On July 2, Markus Persson (a.k.a. Notch) tweeted that Uniloc USA had filed a suit against Mojang on the grounds that the Android version of “Mindcraft [sic]” had infringed on their patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,857,067) titled “System and Method for Preventing Unauthorized Access to Electronic Data.” The patent was originally filed on February 26, 2001, but was not granted until 2005.
Persson remains confident that Mojang will win the suit, saying, “Unfortunately for them, they’re suing us over a software patent. If needed, I will throw piles of money at making sure they don’t get a cent.” He later did a write-up on his blog, portraying his feelings on software patents and their [il]legitimacy in the following excerpt:
I am mostly fine with the concept of “selling stuff you made”, so I’m also against copyright infringement. I don’t think it’s quite as bad as theft, and I’m not sure it’s good for society that some professions can get paid over and over long after they did the work (say, in the case of a game developer), whereas others need to perform the job over and over to get paid (say, in the case of a hairdresser or a lawyer). But yeah, “selling stuff you made” is good.
But there is no way in hell you can convince me that it’s beneficial for society to not share ideas. Ideas are free. They improve on old things, make them better, and this results in all of society being better. Sharing ideas is how we improve.
A common argument for patents is that inventors won’t invent unless they can protect their ideas. The problem with this argument is that patents apply even if the infringer came up with the idea independently. If the idea is that easy to think of, why do we need to reward the person who happened to be first?
I will say that there are areas which are very costly to research, but where the benefits for mankind long term are very positive. I would personally prefer it to have those be government funded (like with CERN or NASA) and patent free as opposed to what’s happening with medicine, but I do understand why some people [think] patents are good in these areas.
Trivial patents, such as for software, are counterproductive (they slown down technical advancement), evil (they sacrifice baby goats to [B]aal), and costly (companies get tied up in pointless lawsuits).
If you own a software patent, you should feel bad.
Uniloc is a company that is infamous for having sued Microsoft back in 2003 in the federal court district of Rhode Island, only to finally settle for an undisclosed amount after an eight-year-long suit. Initially, they won the suit in 2009 with a jury ruling that allocated them $388 million. However, five months later, a judge vacated the ruling stating they “lacked a grasp of the issues before it and reached a finding without a legally sufficient basis,” instead ruling in favor of Microsoft. Following the ruling, Uniloc filed suits against additional companies including Sony, Activison, Adobe, Symantec, and a slew others—this time in the well-known courts of East Texas.
Uniloc was founded by Frederic Richardson, owner of the 5,490,216 patent for “System for Software Registration.” Richardson allegedly filed the patent as a way of pioneering software trials. Although Richardson is from Australia, Uniloc USA’s parent company was based in Singapore during the time that the Microsoft case was filed. However, as if this writing, it appears to have been moved to Luxemburg. Likewise, although Uniloc USA was based in California at that same time, it has now been moved to Eastern Texas.
The patent in question regarding the Mojang suit appears to have been filed with Smart Cards in mind, such as the CAC cards used by the U.S. Department of Defense. In this case, it’s being used as a more general patent covering simple server authentication. Additionally, this patent was not filed by Richardson but instead by Martin S. Edelman, a resident of New Jersey. As of late 2010, Uniloc had sued over seventy-three companies with over twenty-five of those settling. As of this writing, a more current statistic had not been found.
Attached below are the court filing and patent related to Uniloc’s case against Mojang
Analysis: The funniest thing about patent trolls are their long-winded posts about why they aren’t trolls. While I can see Uniloc’s original suit against Microsoft as legitimate, the suits that followed, as well as this suit against Mojang regarding an entirely different patent, definitely reek of a troll. Changing the headquarters of your U.S.-based child company just to fare better in court for patent litigation is something only a troll would do; as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, East Texas rules heavily in favor of patent-holders. In addition, the content of the ’067 has been grossly misappropriated for the purposes of this trial. The patent and its images are quite clearly designed with Smart Cards in mind, but the text describing the patent is vague, broad, and wholly useless.
The problem with software patents is that they are just a vague idea. Comparing a software patent to a piece of coded software is like comparing ore to its refined form. One can easily obtain the ore (idea), but refining it into something valuable like a precious metal (final product) requires a lot more work and can be achieved in a multitude of ways. With physical objects, different ways of achieving the same goal with a mechanical or physical device can be individually patented with no issues. But with software patents, just the general idea is patented and none of the meticulous algorithms and code are necessary. This means that the thousands of hours it can take to actually make a product out of the idea are worthless compared to the twenty seconds it takes to think of a good idea, despite the hundreds of different ways the idea can be realized.
It looks to me like Uniloc was originally a legitimate small business that realized how lucrative patent litigation can be in today’s world. While this wasn’t a massive issue at the time their original case was filed, it is now. This is further supported by the shear number of companies they have sued, especially those suits that have been successful. Back in late 2010, Uniloc was sporting a 34.2% success rate. That’s not a bad return rate considering the size of some of the companies sued. If kept in mind with the fact that acquiring a license deal with said companies is almost guaranteed as well, they’d have made a tidy profit from this. Who knows how many more companies they have sued successfully or not since then.
Hello, I’d like to submit a ticket to the bug tracker: the patent system is broken. Please don’t label it working as intended.