Digging in the Nokia-and-software-patents topic

27Mar08

Many times when Nokia members like myself try to discuss further on open source involvement the argument on software patents comes back. For instance, in my last blog post about Connecting open source and mobile users – the Nokia plan. There are many good comments about patents in the thread. One puts it in the classical accusation:

> Why are Nokia’s representatives lobbying for software patents in the European
> Union and in various other locations?

If you care about the topic you can help by providing more precision and data in the accusation and the demands: Is Nokia really lobbying for software patents nowadays? Which countries are we talking about apart from the EU? What does “lobbying” exactly mean? What would you find reasonable about Nokia dealing with software patents?

A FFII report made four years ago seems to be the source of the complaints, but what was that action and where it stands today? Are there more original sources to look at? Searching the Internet most of the stuff seems to be echoes and opinions resonating each other and sometimes linking to the original FFII source.

All this is what I’m investigating these days. I’m no expert in the topic but I’m familiar with the No Software Patents campaign, I know some of the colleagues involved in Intellectual Property at Nokia and I have this journalist background so helpful sometimes. After a first round I’m quite optimistic seeing progress on this issue only by communicating more and better what is Nokia actually thinking and doing about software patents.

Some basic hints about the topic I found interesting to learn about:

  • There are traditional patents on engineering inventions (i.e. hardware) that are out of question in the No Software Patents discussion. Then there are purely software patents – the matter discussed. But there are also patents on software-interacting-with-hardware which in the case of Nokia, a company shipping devices with software inside, are very relevant. The boundaries between these boxes are not always clear.
  • Nokia is patenting software, just like the rest of its direct competitors do. Software patents do exist at least in the United States and not following that game can be so expensive (companies shipping patented features have to pay the owners of the patents) to rule you practically out of the market. The patent game might bring you to court and probably to huge indemnifications… probably not if you are a free software developer hacking for fun but surely if you are a wealthy company with successful products sold in boxes in the market. Search for patent litigation in the IT industries (many of the big companies you know have been to court because of this) and you will see the numbers.
  • There are basically two attitudes for a company when playing the patent game: preventive and aggressive. Preventive means that you patent in order to make your own products getting some advantage and being well positioned when it comes to make compensation roundups with your competitors. Aggressive means that you use patents as a primary mean to damage competitors or even make a business around patent pledges. Nokia plays preventive, and specially when it comes to deal with the open source community the strategy is not to be aggressive at all. There was this formal precedent: Nokia announces patent support to the Linux Kernel. Beyond press releases, the respect about the achievements of open source development is part of our daily work (contributing Nokia to this open source success as well).

Let’s move forward in this debate. No need to campaign or flames: good arguments are enough. I’m also happy facilitating the contact between the organizations working against software patents and the right people at Nokia. I’m sure already today there are less discrepancies than most people think, and any exchange will be fruitful.

Image by takomabibelot (some rights reserved).



15 Responses to “Digging in the Nokia-and-software-patents topic”

  1. 1 Xan

    One idea: have Nokia join the Open Invention Network (http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/).

  2. 2 Pablo

    Nice entry, is not just echo from other articles and mades us think if Nokia is still lobbying or not. The only thing I don’t buy it’s the “Nokia plays preventive” argument. Few years ago Nokia started a patent litigation with vitelcom and others. http://www.dmeurope.com/default.asp?ArticleID=4217
    http://press.nokia.com/PR/200501/977074_5.html
    The funny thing is that the claim is about GSM/GPRS patents, when both are standards! It seems those companies where selling “too” cheap for Nokia.

  3. 3 Rainer Dorsch

    Quim,

    thanks for the well written blog entry. Stating that Nokia’s patent attitude is preventive is hopefully brings clarity into that issue.

    I think there are more important questions:

    – Does Nokia make profit in the compensation roundups? Is it higher than the total expenses (lawyers, time of engineers, …)?

    – You claim that Nokia uses patents only preventive not aggressive. If software patents would not exist there would be no need for a preventive attitutde(?) Does that imply Nokia would prefer having no software patents at all? What is the difference for Nokia of having no software patents in Europe only?

    Thanks,
    Rainer

  4. 4 frethop

    Thanks for reassurances on preventative patent activity. I have two comments:

    1. While I understand the No Software Patents campaign, it’s misguided. Patents exist; companies obtain them for even the smallest ideas; and Nokia would be cutting it’s own throat if it did not play the game. Having no patents means someone else will get them.

    2. Nokia could have an enabling effect as well. As with Nokia’s patent support for the Linux kernel, obtaining patents can enable development and the open source movement if those patents are used appropriately. Nokia seems to have done this in several areas.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  5. 5 Franck

    Well, patents surely do exist, even software patents, even in Europe. They are illegal and against the decision of the parliament, but EPO does validate such patents. I know, I did write one, and I am paid to write some other. Purely software, even software applied to business methods !

    So Nokia has to play the game. The question is : is Nokia putting money, time and influence to make software patents legal in Europe ? Do they put their money, time and influence against it ? Or do they just do their business and not interfere with the choices of the citizens (well, their representatives…) ?

    This is what I call lobbying. I would be surprised Nokia does no lobbying in Brussels at all. I would like to know in what direction they push regarding the software patents…

  6. 6 Przem

    “Nokia plays preventive”? It’s a joke, right? Wasn’t Nokia involved in lobbing in favor of software patents in EU two years ago? Without software patents in EU there would be no need to “play preventive”. Having patent trolls hunting in EU and killing startups which have no money for costly curt cases is a black scenario. People are constructed this way that when having such an opportunity one or another will pull the trigger. So we shouldn’t give them an ability to do so.
    Nokia would be one of the most responsible if SP will start to be valid in EU. So please, stop this PR bsht.

  7. 7 mkc

    Hmm. I didn’t realize Nokia was in favor of software patents. I’d been thinking about buying an 810, but maybe I shouldn’t.

    As for the “everyone else is doing it so we must too” argument, Nokia could simply file the patent and then donate it to an organization like the FSF that would “destroy” it (commit to never using it).

  8. 8 Andre

    Mobile communication is a patent nightmare. Nokia takes part in the game.

  9. 9 Nathan Dbb

    Nokia is being nice to Open Source (R) because it has no other direction to turn. Their core business (nice phones) is requiring larger, more complex, and more compatible software. Building an OS, window manager, and applications is a huge task. Dual-licensed software is their best chance to catch up with Microsoft, Blabla in Motion, Apple.

    Nokia has to get patents where patents are granted on ideas and information. Lacking a clear indication otherwise, we must assume that Nokia supports its own actions and approves of software patents.

    It is folly to believe that we can know the attitude and actions of future Nokia employees, and therefor characterize their patent use as preventive and aggressive.

    I love my Nokia phone, but it creates no halo effect for the company.

  10. 10 Jussi Kukkonen

    Quim, Nokia supported the 2005 “patentable computer implemented inventions” (CII) directive proposal. Nokia is also a member of EICTA, in my opinion the most important pro “intellectual property” lobby in Europe. EICTA still advocates CII:

    > EICTA will continue to make the case throughout Europe for the
    > contribution that CII patents make to research, innovation and to
    > overall European competitiveness

    As a personal opinion I’d call them fairly aggressive in their lobbying (not that I’m an expert in that).

    Anyway, I’d say the ball is in Nokia side of the court: Nokia has a clear and fairly recent history of actively supporting software patents in Europe. Is there any reason I should assume this has changed? Saying “our sw patents are 100% defensive” and at the same time pushing for more patentability through EICTA does not make sense…

    http://www.eicta.org
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directive_on_the_patentability_of_computer-implemented_inventions#Supporters_of_the_proposal
    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/news/2005/07/68099

  11. 11 H-Kachal

    If I may say so, this is a very well written blog and is merely stating some of the facts of everyday life for big corporations. If Nokia do not take preventative intellectual property action, they will pay dearly for many years to their competitors. The increasing trend globally is for large corporations to take to even ‘offensive’ patenting activity as the best means of defence against competitor action.

  12. 12 qgil

    Thanks for the comments, really good stuff for a start. Feel free to keep commenting, we are listening.

    Please bare with me if I won’t go now through all these points. It is clear from the feedback received in the last hours that at the end what you expect is not only _digging_ but an official statement covering the whole topic. This will take some work and time, but at least now you know that web are working on this.

    Just one comment about the preventive/aggressive thing. I get your point and I could have found better words. Personally, your comments made me think that, like defence/attack or yin/yang or black/white both concepts are hardly never fully dissociated but contain some of each other. It is also difficult to calculate percentages of prevention/aggression to show that i.e. Player A is 75% aggressive while Player B is only 25% aggressive but… there are indeed some companies that are more aggressive than preventive in this field, while others are more preventive than aggressive. I guess this is the point I was trying to make, not well explained enough.

  13. 13 sanjo

    As mentioned, it is not really the point if they file their patents with a preventive or aggressive intention. Nokia has to play the game as a big company that is out of question.

    What really matters is, if they still do active lobbying in Brussels for software patents. And for my part even doing nothing seems to be a sign that Nokia is indeed still not opposed to software patents. At least if you look, what Nokia stand for (in the past) you will get this impression.

    And I can see no official sign that their politics regarding this matter has changed.

    It would be really interesting if you could get an official statement what Nokias official policy is. This would end speculation in either direction. And if Nokia officially opposes to software patents now, the FFII will definitely update their pages – might even grant them some place on their homepage for such groundbreaking news.

  14. 14 Finite

    Sorry Quim, but I think that being “25% aggressive” with patents is like being 25% pregnant… it can only make any sense with a large serving of self-deception.

    If Nokia wants to use software patents aggressively, and lobby governments to strengthen them, that is their right under the present law, and likewise if people want to boycott pro-software-patent companies we have a right to do so. The horrible thing here is the dishonesty, eg trying to convince your readers that Nokia is not one of the companies that should be boycotted by people who are anti-software-patent, while Nokia is actually still lobbying this way.

    Such deception is really shameful imo, and barring some credible news that Nokia has actually changed and is now lobbying *against* software patents, I’d say that an apology is warranted here.

  15. 15 qgil

    @Finite, with all respects: it’s kind of funny that you demand an apology from me. You accuse me of “dishonesty, eg trying to convince” my readers. This is not true. I’m being honest and frank as I try to be in general, in life. If I’m telling lies then I’m believing them as well. As said, I’ll keep working until figuring out what is really going on.



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