ciaran_o_riordan writes: The US Supreme Court has just invalidated a patent for being a software patent! To no fanfare, the Court has spent the past months reviewing a case, Alice v. CLS Bank, which posed the question of "Whether claims to computer-implemented inventions... are directed to patent-eligible subject matter". Their ruling was just published, and what we can say already is that the court was unanimous in finding this particular software patent invalid, saying: "the method claims, which merely require generic computer implementation, fail to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention", and go on to conclude that because "petitioner’s system and media claims add nothing of substance to the underlying abstract idea, we hold that they too are patent ineligible". The 'End Software Patents' wiki has a page for commenting the key extracts and listing third-party analyses. Analysis will appear there as the day(s) goes on. Careful reading is needed to get an idea of what is clearly invalidated (file formats?), and what areas are left for future rulings. If you can help, well, it's a wiki. Software Freedom Law Center's website will also be worth checking in the near future.
ciaran_o_riordan writes: The W3C has announced a new member: the MPAA. Oh. Which makes this a good time to see whatever happened to last Summer's campaign against DRM in HTML5. It's still there. W3C took a lot of criticism, but the plan hasn't changed. DRM ("Encrypted Media Extensions") was still there in the October 2013, and in the January 2014 drafts. Tim Berners-Lee is still defending DRM. For the technical details, there are manygoodpages. What's at stake? It'd be like Flash or Silverlight websites, but instead of being really hard to make free software viewers/browsers, it'll be almost impossible, not to mention possibly illegal in the many countries which prohibit "bypassing technical protection mechanisms". And our work to get governments to use open standards will end up used against us when free software can't tick all the boxes in a public tender that specifies a "W3C HTML5 based" DRM system. More pressure is needed. One very small act is to sign the no DRM in HTML5 petition. A good debate is: "What's more effective than a petition?" But please sign the petition first, then debate it. It's also worth considering giving to the annual appeal of FSF, the main organisation campaigning against this.
ciaran_o_riordan writes: A rare glimpse at the human harm of a software patent lawsuit: company receives 500,000 calls complaining about video quality after a video call system was forced to change to avoid a patent. That's a lot of people having a bad day. We don't usually hear these details because the court documents get ordered sealed and the lawyers only say what the companys' communication strategists allow. However, for VirnetX v. Apple, Jeff Lease decided to go the hearings, take notes, and give them to a journalist. While most coverage is focussing on the fines involved, doubling or halving Apple's fine would have a much smaller impact on your day than the removal of a feature from some software you like. Instead of letting the software patents debate be reduced to calls for sympathy for big companies getting fined, what other evidence is out there, like this story, for harm caused directly to software users?
ciaran_o_riordan writes: "After two private meetings with Microsoft and IBM, New Zealand's proposed new patent legislation has been changed by "replacing an exclusion in clause 15(3A) (which relates to computer programs) with new clause 10A. Rather than excluding a computer program from being a patentable invention, new clause 10A clarifies that a computer program is not an invention for the purposes of the Bill". The difference is that the new 10A clause contains the "as such" loophole, the wording that is used by the European Patent Office to grant software patents. This is the same Patents Bill launched in 2009."
ciaran_o_riordan writes: "Tomorrow, a German court will hear the case of AVM, a distributor of Linux-based routers, which seeks to block Cybits from distributing software that modifies the routers' software to add content filtering functionality. FSFE explains: "AVM justified its position using three arguments. First, they stated that their whole product software must be regarded as an entity under AVM copyright, and that this entity must not be modified. The position Mr Welte took was that the whole product software would in that case be a derivative work according to the GPL, and thus the whole product software should be licensed under the GNU GPL. AVM then switched to a second argument: that the software embedded on its DSL terminals consisted of several parts. According to Mr Welte, AVM could then not prohibit anyone from modifying or distributing the GPL licensed software parts. The final argument by AVM was that the software on their DSL terminals is a composition of several different programs, which, due to the creative process, would be a protected compilation and thus under the copyright of AVM and not affected by the copyleft of the GPL.""
ciaran_o_riordan writes: "FSF have put together their license recommendations, beyond just their own licenses, for software, documentation, and other works: 'People often ask us what license we recommend they use for their project. We've written about this publicly before, but the information has been scattered around between different essays, FAQ entries, and license commentaries. This article collects all that information into a single source, to make it easier for people to follow and refer back to. The recommendations below are focused on licensing a work that you create — whether that's a modification of an existing work, or a new original work.'"
we are watching political movements of enormous value, capable of transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of people, resting on a fragile basis, like, for example, the courage of Mr. Zuckerberg, or the willingness of Google to resist the state [...] they're depending for their political survival in their movements for freedom on technology we know is built to sell them out. [...] if we don’t help them, they’ll get hurt.
ciaran_o_riordan writes: Ever wanted to tell Obama's policy advisers what you think of software patents? For this week only, the White Houses' policy advisors are taking input on the topic of innovation and the "digital highway". You can draft your responses on End Software Patents' wiki page, and you'll find info and arguments there too that might be useful. Getting a foothold for pushing software patent abolition in the USA is difficult, so let's make the most of this. A good submission has already been posted on Techdirt.
ciaran_o_riordan writes: After last month's unfortunate ruling by Canada's Federal Court that Amazon's 1-click shopping idea could be patented, the Commissioner of Patents and the Attorney General of Canada have filed notice to Amazon.com inc (respondent) that an "appeal will be heard by the [Federal Court of Appeal] at a time and place fixed by the Judicial Administrator", probably Ottawa. This case, called Canada's Bilski, has been in the works since Amazon filed their patent application all the way back in 1998. Just like Bilski, the object of this case is what subject matter is and isn't patentable — a question which will create crucial case law, making participation in this case important. Anyone looking for more background, particularly those interested in helping to prepare an amicus brief for this case, is welcome at ESP's wiki page.
ciaran_o_riordan writes: The US Trade Representative has published a text which, subject only to a last legal review, is proposed to be the final text of ACTA. The differences between this text and last month's, from the Tokyo round, are mostly cosmetic but there's an important positive change giving signatories the option of excluding patents from section 2. As for software patents, most harm has been avoided. If signatories make use of the section 2 exclusion option, there might be no harm at all. Lobbying for this will be important. Meanwhile, the many problems regarding Digital Restrictions Management, and the extra powers given to businesses to obtain personal and identifying information about accused copyright infringers "in the Digital Environment" are still there (mostly section 5). Earlier texts were much worse. The improvements in recent months are surely due to public outcry, leaving us indebted to the anonymous friends who scanned and leaked the various secret versions and the activists who made text versions and spread them across the Internet. There's a chance we can still influence the text in this legal review phase, but the bigger task ahead will be working on the national implementations. It's not yet clear what procedure the US will require for its own ratification.
ciaran_o_riordan writes: Anyone who feels that patent quality is just far too high nowadays
will be glad to hear that the USPTO has decided to ditch four of their
seven tests for obviousness. Whereas
guidelines said that an idea is considered obvious if it consisted of
"[predictable] variations [...] based on design incentives or other
market forces" or if there was "Use of a known technique [prior art]
to improve similar devices (methods, or products) in the same way",
guidelines do away with those tests. The classic
"teaching-suggestion-motivation" test is still there, with two others. For
software developers, silly patents
the main problem, but they certainly aggravate the matter. As
described in one patent
lawyer's summary, this change will "give applicants greater
opportunities to obtain allowance of claims."
ciaran_o_riordan writes: More than twelve years after filing its application, Amazon is going to get it's one-click shopping patent in Canada. The application was shot down in court last year because of Canada's "tradition" of excluding business methods from patentability. However, on appeal, a higher court has ruled that this tradition doesn't exist and the patent's subject matter is valid. The patent office still has to re-examine the application, but given that it's been already approved as novel and non-obvious, and it has now been ruled to be patentable subject matter, the approval is just a formality. A bad decision for software and web developers in Canada.
ciaran_o_riordan writes: Confirming that "doing X on a phone" is the new "doing X on a computer", the mess of phone patent litigation just continues to expand. The lasted suit is from Gemalto, who have just announced filing a suit against Google, HTC, Samsung, and Motorola. Having all these legal fees filtering down to users is bad enough, but the real casualty here is phone user who adds some functionality. When all the litigation settles down, we'll be left with a dozen bruised companies who've paid dearly to stay in the game, and they won't be too keen on letting newcomers get in without paying the same. That's how megacorp patent suits affect individuals.
ciaran_o_riordan writes: A month after the Supreme court rejected Bilski, the USPTO published updated Interim Guidance (pdf) and called for comment. Bilski wasn't as wide-reaching a ruling as most parties thought it would be, so a certain amount of textual digging is needed to find the aspects that can help us reduce software patenting at the USPTO and in future court cases. The End Software Patents campaign sent some such comments. FSF also published a call for participation and got cc'd on over 450 responses. When these comments are published on uspto.gov, and when the USPTO publishes its revised guidelines, we'll have a conservative idea of what effects Bilski will have.