It has been a busy week for the patent lawyers out there who are trying to extort money for what they claim is an invention, but is in reality only another arrangement of binary bits in the memory of a computer.
Top of the list, at least in terms of headline grabbing appeal, was the Eastman Kodak vs Sun case over Java. Kodak, the company known for photographic products, attacking one of the premier server companies, Sun, over a freely available object-oriented programming environment, Java? Yes. Seems that Kodak gained three patents when it acquired Wang Laboratories a while back, numbers 5,206,951, 5,226,161 and 5,421,012. These relate to certain aspects of object-oriented programming, and a jury in Rochester, NY decided that Java infringed them. Kodak was planning to ask for over $1B in damages. You can read more about this in an article at Groklaw.
In a surprising turn though, Sun has settled with Kodak out of court for $92M (less than a tenth of the damages Kodak was asking for). So, what some were hoping would become the test case that got software patents off the books again, seems to have escaped quietly.
In other patent news, Acacia, a company of lawyers that buys patents with the sole intention of “enforcing” them to make money, has acquired a patent from LodgeNet it believes it can use to extort money from wireless hotspot owners. An article at Wi-Fi Networking News has more information on this one. This is one of two patents in the area of browser redirection, the other being held by a company called Nomadix. Many believe that both of these are essentially worthless though as there were other browser redirection systems up and running before either one was filed with the patent office. One such claim comes from Jim Thompson, former CTO and VP of engineering at Wayport, who claims that Wayport had their portal up and running before the LodgeNet patent was filed. He also goes further in claiming that the idea is ‘obvious to one “skilled in the art”‘ – i.e. something that does not belong in a patent in the first place.
It is not all bad news though. Much less widely publicised was pubpat.org‘s success in getting all claims in the Microsoft FAT patent rejected in a re-examination. So, if you know of a patent that is clearly bogus, especially one for which there is well documented prior art, send all the information you have to the folks at pubpat.org and perhaps they can get it overturned. Even better would be to get the whole concept of software patents (and their close relatives the process patents) back off the books, but I don’t think that is likely to happen without a high profile test case, like the Kodak vs Sun one could have been.