back to article IBM, Microsoft and Linux Foundation link arms to fight patent trolls with 'multimillion' scheme

IBM, Microsoft and the Linux Foundation have partnered with the Open Invention Network (OIN), a company formed to protect Linux from patent threats, to take on "Patent Assertion Entities", also known as patent trolls. Specifically, the group will help fund the Open Source Zone of Unified Patents, an organisation which provides …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Millions for us, pennies for defense?

    “This is a more explicit pivot for OIN but out of $105m that we’ve expended on the acquisition of patents, 15% of the $105m has been spent on purchasing patents that were otherwise meant for trolls, or may be used by trolls,” he said.

    I'm reading this as "we spent money buying patents for all of us to share, but sometimes buying them from ourselves"? That is, we (the companies) throw these patents into the pot, but give ourselves a mere token (millions!) payment for them. Instead of selling them to patent trolls, the companies sell them to OIN? Not exactly gratis, huh.

    Then is mentioned "Specifically, the group will help fund the Open Source Zone of Unified Patents, an organisation which provides legal services to deter "unsubstantiated or invalid patent assertions.""

    No millions mentioned here. So where is the "fight patent trolls with 'multi-million' scheme"? Only money mentioned is the self-dealing.

    "OIN will support the legal efforts of organisations defending low quality patent claims, including in some cases financial support."

    Reassuring? We might give money? Oh, and might be real nice if you put the 'against' into that sentence.

    Between self-dealing and self-pats-on-the-back on display here, one can only hope there will be some money to actually fight the patent trolls.

    1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

      Re: Millions for us, pennies for defense?

      Reads to me like part of the budget buys patents so they don't fall into the hands of someone evil who will abuse them. Is there a problem with that?

      It might raise questions over how such patents are selected and valued, but in the absence of a specific instance under discussion, that feels like angels on pinheads.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Millions for us, pennies for defense?

        As to how they're selected, the second last paragraph in TFA seems to explain that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Millions for us, pennies for defense?

      @ A/C

      "Between self-dealing and self-pats-on-the-back on display here, one can only hope there will be some one elses' money to actually fight the patent trolls".

      F.T.F.Y.

      Talk about biting the hand that feeds it…

      Ishy

  2. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Meh

    Wait and see

    Looks, OK-ish. We'll see what the reality turns out to be.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Wait and see

      I think your position is the best, aka "Wait and See"

  3. big_D Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Or, simply...

    Ban software patents, like Europe did, then you don't have this stupidity in software development.

    1. IceC0ld Silver badge

      Re: Or, simply...

      Ban software patents ...............

      OR, patent a super patent, grand unified patent as it were, one that will bind them all ..............

      one patent that covers all the loose / open / oddball ones out there

      and should this actually happen, I am time stamping this post, so I can go and troll them for my cut :o)

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Or, simply...

      I wouldn't go for an entire ban on software patents.

      HOWEVER, raising the bar to require the following would greatly reform the trolling problem

      a) SPECIFICITY - a specific patent for a specific use.

      b) NON-TRIVIALITY - must be WAY more than an obvious/trivial implementation

      c) no "algorithms" - NO patenting of a (pure) algorithm. Reserve THAT for copyrights. However, if the algorithm works together with OTHER patentable tech, it could be considered as part of "that tech".

      d) no "cosmetic" or UI claims - the use of multi-button presses, square windows, colors, touch, or other such common UI elements/appearance in a software patent claim.

      As I see it, a software patent that applies to a particular technology (let's say control software for a particular industrial process that requires the industrial hardware to work), when this has been targeted to the particular implementation, should be fine. [I am actually party to a provisional software patent that is like that].

      however, a PURE software patent on an algorithm, a trivial patent that's too obvious, or an 'umbrella' patent that is not specific, should be DENIED categorically.

      This way if you invent something, and software is part of the invention (but not ALL of it), you should be able to patent your software WORKING WITH your invention.

      but if you come up with an algorithm to calculate something [i.e. pure software], or generically perform some kind of control [let's say GPIO bit flipping or networking, and the hardware isn't patentable] then it should be DENIED.

      the latter is probably the most frequent source of patent trolling, non-specific generic algorithm type patents that should NEVER have been granted.

      and ESPECIALLY no "cosmetic" or UI claims, unless it's specific to your hardware.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Or, simply...

        "I wouldn't go for an entire ban on software patents."

        I would. In part because it seems clear to me that patent law was intended to specifically exclude things like software. Also, because I don't see how patenting software brings any societal value (and let's remember that the entire purpose of patents is to bring societal value rather than value to the patentholder). Also also, software patents actively harms the industry overall by making it legally risky to do pretty much anything.

    3. Danny Boyd

      Re: Or, simply...

      "Rounded-corners rectangle" was not exactly a software patent. However, ...

  4. Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day

    Didn't Microsoft fund SCO in its Linux patent fight?

    Asking for a friend.

    1. Pete B

      Re: Didn't Microsoft fund SCO in its Linux patent fight?

      Yes and no...

      https://www.zdnet.com/article/fact-and-fiction-in-the-microsoft-sco-relationship

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Didn't Microsoft fund SCO in its Linux patent fight?

        The referenced article consists of a lot of "well, you might certainly say that, I couldn't possibly comment". Along with a lot of filler.

        Cui bono? Microsoft, without any shadow of a doubt. There's no smoking gun, but a whole lot of footprints heading back and forth to Redmond, WA. If Microsoft wasn't bankrolling tSCOg, I'm hard pressed to come up with anyone else for whom it would be a worthwhile effort.

        Anyway, that's all history now. Microsoft now loves Linux. Embraces it, one might say.

        1. oiseau Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Didn't Microsoft fund SCO in its Linux patent fight?

          Hello:

          Microsoft now loves Linux. Embraces it, one might say.

          Yes, you might can should say that.

          And beware ...

          Anyone who has been in IT for the last 25 years or so knows perfectly well what that embrace can and will do if proper and effective measures are put in place.

          But everyone is just so delighted these days that some sort of amnesia seems to have set in.

          When people eventually remember, it will be far too late and the infection will have set in.

          O.

          1. Beavis-101

            Re: Didn't Microsoft fund SCO in its Linux patent fight?

            Yes, I recall Informix (now IBM), Sybase databases (now MS-SQL), Sun (Oracle) and a little before my time Xerox PARC who everyone stole from!

      2. Esme

        Re: Didn't Microsoft fund SCO in its Linux patent fight?

        -and a great deal of detail at the late lamented Groklaw site: http://www.groklaw.net/

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Didn't Microsoft fund SCO in its Linux patent fight?

      AFAICR it was copyright, not patents in that dispute.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Didn't Microsoft fund SCO in its Linux patent fight?

        copyrights are also subject to the concept of "fair use".

        If a copyrighted work contains a loop, and you happen to make a similar loop, even if you SAW the copyrighted work, 'fair use' should allow you to make a "similar loop" anyway, without it being a derived work.

        API function names and documentation should be the same way, In My Bombastic Opinion. In other words, you should be able to write YOUR library to implement THEIR API without any copyright violations, even if it is a competing product, assuming you didn't plagiarize a _SIGNIFICANT_ (i.e. NOT fair use) portion of THEIR code.

        But, IANAL and this is also In My Bombastic Opinion

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    pivot towards taking on parent trolls.

    I take it instead of trying to assert flimsy patents these type of trolls stand outside primary school gates and shout nasty names at parents dropping off and collecting their children ?

  6. Roger Kynaston

    so much change

    One wonders what Mr Ballmer must be making of all this. I seem to remember him ranting about Linux being an existential threat.

    I still worry that MS might be doing their classic embrace, extend and extinguish but I can't see it working now.

    I also wonder what happened with the SCO litigation since Groklaw shuttered.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: so much change

      Back in the SCO days we had Microsoft resellers telling our customers that they could be sued if they used our Linux product.

      1. Tim99 Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: so much change

        Before then, and before SCO, Microsoft licenced and sold "Xenix" a Version 7 UNIX from AT&T. They used it internally until at least the mid 90s. I suspect that the System V vs BSD legal disputes of the late 80s to early 90s may have influenced their position. Windows 2000 included basic networking tools like finger, ftp, and nslookup that were acknowledged as copyright "Regents of the University of California" (BSD).

  7. Diodelogic

    The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

    And I include The Register in this, would be if the ownership of the company were to be handed to Linus Torvalds gratis, along with the right to employ anyone he wanted in all corporate positions (CEO, CFO, etc.). While I would never say that "Microsoft can do no wrong"--I know better--apparently there is no other way for them to make amends for past mistakes and a comment made nearly twenty years ago from someone who doesn't work there anymore.

    Yes, of course I will be downvoted about a gazillion times but I have little patience for anyone who can't let go of the past and look at the present instead. Being cautious is all well and good, but ignoring potential benefits because of old news is just asking to have a bullet removed from your foot.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

      No, I won't downvote you.

      Linux is a well designed, well managed operating system which tries to be a well designed, well managed operating system. If that's what you need, it's a good choice.

      Microsoft is a mega-corporation, with all the attendant issues. The left hand and the right hand are strangers, they make periodic abortive forays into hardware products, their apps and operating system are acceptable, but for some reason, they feel the need to continually change them, and so on.

      To be candid, I don't really know what Microsoft is trying to do (short of maintain a revenue stream). At times, their efforts are comical; remember the"Kin" product? Cancelled a month after it was announced. Now, THAT's planning!

      But Microsoft exists. Many corporations depend on their software and apps. I really don't think Linux is a threat to them. Maybe an annoyance, but not a threat.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

        I don't really know what Microsoft is trying to do (short of maintain a revenue stream)

        That's probably about all that can be meaningfully said about Microsoft as a whole.

        Divisions will have more-specific goals and directions, but overall strategy for an organization that size is always going to be superficial and amorphous.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

      "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

      -George Santayana

      Because of past transgressions, Microsoft will always be the enemy.

      1. Oengus Silver badge

        Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

        Not just past transgressions,,, crap like Windows ME, Windows 8, the "Ribbon" and the monitoring in Windows 10 show that Microsoft really haven't learned from the past so they keep inflicting crap on their users. One day Microsoft will listen to their users (and yes the pigs are fuelled up and ready to fly).

        1. DrBed

          Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

          I am desperate to see ribbons at Edgium.

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

      I think that all that Linus would do with Windows (if it were handed to him) would be to put it out on Github and then just ignore it.

      I am beginning to suspect that Microsoft would do this if they could get away with it. Microsoft now makes most of its money from cloud applications and the like, its actively pivoting away from traditional software sales, so Windows is starting to be a bit of a liability. They don't need it to make money but they can't get rid of it -- yet.

      1. kat_bg

        Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

        Not actually true. Windows still accounts for a shitload of revenue for Microsoft. However, what would happen in the future is for all to wait and see. The latest directions changes were all generated by the need to make money: Windows Mobile fails? They have a huge number of Android/IOS apps that are well regarded/downloaded to the tune that they can male an android variant fully customized using their own launcher and apps. Already have an Linux distro (true, Azure only) but if the flow of money will show the need to have a mainstream Linux distro, under Nadella I am pretty sure will do it.

    4. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

      The problem is the very nature of Microsoft. It is a massive publicly traded corporation that can only survive by prioritizing profit above all else, and that includes the health of the industry at large.

      As a publicly traded company, their first and foremost goal is to enrich shareholders. And that takes priority over any other policy they may have. That goal will outlast any executive that ever gets appointed. If an executive does something that sacrifices shareholder profits, they get voted out at the next board meeting and a new executive is installed. Being hostile to OpenSource is the nature of the beast.

      They see a profit in supporting the OpenSource community right now, they'll flip back to being a patent troll the second that betraying the community presents a greater opportunity for profit.

    5. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

      "Yes, of course I will be downvoted about a gazillion times but I have little patience for anyone who can't let go of the past and look at the present instead."

      I, for one, am looking at the present in addition to the past, but I don't see much from Microsoft in the present that is very reassuring.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

      > .. Yes, of course I will be downvoted about a gazillion times ..

      But at least we get to read it and make up our own minds!

    7. jason_derp

      Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

      When drunk drivers kill people, we put them through the courts and throw them in jail. We don't tell them how disappointed we are in them, drive them home, tuck them in, and hope they'll do better next time. They probably will right? They've spent most of their lives not killing people while inebriated behind the wheel.

      My trust in Microsoft is proportional to the distance forward they're displaced after an arbitrary amount of force is applied. When I tried to fling them using a medieval catapult, they somehow ended up a few hundred meters BEHIND the catapult. That's how much I trust them.

    8. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: The only way Microsoft could make some people happy

      We just need to remember the words of Ronald Reagan: "Trust but verify".

  8. jason_derp

    This seems fishy

    Microsoft can't make an update for Windows 10 that doesn't fsck the whole shambles like a jackhammer to save it's child's life. Linux Subsystem for Windows is a thing. Microsoft Edge switched to being a Chromium-based browser. Microsoft Edge is coming to Linux. Red Hat Linux was bought by IBM in July of this year. SUSE has been being acquired by multiple entities over its lifetime.

    Mark Shuttleworth sounds much more open to selling Canonical than he would ever even slightly hint at before. Ubuntu is used by 25 million people worldwide, and that number grows as more people keep a Windows 10 key floating around solely for video games (I personally have "videogames" as the only reason for my dual-boot setup). Microsoft becomes a member of the Linux Foundation in 2016.

    Microsoft has previously loved to tout the expression "Embrace, extend, and extinguish". And now, Microsoft, one of the biggest thorns in the side of Linux for as long as anybody can rembember, is coming to help an associated entitity defend against patent trolls. Maybe Microsoft dropped the "extinguish" part of their slogan and changed it to "assimilate"'. There's a lot more incentive to fight on somebody else's behalf over patent issues when they become YOUR patents in the future.

    Maybe I'm just full of paranoia and conspiracy, but it feels like Redmond heard that some of us dropped their cancerous operating system and are sneakily embedding themselves in our Linuxes to try to fuck up what has so far been a serviceable and functioning OS. Could be wrong, hope like hell that I am.

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Could be wrong, but more likely to be right if program driven by need for shareholder profit

    Maybe I'm just full of paranoia and conspiracy, but it feels like Redmond heard that some of us dropped their cancerous operating system and are sneakily embedding themselves in our Linuxes to try to fuck up what has so far been a serviceable and functioning OS. Could be wrong, hope like hell that I am. ..... jason_derp

    Don't Microsoft realise GNU and GNU/Linux are a bull market bear trap for them and intelligently designed to ensure they are held captive for ransom payments to novel source kernels and/or disruptive and destructive proprietary intellectual property providers, if they want to survive and thrive, grow more powerful and prosper in the course of providing prosperity?

  10. vgrig_us

    so, ms will...

    ...be returning all that money they extorted from Linux device manufacturers using bulshit parents then? :-)

    1. kat_bg

      Re: so, ms will...

      LINUX device manufacturers? I think you refer to the Android device manufactures that were held hostage with the FAT patents.

      1. vgrig_us

        Re: so, ms will...

        No, I meant Linux - including Android...

        I don't think tom-tom was using Android at the time.

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