.
The duo filed an amicus brief arguing that regulators should believe in the existence of patents in software and that these patents should then be enforceable in European Union courts.
The filing is important because Microsoft is arguing for a continuation of status quo: the ability to turn ambiguities in a part of existing EU law over software patents to the favor of patent holders by bringing and winning cases. Patent holders could then argue for future enforcement based on that case law.
It's a type of creeping enforcement that open-source advocates oppose and have argued will turn Europe into the kind of costly patent battle-ground that characterizes the US.
It opens the way for expensive and opportunistic legal actions and ambulance-chasing lawsuits of claimed patent violations, which typically favor those with the lawyers and money to win.
Often, the mere threat of action is sufficient to make companies settle with litigants.
Worse, patent holders can argue they should be allowed to charge others for invoking a method in a piece of software or on a system because there are similarities with their patent. Patent holders are, therefore, locking down the market stifling innovation.
Microsoft's US legal action, quickly settled, against GPS device manufacturer TomTom illustrates this: Microsoft said TomTom had violated eight of its patents, three of them for FAT - a widely implemented technology but something Microsoft has patents on. Eventually, TomTom agreed to pay royalties to Microsoft to license the three FAT patents.
This produced two responses. Linux advocates called on engineers to rip out FAT from systems. They also posted Microsoft's FAT patents to a web site for peer review by the legal community and patent experts, to help find prior art that could potentially invalidate Microsoft's claim.
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"I'm also kind of confused by the pro-patent grouping - Microsoft I can understand, but GE?"
You'd be surprised how much software is written by Fortune 50 corporations. It's a little known fact, but Boeing's fairly proprietary internal network was larger than IBMs until roughly 1987, when IBM's internal network expanded almost exponentially.
Please no to US stupidity
I would have thought that any half-competent MSP would take one look at the mess over in the US and decide that we don't want that kind of legal 'drive by shooting' over here.
Also, I'm vehemently against the idea of software patents. To me patents only apply to devices - you know them things you can bruise yourself on. So, I've got no problem with - for example - IBM patenting a new SAN controller, but I don't agree that Lotus Notes needs a patent. (Apologies for picking IBM as an example - no insult meant).
As I'm sure others have said, programs are expressions of ideas along the ideas of novels etc (both are merely collections of symbols that mean something when given in a specific order). So by all means apply copyright, but never patents. Although I'm pretty pro-OpenSource, so I'm not advocating a flood of copyright filings either. ;)
I'm also kind of confused by the pro-patent grouping - Microsoft I can understand, but GE?
" At Uni in 1973, I designed and wrote an editor ... .... If software becomes patentable, does this mean that every editor after that point is infringing my supposed patent?"
No (un?)fortunately patent law was different at the time and things like that could not be patented. Otherwise all the major IT companies that are around now, would not have been able to grow that large to begin with.
First they used the lack of software patents to grow huge, then they lobbied to change patent law to close off the market for other players.
"This shows what complete and utter Bollox the idea of software patents are."
Completely agree. Patent law as it is in the US will pave the way to corporate states and will stifle real innovation (no MS, what you're calling innovation is called plagiarism if you were selling books).