Money, money, money. Everywhere you turn. If you look closely enough at the news — and only if you look very closely — you’ll find the trail of obligatory disclosures Microsoft reluctantly unleashes to give away clues about its lobbying activities. For the unaware, lobbying can be brutally described as the act of paying a middleman (independent or part of an agency) to spend time with politicians and either share this wealth or spend this wealth together, sometimes negotiating what is done in exchange for what else (favouritism, nepotism, legalised bribery, or whatever else you wish to call this). It’s disguised as something that’s done for the benefit of citizens (‘consumers’), but shouldn’t the one paying the bill be expected to benefit the most? Yes, it’s a rhetorical question.
“Despite recession, the finding seems to suggest that the pace of obligatorily-disclosed amounts now trivially exceeds $10 million for Microsoft alone (annually).”As we are all being taught (or forced) to believe, software patents are being encouraged for the benefit of programmers when they get assigned and added to the employer’s portfolio and this thing called “piracy” (something about software and not about boats, apparently) costs the economy a lot of money, never mind the savings alternatives can offer.
There is nothing comforting about lobbying. The word “lobbying” sounds soothing though. You know, like ordinarily lounging in some hotel, spoiling oneself and generally having a good time. In reality, lobbying is so loathed by those who understand the practice and are secretly affected by it. It’s filthy. It’s subversive. It’s almost corrupt.
In the past few weeks alone the apparent backlash led to some new rules being ratified in the UK [1, 2] where lobbying is prevalent but probably not a multi-billion-dollar phenomenon (well, not just yet, based on what the authorities and watchdogs know). According to reports, the industry already exceeds a billion dollars in the United States and that’s just based on amounts that get disclosed, i.e. it excludes off-the-record, back-room/boiler room deals. Can you criticise Larry Lessig for his “Change Congress” initiative? He too realised that his country is run by corporations, which frequently use lobbyists as mediators? It’s polycracy, as Noam Chomsky would call it, not a democracy.
On a few occasions recently, we shared some findings about Microsoft lobbying and you can probably find some of them if you search this Web site. That said, here is the latest find from yesterday. Despite recession, the finding seems to suggest that the pace of obligatorily-disclosed amounts now trivially exceeds $10 million for Microsoft alone (annually). That’s a sharp increase, based on my personal memory and judgment. Among the activities of the lobbying you’ll find patents also (there’s no weighting in the breakdown).
Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software maker, spent nearly $2.6 million in the first quarter to lobby on competition in the online ad market and other issues, according to an amended disclosure report.
Microsoft also lobbied the federal government on numerous other issues, including Internet security and crime, privacy, health technology, patent reform, software piracy, immigration reform to help with recruitment of highly skilled foreign workers, high-speed Internet service through use of unoccupied TV channels, free trade and taxes.
There’s a lot more to be said about things like “immigration reform” for example. We alluded to this quite recently, but we ought not to explore this further in this post, whose sole focus is software patent.
In its statement on the results of the Transatlantic Economic Council negotiations, issued last week, the council made brief reference to the intellectual property rights issue. A single bullet point in the statement references a roadmap issued jointly by the European Commission and US Patent Office aimed at advancing “global patent harmonization”.
According to FFII President Alberto Barrionuevo, in the TEC talks the commission overstepped its bounds with respect to commercial rights. “The European Union has neither a Community patent, nor a common material patent law.” The only exception is the Biotech Directive. For that reason Barrionuevo believes that, “Discussing a bilateral patent treaty with the United States is superfluous. It is the blind leading the blind.” He thinks that if the US really wants to fix its patent practises, it should first enact its controversial planned patent reforms and become a signatory to the European Patent Convention. McCreevy’s spokesperson stated that the treaty was not about software patents, “Something not approved here could not be recognised.”
It’s all staged, it’s all gradual, and it’s precedence-based. Remember that Novell denied that it had signed a software patent deal with Microsoft, insisting that it was all about interoperability (straw man). It was later that the two companies just “agree[d] to disagree” and less than a month ago that we found out “SUSE coupons” are now being called “patent royalties” and Microsoft discusses these with “[open source] community members.” All in all, the point to be made here is that McCreevy’s exemption is rather moot. It’s a matter of phasing in, not just direct intent.
For more information on this subject, consider the article “The patentability of software and business methods in Europe”
[PDF], which contains a section on “Patentability of computer programs”. It was all found at Digital Majority where there is also a pointer to this article on cross-border patent litigation
[PDF] (in Europe specifically).
Benjamin also extracted this quote from another article among the latest batch from IAM:
“The open source movement probably cannot achieve its original goals so long as patents exist.” — Tom Ewing, IP Value Added Consultant, Gothenburg, Sweden
This hopefully serves as an eye opener that justifies the fight against this monster, whose purpose is to defeat Free software not based on technical merits but through the introduction of new laws that essentially ban change and block disruption to the status quo. Refer back to the beginning of this post about the role of money.
Cheer Up, Patent Terrorist, It’s Your Birthday!
Whether Microsoft has truly got anything to be used effectively against Free software, nobody knows. Maybe Microsoft does not know, either. Eric Lai has just published this ‘celebration’ of the first anniversary of Microsoft's "patent terrorism" (“patent terrorist” is not our own phrase, mind you, and the t-word is notorious for its use as propaganda in law-making/law-setting). Here are some key bits:
“Claiming you have IP that folks are infringing isn’t the same thing as proving it,” wrote Pamela Jones, author of the open-source legal blog Groklaw.net, in an e-mail. “I think they [Microsoft] are in a weaker position *because* they did the [cross-licensing] deals. It makes them look needy, like they can’t make it any more without Linux.”
“The [legal] threat [to open-source] is no greater” today than a year ago, wrote Mark Radcliffe, a lawyer with DLA Piper’s Silicon Valley office and the general counsel of the Open Source Initiative, which oversees the approval of open-source software licenses, in an e-mail.
Take Redmond’s attempts to persuade vendors to sign cross-licensing deals that include protection from potential open-source patent lawsuits by Microsoft.
Loud Bark, No Bite
In other news, Microsoft has just lost another patent lawsuit. Let it suffer and maybe learn that its software patents are useless once the court weighs in, proving that there’s hope for sanity under the juridical system (as opposed to the USPTO, to which patents — not justice — mean business and money).
Microsoft loses U.S. patent suit vs Alcatel-Lucent
Microsoft had accused Alcatel-Lucent of infringing four patents for software in a system that integrates telephones with computers for calls, messages and videoconferences.
“A system that integrates telephones with computers for calls, messages and videoconference,” eh? It sure sounds like Microsoft has just become a troll, not an innovator. This seems like a sign of misery and it looks bad for the potency of Microsoft’s software patents, which it loves so much to rave about without disclosure of specifics (it just ran out of paper, it alleges). █