A shopping basket full of patent trolls

Here’s the case of a troll that tried to get royalties from all on-line retailers for the Shopping Cart. Actually sued, and for some time won, for a percentage on all sales passing through those carts – that has to be huge money.

Now this particular troll has lost a big case, invalidating its previous big wins. Any guesses how much was consumed in legal bills and related costs for its various lawsuits, before the dust settled?

Software patents have two functions: they allow big businesses (the ones with patent portfolios, and pockets deep enough to retain intellectual property lawyers as needed) to increase their market power at the expense of small operators who lack those resources; and they provide a living for pure rent seeking patent trolls, and of course the IP lawyers on all sides of these disputes. Big business tends not to like the second function of software patents, but values the first. For the rest of us, they’re both dead losses.

GMO giant hires retired cops to hunt down farmers

The glories of the intellectual property imperium! (from Occupy Monsanto)

GMO giants DuPont have contracted dozens of retired law enforcement officers to begin patrolling farms in the US next year to spot any potential intellectual property theft.

DuPont Co, the second-largest seed country in the world, is hoping to find farmers that have purchased contracts to use their genetically modified soybean seeds but have breached the terms of agreement by illegally using the product for repeat harvests. Should farmers replant GMO seeds licensed by DuPont, they could be sued for invalidating their contracts.

http://www.occupymonsanto360.org (http://s.tt/1vNQa)

This reminded me of my teacher Sam Bowles talking about guard labor (I Google and am glad to find that he still talks about it). Excessive supervision that pays for itself by keeping down wages, prison guards, etc: a great deal of labor is devoted to just watching people who, in a better structure of motivation, would not need to be watched at all.

(To say nothing of the fact the the part of guard labor that consists of prison guards is devoted to keeping prisoners out of the labor market, so that’s everybody’s effort wasted: on this see Bruce Western and Katherine Beckett, and John Quiggin. But I digress.)

Further Googling tells me that Bill Totten, who has a company that distributes open source software in Japan, has made just the same association between IP protection and guard labor.

Weak intellectual property and economic catch up – the German case

In Der Spiegel, Frank Thadeusz reviews Eckhard Höffner’s work. The story: 19th century Germany had far better dissemination of new scientific & technical ideas, in part because weak copyright enforcement forced publishers into aggressive pricing & paperback editions. In England publishers thrived but most people couldn’t afford their products. This difference helped Germany catch up.

What Höffner describes in 19th century Germany is a sort of open innovation system – not one without intellectual property protection, but one with weak protection. Continue reading

Open access publishing and not-for-profit publishing

Is the UK government’s new requirement of (slightly delayed) free access to publications based on government-funded research a blow to the extortionate power of commercial academic publishers, or will it just entrench them further? Continue reading

Open source Pentagon?

The most visible aspect of the US military is its role as what Tom Lehrer called America’s “number-one instrument of diplomacy“. Whatever your views of it in that capacity, it is best not to overlook the fact that this very large, well-funded and technologically ambitious organization also affects our lives through its procurement and management practices. You know some of the stories: the invention of the Internet; bringing the production of transistors quickly to a commercially viable scale by mandating their widespread adoption; creating the ISO 9000 quality assurance system for use by its contractors – who, since they included many of the world’s largest corporations, passed them on to thousands of other companies upstream on the supply chain; or, if we go back a couple of centuries, roughly fifty years spent making the concept of interchangeable parts – until then, an un-implementable item of French military doctrine – into an industrial reality (for details on this last, see Hounshell’s great book From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932).

So if the Pentagon really is shifting toward an open-source approach to software development, you know where to lay your bets.