February 22, 2007

Software; Patentable? How Thoroughly? [2:56 pm]

Court Takes on Software Patents - pdf

At issue is whether Microsoft can be held liable for violating an AT&T patent on technology that condenses speech into computer code, similar to that found on Microsoft’s Windows program.

Microsoft admitted it infringed the AT&T patent on computers sold domestically but contends that it is not liable for its programs installed by computer manufacturers overseas.

In 1984, Congress amended the patent law to forbid companies from shipping components of patented inventions overseas and having the parts assembled elsewhere in an attempt to skirt patent laws.

So in this case, justices are looking at whether digital software code can be considered a “component” of a patented invention and if so, whether it was “supplied” from the United States.

[...] The justices wrestled with whether computer code would be patented or whether the code alone could be a component.

[AT&T's lawyer Seth] Waxman said code is “dynamic,” in that it causes a computer to take action, while [Microsoft's lawyer Ted] Olson said it was more like a blueprint. It can be used to produce exact copies that are not patent infringements, he said, like instructions for building a car or a mousetrap.

A copy of the transcript of the oral argument

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Online Activism [8:10 am]

It’s not what you think: Virtual loses its virtues - pdf

LIKE any pioneer, Marshal Cahill arrived in a new world curious and eager to sample its diversions. Over time, though, he saw an elite few grabbing more than their share.

They bought up all the plum real estate. They awarded building contracts to friends. They stifled free speech.

Cahill saw a bleak future, but he felt powerless to stop them. So he detonated an atomic bomb outside an American Apparel outlet. Then another outside a Reebok store.

As political officer for the Second Life Liberation Army, Cahill is passionately committed to righting what he considers the wrongs of a world that exists only on the computer servers of Linden Lab in San Francisco.

[...] In the last year, the number of people who had visited Second Life skyrocketed from 100,000 to 2 million. As the population grows, early denizens are learning the truth of Jean-Paul Sartre’s observation “Hell is other people.”

[...] Cahill and his compatriots say they don’t necessarily mind the new residents, but they want more influence in deciding the future of the virtual world. Most important, they want Linden Lab to allow voting on issues affecting their in-world experience.

“The population of the world should have a say in the running of the world,” Cahill said during an in-world interview. Cahill is this participant’s online name, incidentally. He refused to reveal his real-world name for fear of banishment from Second Life.

So, what are Linden Labs’ responsibilities in this domain? Is ownership a defense? Of course, figuring out exactly what they own is complicated.

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