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April 22nd, 2005 by Franki

Forgent is one company that makes me wonder if my dislike of Microsoft’s business tactics could have been better directed at them. Forgent has been handed around 100 million dollars for the compression patent that they claim is used in the Jpeg image compression standard. Apparently that is not enough as they’ve just added Microsoft to their list of targets. This comes in the same month that they have started targeting DVR companies, no doubt expecting the same hand outs they’ve been getting from the likes of Sony and Adobe. Microsoft has asked that the court declare them non infringing and invalidate the patent in question.

If we needed another reason to swap from JPG format to the open and free PNG format, we now have it. The only upside in this sorry saga is that Forgent went after Microsoft, a company that owns a huge pile of software patents and who has enthusiastically encouraged the official adoption of software patents in the EU. Perhaps this will make them wonder if opening themselves to a whole new era of software patent lawsuits is such a good idea. They are after all, one of the biggest targets with the deepest pockets. They have paid out huge sums of money to settle many such claims in the past couple of years, but if they keep coming at this rate, it will eventually significantly hit Microsoft’s bottom line and that is something that their shareholders won’t be very happy about. Microsoft is still working hard to extract itself from the Eolas browser plug in patent lawsuit. How many more does it need to become embroiled in before it sees how software patents are doing more harm then good?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If the giants upon who’s shoulders the current Internet stands had been as patent hungry as the current proprietary software developers are now, we would not have the (mostly) standards compliant cross platform Internet we have now. (for example, consider one Internet for Macintosh users, one Internet for Windows users and one Internet for Unix/Linux/BSD users all incompatible with each other. Much like the Instant Messaging mess we have now.)

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April 8th, 2005 by Franki

Forgent, the company that litigated loads of money from companies using the JPEG image compression format is looking for more money and so has decided to go after DVR video. Luckily it remains to be proven if their patent was the first related to such technology and as such the patent has yet to be proven in court.

My problem with the patent system is that there are not enough people at the patent office who are sufficiently knowledgeable on Tech issues to decide that a specific patent is valid or not. So we end up with companies being able to patent the vaguest ideas and extort millions from companies that are doing the actual innovating. If I speculated about using my nose to control a computer cursor and patented the process, anyone that actually did the work of making it feasible, even if they didn’t know I had previously speculated about it, could have at least part of their proceeds funnelled to me.

The problem is that a patent should need to be really explicit, not at all general, and most patents are not. I believe the term is “overly broad”. To have the idea of using my nose to control a cursor isn’t enough, it should be necessary to explain in the patent exactly how I plan to get the nose mouse working. More often then not, that sort of detail is not considered necessary for a patent application. So what we end up with is millions of overlapping patents and lawsuits up the wazzo, often over patents that should never have been granted in the first place. Lets be honest here, the current process means that all the get rich quick mobs are starting patent portfolio companies, so they can come up with vague ideas, patent them and make a quick buck from the companies that do the actual innovating. And they want to extend this rubbish to Software in the EU as well? They need only look to the US courts to see why that is a bad idea.

As it stands now, I expect Forgent to hold out their hands to anyone trying to create devices that record video (such as TV) to disk such as TIVO. The JPEG fight earned them about 100 million dollars and hasn’t finished yet, and I guess a taste like that gets you addicted.

You’re probably asking yourself “Why should I care?” and that’s a valid point, but consider that if the manufacturers of these devices have to pay say $5 dollars per device to one patent holder, and other $5 dollars to another, then you can bet that extra $10 dollars will be added to the price of the device. So you the customer ends up paying these patent hoarders with your hard earned dollars. That is one reason you should care.

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September 4th, 2004 by Franki

There is nothing particularly new about this issue, but I’ve collected enough stories on the subject to warrant another attack against software patents. The more people that know just how dangerous they are, the more likely that someone in power will notice and do something about it. (or at the very least, stop some even worse law from being added by inept un-knowledgeable politicians trying to get votes, and listening to paid industry lobbyists.)

Big companies like IBM and Microsoft love software patents, they can use them for two primary reasons, one is as a defence; If someone litigates against you, they should make sure that they are not infringing any of your patents or they will face a counter suit. And as an attack; If a competitor is taking market share from you, and you want to turn the tables, finding a patent infringement and litigating for damages is often a useful way to get started. IBM has one of the biggest patent portfolios, but to the best of my knowledge they only use it for litigation defence and licensing. Microsoft has a huge and growing patent portfolio, and thus far have really only used it for defence and licensing as well. Although there is much speculation that they will be using it to attack Open Source software like Linux, Samba, Apache, Mozilla and OpenOffice.org. In some ways they are already using it to fight open source as can be seen in the recent SenderID anti-spam issue covered here.

The question people should be asking, is: Should patents be granted for things like “Double clicking your mouse button” or the local collection of registration information which is later uploaded to a remote server, or a Window containing a “to-do” list. and online voting systems?

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April 23rd, 2004 by Franki

In 2002, a company that has the patent on the JPG technology started enforcing their patent.

They did so after waiting till JPG had become the industry standard and up till that point had kept quiet about it to make sure the prospect of patent enforcement did not hamper its uptake.. Once JPG reached maximium usage, out comes the lawsuits “you owe us millions”.

In a very similiar move to the SCO debarkle.. company has sliding revenue and not much in the way of future prospects, company buys some IP from another company, company goes after other companies for IP infringment, and sue them for millions and companies original business goes down the tubes in favour of lawsuits.

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