Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mobile Patents.

Microsoft today got HTC to sign a patent deal over mobile patents that Android might infringe.

Horacio Gutierrez from Microsoft was the spokesperson for the announcement. Sending Horacio to speak to journalists is a waste of time, he will just repeat the message that PR approved which will be the same tired "others should not get a free ride on our innovations".

Patent licensing for software companies is a clear case of double-dipping. First they sell licenses to the software, and then they sell licenses to the patents. We will likely see more of this as these companies fail to compete with products in the marketplace and have to resort to patent licensing. But that is a subject for another day.

Today's subject is Microsoft patents on the mobile space and how Linux-based devices might infringe on those.

Chances are that Linux itself does not infringe on any of the mobile patents. After all, the Linux kernel and its userland are an evolution of the Unix operating system.

What might likely infringe is the mobile stack and the mobile applications that Android has built on top of a vanilla Linux.

As usualy, is the tool of choice for digging into this matter. Use inassignee:microsoft and the term mobile to get a good list of patents.

Microsoft over the years has filed for a lot of patents in this space, and searching for these patents shows an interesting story: Microsoft applied for all kinds of patents on what turned out to be dead-ends. The search results are littered with technologies that died, or bets that never panned out. These technologies could have gone somewhere if the Microsoft of the 1998-2004 was not dead set on owning every market. The world just routed around them and they were left with probably millions of dollars in wasted research and development.

Here are a few starting points of patents that could potentially hurt Android and might be worth invalidating:

May 21st 2001, 6865683: System and method for powering down a mobile device.

Aug 30th, 2005, 7139555: Unified contact list, this looks pretty broad and everyone is probably infringing.

March 26th, 2004, 7317928: System and method for exposing instant messenger presence information on a Mobile Device. Google Talk on Android, other messenger systems and other unified IM presence tools (as found on Maemo and Nokia devices) likely infringe this on this one.

March 2, 2004, 7327349: Advanced navigation techniques for portable devices. It should be simple to invalidate this one as it is too late and the features are too obvious.

August 7th, 2003, 7280647: Dynamic photo caller identification.

Feb 1st, 2002, 7046994: System and method for associating a contact with a call ID.

May 6th, 2002 6957077: System and method for enabling instant messaging on a mobile device

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A New Hope

Last year I shut down this blog.

There was some genuine criticism at the time that having a blog dedicated to exploring which other parts of Linux infringe patents was a bad idea.

Over time, I was won over that side and decided to stop the work and can a dozen of posts that were ready to go out.

Today, we are changing course.

Although I had been won over to the "Let us be quiet, and hope nobody notices" side over some argument over triple damages, as it turns out, this is quite a weak argument.

Andrew Tridgell delivered a talk where he details why reading software patents is a good idea. I will not repeat his arguments here.

So let us use this blog to help out open source where it matters: identifying non-infringement, prior art and helping invalidate bogus patents.

The time is right, and we have already missed too many opportunities this year. From ex-Sun CEO's confessions of Apple attacks on competitors, to white knights turning grey.

It was a fun year to watch, and no proper outlet to discuss it was available. Nokia sued Apple and the open source community sided with Nokia; Then Apple sued HTC (really Google) and the community sided with HTC; Then IBM threatened some nobodies over patent infringement and the community jumped to IBM's defense.

And all of this time, we lost track of one thing: software patents are bad, they must be abolished and there is no middle ground. Either we are against software patents in general, or we are not. There is no room to cut anyone any breaks.

So with this in mind, publishing will resume.

We will initially focus on patents that the open source stack infringes.

Welcome back!