The golden hammer slams again in a specialized patent court

The federal patent court of the United States just expanded the scope for patents again. It must be the golden hammer they own, it just makes everything look like glorious patents, disregarding competition innovation and all that economic research. Oh no, not my fingers too!

Since the Supreme Courts decision in the Bilski case this year, there has been a search for a new test to tell if some method is abstract matter (information, math etc) and not patentable.

Now in the case of RCT vs Microsoft that bar has been raised again to where has been before Bilski since State Street, where abstracts where removed by looking at surrounding effects from abstract methods.
In this case the court states: “the invention presents functional and palpable applications in the field of computer technology” and “Inventions with specific applications or improvements to technologies in the marketplace are not likely to be so abstract that they override the statutory language and framework of the Patent Act.”

Truly "Not likely to be" when you own a golden hammer.



Update: I just found a nice analogy, twitted by @timrue, something like this:
Abstract Physics exist - Google it. As a example, roman numerals might work harder to solve algebraic problems with than the Hinu-Arabic decimal system. Claiming that this is a real world problem and not abstract is what this is all about.


Google ready to kill software patents?

Google on Oracle vs Google:
"Each of the Patents-in-Suit is invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because one or more claims are directed to abstract ideas or other non-statutory subject matter."

Google is asking if the granting of those patents make any sense, possibly questioning several of its own patents at the same time. CUDOS Google! Refusing software patents like this the right thing to do for innovation! More at groklaw.

Google also makes another very cool point by not counter-suing like other players do. The focus is instead entirely on Oracles claims and the obvious weakness of its patents.


Microsoft joins the beating of androids using broad patents

Seems Microsoft is not just playing good cop vs bad cop with its thick patent stick. This Friday 1/10 it sued Motorola for patent infringements on Android phones. “Motorola needs to stop its infringement of our patented inventions in its Android smartphones,” says Microsoft IPR cheif, Horacio Gutierrez, in a statement.

In other news: 'Microsoft indemnifies its Windows Phone 7 licensees against patent infringement claims,' the company said. 'We stand behind our product, and step up to our responsibility to clear the necessary IP rights.'"

Its was just not that obvious that the protection deal was there to be safe from Microsoft to start with.

This seems to be the other end of the lobbying activities that Microsoft use to change "open standards" into standard-you-pay-for. Microsoft is calling for tax on innovation on a wide scale, effectively transforming open into gated.

Looking at the patents in this case, it seems many of the patents relate to FAT, open standards and also OS-functions in Linux. This suit also has further implications in the ongoing battle on what patents that should be valid - and offers a great test-case. I'll get back on the patents in this case. 

This is the patent-list from ars technica

  • 5,579,517Common name space for long and short filenames
  • 5,758,352Common name space for long and short filenames
  • 6,621,746Monitoring entropic conditions of a flash memory device as an indicator for invoking erasure operations
  • 6,826,762Radio interface layer in a cell phone with a set of APIs having a hardware-independent proxy layer and a hardware-specific driver layer
  • 6,909,910Method and system for managing changes to a contact database
  • 7,644,376Flexible architecture for notifying applications of state changes
  • 5,664,133Context sensitive menu system/menu behavior
  • 6,578,054Method and system for supporting off-line mode of operation and synchronization using resource state information
  • 6,370,566Generating meeting requests and group scheduling from a mobile device



USPTO: Here are some ideas for your guidelines

The US patent office (USPTO) is asking for patent granting guidelines after the Supreme Court had a chew at their machine or transformation -test. Here is what I would suggest the USPTO should do to get rid of "abstract ideas" as the constitution stipulates. The problem is urgent with the terrible quality of software patents issued and used. A new paper concludes that the survival rate of software patents that go to court is below 15%! At the core of the problem we have the problem that software is inherently abstract.

Here are some ideas for the guidelines:
  1. Publication should never be an infringement. Information is the most abstract matter.
    Yet USPTO allows claims for "record on a carrier". Thats absurd!
  2. Patents should not be allowed to claim generic computations and use of software. It means:
    - That a computerized anti-brake-system can be patented, as long as the merits lie outside the abstracts of software. Using software does not add to the invention.
    - That optimizing calculation steps or memory use are abstract matters, just as with pen and paper.
  3. Execution of software is abstract for generic computers. By extension, running software cannot constitute a patent infringement alone. The same also applies to interaction, interoperability and communication with software. It also applies to compression, networking, business and virtualization in software however real world related the variables might be.
So in terms of the questions USPTO asked:

1. What are examples of claims that do not meet the machine-or-transformation test but nevertheless remain patent-eligible because they do not recite an abstract idea?

There are no such claims that we can think of. But if someone would for instance interpret software as a specific purpose machine, then the test would be quite broken. Obviously such a claim would cover publication of software, where information/instructions/software is clearly abstract matter protected under copyright.  

2. What are examples of claims that meet the machine-or-transformation test but nevertheless are not patent-eligible because they recite an abstract idea?

There could be cases where the "claim as a whole" would be mainly about abstract matter. 

3. The decision in Bilski suggested that it might be possible to “defin[e] a narrower category or class of patent applications that claim to instruct how business should be conducted,” such that the category itself would be unpatentable as “an attempt to patent abstract ideas.” Bilski slip op. at 12. Do any such “categories” exist? If so, how does the category itself represent an “attempt to patent abstract ideas?”

I would say that US Patent Class 705 "Business methods and data processing" is quite clear cut for in this aspect. Perhaps the entire 700 class "DATA PROCESSING: GENERIC CONTROL SYSTEMS OR SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS".

Another way would be to look at what the European Patent Convention deems as abstract matters in their exclusion list under Article 52(2) :"in particular 1. discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods; 2 aesthetic creations; 3schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers; 3 presentations of information."
More examples of abstract ideas is not a bad, but we need to put the machine-or-transformation test to the test some more to see if they are necessary. I think its a good test to start with. 

Swpat.org page about the consultation - last day!

Techdirt on courts rejecting more software patents than other patents.

Abstract patents in the recent Microsoft vs SalesForce case.

Abstract patents in the recent Apple vs HTC case.

Abstract patents in the recent Oracle vs Google case.

Are there any "good" software patents. (work in progress)


EU-Court publishes its opinion on proposed EU-patent court

The EU-Court of Justice, General Advocate, finally releases its opinion on the EU-Councils proposal for a new patent court system in EU.
As we heard in rumors earlier, the court and its general advocate finds patent granting too isolated from EU-law and oversight. Hear-Hear!

 I'd say its a win for FFII:s fight against an independent EPO-patent granting machine. IPjur and ipkitten comments.

Now we have to watch how the EU-Council will try to circumvent this statement. They apparently kept this document from the public since May.

Ugly EU-Council politics is trying to give the EPO immunity in patent granting on abstract matters. That would be a big disaster for EU-innovation.


Java strangled by Oracle's patent offensive

It seems patents are no longer used just for defense in software. In Apple vs HTC, Microsoft vs TomTom, Microsoft vs SalesForce and now Oracle vs Google patents and lawyers are out for a fight. This will certainly be another public show case of whats rotten in the state of patents today. Its all about abstract properties piled up so tall that we cant see where uses of information and calculation is someones exclusive rights.

Its a shame since Java and the Java VM had so much community going for it. Now everyone will be less interested in building on something that you might as well be sued for contributing to.

I will just refer to the swpat.org page about this case at:


USPTO asks for help on "abstract ideas" after Bilski

Groklaw and others comments on USPTOs request for comments and materals how to avoid patents on "abstract ideas" after the Supre Court ruling in the Bilski case. They seem to ask in relation to the "machine-or-transformation test" that the court down-played:
1. What are examples of claims that do not meet the machine-or-transformation test but nevertheless remain patent-eligible because they do not recite an abstract idea?
2. What are examples of claims that meet the machine-or-transformation test but nevertheless are not patent-eligible because they recite an abstract idea?
3. The decision in Bilski suggested that it might be possible to "defin[e] a narrower category or class of patent applications that claim to instruct how business should be conducted," such that the category itself would be unpatentable as "an attempt to patent abstract ideas." Bilski slip op. at 12. Do any such "categories" exist? If so, how does the category itself represent an "attempt to patent abstract ideas?"

I hope the community find lots of good answers. I'll get back with my own thoughts about this soon.
"Comments should be sent to Bilski_Guidance (at) uspto (dot) gov and must be received
by September 27, 2010."


The weak and narrow Bilski descision (update)

The U.S. Supreme Court takes the easy way out of allowing abstract patent by ruling more specific than foreseeing.
I would have liked to see a clarification on whats abstract and not patentable. What we got was a loose no-no for business methods, whatever that might mean. On the other hand, business methods needs a boundary - and that might just be to the extent of what is an abstract (processes): Information and calculation.

Nothing seems to have been resolved though. When will lawyers ever understand the difference between complex (inventive step) and abstract (subject matter) - perhaps they need to study software development first? The well placed machine+transformation test was not accepted as well as the former business method enabler case "State Street". Its up to The Congress to clean or possibly corrupt the patent system further. FFII.org has a PR out:  Narrow Bilski ruling leaves all options open for the future

Some discussions:

Recently, EPO-examiners published a book about software patents for programmers:
Amazon: Patent Law for Computer Scientists: Steps to Protect Computer-Implemented Inventions

A friend suggested to replace databases with software in the following cite:

"Databases are normally protected by copyright. […] Accordingly, if the improvement which you wish to claim relates only to the content of a DB, it is rather pointless in most cases to file a patent application, because in the majority of patent systems around the world, you will automatically have almost no chance of having a patent granted, as copyright is already foreseen as the appropriate protection. Although the law-maker may appear idiosyncratic at times, usually there is some method in the madness; it would simply be illogical to deliberately provide multiple legal protection means, when that would obviously result in conflict in the courts, with cases between owners of slightly different matter but differing protection rights being unnecessarily fought out." 

That would bring us back to the discussion 1995-2000 when software patents where rare. Patents will keep expanding everywhere until we put an end to patent on information and calculation. Call them business methods, software or tax evasion methods - they are all the same and are all close to what we do with our brain. Computers are the new pens and papers where we need to keep clear from patents on use. Otherwise we all infringe on patents since its all too easy to "invent" information methods.


There is a good reference to the cost applicable to software (abstract) patents in comments by Justice Stevens:
"If business methods could be patented, then many business decisions, no matter how small, could be potential patent violations. Businesses would either live in constant fear of litigation or would need to undertake the costs of searching through patents that describe methods of doing business, attempting to decide whether their innovation is one that remains in the public domain. See Long, Information Costs in Patent and Copyright, 90 Va. L. Rev. 465, 487–488 (2004) (hereinafter Long). But as we have long explained, patents should not “embaras[s] the honest pursuit of business with fears and apprehensions of concealed liens and unknown liabilities to lawsuits and vexatious accountings for profits made in good faith.” Atlantic Works v. Brady, 107 U. S. 192, 200 (1883).55"
 See groklaw: http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20100629014657710



Indications that ECJ agrees with us on patent court oversight

The rumor says the European Court of Justice (now Court of Justice of the European Union) thinks different than the EU-Council about the separation of the proposed EU patent court from the EU-system. The Council argues litigation costs prohibits further oversight, but are also protecting the responseless behavior from the European Patent Office.  Keeping things intact could possibly fix the the European Patent Office mess with patents on abstract matters and the resulting patent inflation that is taxing innovation and growth. Axal Horns at IPJUR comments on notes from a unofficial hearing between the Council and the ECJ.

This would be a relief as of late since after EPO even chopping own tail trying to make anything patentable.


Microsoft infringes on all our innovation

ZDNet:s Mary-Jo Foley reports that Microsoft sues Sales Force for patent infringements. This is a new and offensive course for Microsoft. Exposing patents is more straightforward than just rattling them for payments as we are used see in these cases. I like that the supposed "innovation" shows after Apple did the same thing.

The Microsoft PR says:
"Microsoft has been a leader and innovator in the software industry for decades and continues to invest billions of dollars each year in bringing great software products and services to market. We have a responsibility to our customers, partners, and shareholders to safeguard that investment, and therefore cannot stand idly by when others infringe our IP rights."

So its time to review that leadership by looking at the patents in question. Can we expect Microsoft to prove its innovation claim?
-Well...  The patents are better described as an infringement on innovation. Its as horrible as we could expect. But could we have asked for more? ZDNet lists them (I add links for each of them):

  • 7,251,653 “method and system for mapping between logical data and physical data”
  • 5,742,768 “system and method for providing and displaying a web page having an embedded menu”
  • 5,644,737 “method and system for stacking toolbars in a computer display”
  • 6,263,352 “automated web site creation using template driven generation of active server page applications”
  • 6,122,558 “aggregation of system settings into objects”
  • 6,542,164 “timing and velocity control for displaying graphical information”
  • 6,281,879 “method and system for identifying and obtaining computer software from a remote computer”
  • 5,941,947 “system and method for controlling access to data entities in a computer network”
They are just as broad and trivial as in what you guess from the titles. Innovations... its just the opposite.

TechDirt: Microsoft Decides It Can't Compete With Salesforce.com; Sues For Patent Infringement Instead



The European Patent Office bites its tail in order blur whats patentable - again

This week, we finally learned that the questions The European Patent Office (EPO) sent two year ago to clarify what can be patented where inadmissible by its own patent high court, The Extended Board of Appeals (EBA). Its all the usual mess from EPO with slippery and indecisive wordings creating endless loops without clarifications.

EPO seems unable to repair itself...

EPO issues criticized software and business method patents even though its ruled by a convention excluding patents on calculations, information and software. The Appeals Courts of the EPO circumvented those rules by allowing something already known like a pen and paper to play that "non excluded" part. By separating whats "new" from whats "excluded" in patent claims they created a loophole rendering anything abstract patentable.

This has created an inflation in broad and abstract information and business patents flooding the European market, creating a legal mine field for anyone wanting to participate. Its a land grab for lawyers and patent trolls.

As EPO is clearly incapable making sense out of its own conventions and rulings, its high time for politicians to step in. These uncertainties cost an increasing risk to business in the European market.

To put an extra spin on this mess, the EPO PR interpret this non decision as a win for software patents. Hilarious and said, since this is just right - leaving questions unanswered and matters diffused is just what  made this situation from the start.

 Se also:
ComputerWorld UK

/Jonas Bosson


Apple makes war with silly broad patents

No Mr Jobs, Those patents require no innovation.

Most software and Internet firms have pledged not to sue unless someone first sues them. Sun, Google, Oracle, Cisco and many more think that patents would have an ugly effect on the market otherwise. Apple appears to have left that defensive ideal by waging patent war with Android using HTC as its proxy.

By threatening companies that deliver with Android software - they probably hope scare them off. Perhaps like when Microsoft sued Tom Tom or used SCO to ram Linux. Apple uses 20 patents that are terribly week to any person skilled in software, but as with many patents take their toll on common sense in litigation.

Engadget has the full list of Apple patents in this suit and they represent the sorry standard for what is patentable today. This has little to do with innovation, but rather by pushing overly broad claims on what is possible trough a patenting office unfit to manage or deal with abstract matters such as software.

This is yet another reason, after EOLAs return, why we need to scrap software patents to save innovation.

Shame on Apple.
/Jonas Bosson


IPWatchdog thinks those "not interested in software patents are not innovators"

I have long kept an eye on IPWatchdog, a popular patents law blog authored by Gene Quinn, a patent attorney in the US. I have valued his reports for some time even though we have quite different ideas about what should be patentable. But sadly now, in the wake of the Supreme Court Bilski case, it seems he has gone over the edge with blatant statements like:
"Those in the software industry who are not interested in software patents are not innovators, they are copiers. They steal the work of others. " in The Fundamental Unfairness of Retroactively Applying Bilski

I think this started when Mr Quinn totally flipped in his comments in this previous post where Ian Clark, a highly regarded software engineer and entrepreneur took issue with the attorneys ideas.

However blatant, this kind of proves him wrong on so many levels it also gives me good hope for reforms in the patent area in 2010! Innovation is not just about patents Mr. Quinn and certainly proven so in the software field.