Supreme Court addresses software patent

Supreme Court agrees to address key issue: Can software be patented?

 

Supreme Court agrees to address key issue: Can software be patented?

Supreme Court agrees to address key issue: Can software be patented?

 

Over the past few years, two aspects of patent law in the United States have come under increasing scrutiny. First, there’s been the rise of patent trolls who scoop up broad patents on particular methods or ways of performing an activity, then sue a number of companies (or even the end users) of that technology, claiming that their rights have been violated. Second, there’ve been an increasing number of lawsuits over the topic of software patents and the question of what is — or isn’t — patentable.

Now, the Supreme Court has agreed to take a case — Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd v CLS Bank International — that deals directly with the question of what is, or isn’t, patentable. Lower courts have been tangling with this issue for years — the question of specific software patents was at the heart of Google’s recent court spat with Oracle, which ended in a win for Google but may be lost on appeal.

Rise of the patent trolls

The central problem with software patents is the gray area between “Doing X on a computer” (clearly unpatentable) and the development of a new method of performing a task or function. The pro-patent argument is that a person who discovers a new algorithm or method of doing things in software has clearly invented something and is entitled to patent it. The anti-patent argument is that such “inventions’ are nothing but an application of mathematics. Mathematics cannot be patented in the US, so why should software carry patents?

Patent trolls, meanwhile, have inadvertently given a great deal of ammunition to the anti-software patents crowd by launching massive lawsuit campaigns to assert ownership over such mundane tasks as connecting a printer to a network. Companies now acquire huge war chests of patents specifically to use against other companies that engage in patent warfare. This is generally seen as one reason Google acquired Motorola several years ago, and Microsoft earns more from its patent licensing fees from Android than it does from Windows Phone.

One final thing to note is that patents and copyrights are two entirely different things. If software can’t be patented, Microsoft still retains a coypright on the code of Windows, Oracle still has a copyright on Java, and it would still be illegal to copy a program without an appropriate license. Lower courts have had little luck creating a clear-cut example of when a software invention is or is not patentable, so the hope is that the Supreme Court will issue clearer rules.

Japan’s cover for commercial whaling goes to court

Australia takes Japan to court to stop whaling hunts:

Australia takes Japan to court to stop whaling hunts.

Australia takes Japan to court to stop whaling hunts.

The future of Japan’s controversial whale hunts hangs in the balance following the start of a landmark legal case that could put a permanent end to the annual slaughter of hundreds of whales in the Antarctic.

Over the next two weeks, 16 judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will consider a request by Australia to deny licenses to Japan’s whaling fleet, which kills almost 1,000 whales a year in the name of scientific research. The panel of judges, who opened the hearing earlier this week, are expected to rule by the end of the year, possibly before the next whaling season begins in the Southern Ocean.

The decision will be final, since the ICJ does not have an appeals process. And both Japan and Australia have agreed to abide by the decision.

Australia, with the support of New Zealand, this week challenged Japanese claims that its slaughter of up to 935 minke whales, and about 50 fin whales, every winter is vital to learn about the mammals’ breeding, migratory, and other habits ahead of a possible return to sustainable commercial whaling.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, but allows Japan to kill whales for scientific research. The meat from the whales is sold legally in Japanese stores and supermarkets – proof, say campaigners, that the hunts are simply a cover for commercial whaling.

“Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science,” Bill Campbell, Australia’s agent to the court, told the judges this week.

He later told journalists: “You don’t kill 935 whales in a year to conduct scientific research. You don’t even need to kill one whale to conduct scientific research.”

Japan insists it is abiding by article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which permits the practice “for purposes of scientific research.”

“Japan’s research programs have been legally conducted for the purposes of scientific research, in accordance with the [convention],” Japan’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, Koji Tsuruoka, said outside the courtroom.

“Australia’s claim is invalid. Japan’s research whaling has been conducted for scientific research in accordance with international law.”

On Thursday, Philippe Sands, a lawyer acting for Australia, claimed that years of lethal research by Japan had added nothing to the body of scientific knowledge of whales, other than they eat large quantities of krill.

“What you have before you is not a scientific research program, it is a heap of body parts taken from a large number of dead whales,” he told the court. “Japan’s objectives are simply there to allow whales to be killed, not to establish a genuine program of science.”

Japan says minke populations have recovered sufficiently for the Antarctic hunts to continue.

“There are about 515,000 minke whales in the Antarctic, and Japan’s research is taking only about 815 a year,” said Noriyuki Shikata, a foreign ministry official who is part of the Japanese delegation. “This is below the reproductive rate and very sustainable.”

Japan has killed more than 14,000 whales since the global ban on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“In the court of public opinion, the verdict is already in,” says Patrick Ramage, director of IFAW’s global whale program. “Commercial whaling, whether conducted openly or under the guise of science is a cruel and outdated practice which produces no science of value.”

The Hague hearings are playing out against a backdrop of declining whale meat consumption in Japan and growing frustration with the use of taxpayers’ money – 800 million yen a year (about $8 million), according to Greenpeace – to subsidize the Antarctic fleet.

“Whale meat doesn’t sell in Japan, and I don’t see that changing any time soon,” says Nanami Kurasawa of the Dolphin and Whale Action Network, a Tokyo-based pressure group.

According to a recent study by the Nippon Research Group, whale meat consumption has fallen to about 1 percent of its 1960s peak. Current stockpiles of unsold whale meat have increased to nearly 5,000 tons, about four times greater than they were 15 years ago.

“Selling meat on the open market has been a total failure,” Mr. Kurasawa says. “If the court rules in Australia’s favor, it will be a good opportunity for Japan to stop the Antarctic hunts. It would be the intelligent thing to do.”

An IFAW survey conducted in Japan last year found that 26.8 percent of people agreed with the scientific whaling program, while 18.5 percent opposed it. The rest were undecided. The survey found that 88.8 percent of those polled had not bought whale meat in the previous 12 months.

The decline in consumption is reflected in smaller catches. The whaling fleet caught 853 whales in 2005, but only 266 in 2011. Last season, it returned with a record-low haul of 103 whales, blaming harassment by the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.

Susan Hartland, a Sea Shepherd campaigner in the US, says a defeat for Australia at the ICJ would be “devastating to people worldwide who support the efforts to save the whales, and as more than 90 percent of the planet’s great whales have been wiped out, we need to fight hard to protect the remaining ones from the same fate.”

But some experts believe Australia could struggle to convince the court, given the unprecedented nature of the case. “If it was an easy case to make, previous Australian governments would have no doubt explored these options,” Don Rothwell, a legal expert at the Australian National University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The arguments that Australia will be making are ones that have never before been litigated or decided before by any international court, let alone the International Court of Justice.”

Samsung sues Apple

Apple to get a taste of its own medicine:

iPhone 5 LTE screenshot (diagonal)

Just as it warned it would, Samsung has added Apple’s iPhone 5 to a patent lawsuit in the US, kicking the door open for phase two of the legal spat between the tech titans. Samsung filed a motion with a court in California accusing the Cupertino-based rival of infringing patents covering technologies that may include 4G connectivity. Samsung said: “We have always preferred to compete in the marketplace with our innovative products, rather than in courtrooms. However, Apple continues to take aggressive legal measures that will limit market competition. “Under these circumstances, we have little choice but to take the steps necessary to protect our innovations and intellectual property rights.” Samsung previously stated that the inclusion of 4G LTE in the iPhone 5 would prompt swift legal action, undoubtedly motivated by a desire for retaliation following a massive courtroom defeat in August that saw it ordered to pay Apple £664m in damages for “wilfully copying” iOS products. The decision would have also been boosted by the electronics maker’s substantial war chest of patents relating to 4G technologies. The exact details of the filing are still under wraps but are sure to surface in the days ahead and reveal whether Samsung has a good case, especially one that could be followed with an injunction on the sale of iPhone 5s. Apple has yet to comment on the developments, but is undoubtedly scrambling its lawyers to prepare a defence. We’ll bring you all the gen as soon as we have more to share. Stay tuned.

 

Apple finally Lost

Japan court rules Samsung did not infringe on Apple patent:

Japan court rules Samsung did not infringe on Apple patent

Japan court rules Samsung did not infringe on Apple patent

A Tokyo court on Friday dismissed Apple Inc.’s claim that Samsung had infringed on its patent — the latest ruling in the global legal battle over smartphones that pits the two technology titans against each other. Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea, the world’s largest maker of phones, welcomed the Tokyo District Court ruling that its technology to synchronize mobile players with computers did not infringe on Apple patents as confirming “our long-held position.” “We will continue to offer highly innovative products to consumers, and continue our contributions toward the mobile industry’s development,” the company said in a statement. The Apple lawyer present at the courthouse declined comment, and it was not immediately clear whether Apple would appeal. In a session lasting a few minutes, Judge Tamotsu Shoji said he did not think Samsung products fell into the realm of Apple technology and dismissed the lawsuit, filed by Apple in August last year. Apple, the Cupertino, California-based maker of the hit iPhone and iPad, is embroiled in similar legal squabbles around the world over whether Samsung smartphones, which relies on Google Inc.’s Android technology, illegally used Apple designs, ideas or technology. In one such case, a jury in California ruled last week that Samsung products illegally used such Apple creations as the “bounce-back” feature when a user scrolls to an end image, and the ability to zoom text with a tap of a finger. The jury awarded Apple $1 billion in damages, and a judge is now evaluating Apple’s request to have eight Samsung products pulled from shelves and banned from the U.S. market, including popular Galaxy model smartphones. Samsung’s latest hit, Galaxy S3, was not part of the U.S. ruling. Friday’s ruling was the first held in Japan in the Samsung-Apple global court battle, but other technology is being contested by the two companies in separate legal cases in Japan. Apple products are extremely popular among Japanese consumers, but major Japanese carriers such as NTT DoCoMo sell Samsung smartphones as well. Japanese electronics maker Sony Corp. also makes smartphones similar to Samsung’s, using Android technology. Samsung has sold more than 50 million Galaxy S and Galaxy S2 smartphones around the world. The legal battle also involves Samsung’s Tab device, which Apple claims infringes on patents related to the iPad tablet.