If Microsoft Shuts Down Google Maps In Germany, How Does That Benefit The Public?

from the monopolies-deemed-harmful dept

Most sane human beings have stopped trying to keep up with the interwined legal actions arising out of the smartphone patent wars between Apple, Google, Motorola, Nokia, Microsoft and all the rest. The cases, though, are still grinding through the courts, which periodically throw out their verdicts. According to Florian Mueller, one such decision in Germany is imminent:

Judge Dr. Matthias Zigann of the Munich I Regional Court just told Google and its Motorola Mobility subsidiary in no uncertain terms that his court is at this point (prior to counsel's argument on claim construction, infringement and validity) inclined to hold Google Inc., its subsidiary Motorola Mobility LLC and MMI's German subsidiary liable for infringement of a key Microsoft patent, EP0845124 on a "computer system for identifying local resources and method therefor", which is the European equivalent of U.S. Patent No. 6,240,360.
Here's that EPO patent:
A map of the area of a client computer (10) is requested from a map server (11). Information relating to a place of interest is requested from an information server (12) by the client computer (10). The information is superimposed or overlaid on a map image at a position on the map image corresponding to the location of the place of interest on the map. The information (or "overlay") server (12) may contain details of, for example, hotels, restaurants, shops or the like, associated with the geographical coordinates of each location. The map server (11) contains map data, including coordinate data representing the spatial coordinates of at least one point on the area represented by the map.
As the claims make clear, it's exactly what any half-way competent engineer would come up with given the task of providing certain kinds of information local to a geographical location. Moreover, it is of course implemented in software; given that Article 52 of the European Patent Convention explicitly excludes "programs for computers" from patentability, the fact that the EPO granted a patent here is an early example of how it circumvented that exclusion because a computer was used to run that software (well, doh.)

There's another problem with the patent, as Mueller's post makes clear:

Microsoft is seeking, and now very likely to obtain, a German patent injunction against the Google Maps service, the Google Maps Android client app, and web browsers providing access to Google Maps. In order to comply with the injunction that looms large, Google would have to disable access to Google Maps from computers using a German IP address, discontinue shipping the Google Maps Android app in the German market, and distribute web browsers in Germany only if they block access to Google Maps in a way comparable to Internet filters used for the purpose of parental controls.
If that turns out to be the case, and Google isn't able to code around the problem, that means that the patent was ridiculously over-broad -- essentially, it's a patent on all implementations of the basic idea. That's unlike traditional patents, where alternative, non-infringing inventions can be devised to solve a given problem.

Moreover, Microsoft can't fall back on its usual justification that it spent years of research and huge amounts of money developing this "breakthrough" idea, and therefore deserves its sweeping monopoly. According to both the European and US filings, the original patent was granted to Sean Phelan, based in London. Here's the background:

Sean started Multimap.com as a bootstrap start-up in his spare bedroom in 1995 and built it into one of the 10 most popular British web services, with revenues of £12M and profits of £1M

Sean formed Multimap.com to bring together his lifelong love of sailing and navigation with his experience with the internet and web-based technology. Through Multimap, Sean realised his vision of services based on the integration of navigation, wireless communications and the web. He is one of Europe's original internet entrepreneurs, with a unique combination of business and technical skills. In December 2007 the company was acquired by Microsoft for £30 million, cementing its position in the ranks of Britain's internet success stories.
And good for him. But buying his patent doesn't give Microsoft -- or anyone -- the right to lock out competitors from the entire online map space. If Mueller is right, and a broad injunction is granted against Google Maps, the net result will be millions of Germans unable to use this popular service in a Web browser or on their smartphones. In what way does that benefit society or promote innovation?

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 7:00am

    Thinking for a moment this might be good to rise awareness to the absurdity of the current system. If it really happens and I was at Google I'd seize the opportunity to redirect people from the maps service to a throughly explicative page with tons of references to studies and articles about the problems of the current system, a detailed breakdown of how the system works and why M$ patent is totally bogus.

    Rise shitloads of awareness. And gouge goodwill towards Microsoft in the most subtle but gruesome way =D

     

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  2.  
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    Charles (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:00am

    Florian Mueller

    I first became aware of Florian Mueller at www.groklaw.net

    He is not the most reliable of sources, in my opinion. He is prone to MS bias. See for yourself: http://www.groklaw.net/search.php?query=Florian+Mueller&keyType=phrase&datestart=&dateen d=&topic=0&type=all&author=0&mode=search

     

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  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:03am

    Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    but against Microsoft (in this particular instance)?

    This piece merely presents a classic "injustice" scenario where readers are supposed to side with Google (implied to be working in public interest).

    Suppose you'll argue Google doesn't have a monopoly, so it's okay to let grow until does. -- Can you possibly stretch to supposing that NEITHER corporation is working for the public interest? -- That not only these two, but ALL large corporations are BAD?

    In particular, why is there never a worry about Google here?

    And again, MY FIX for this patents is to rule out software patents, also to prohibit corporations from owning patents, and even to apply a means test for granting patents, besides upon trying to enforce them.

    And what does Minion Moody have to suggest for a fix? NOTHING. He just ends with a LAME question.

     

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  4.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:04am

    What a great example

    The EPO patent is a wonderful example of the abuse of the idea of patents. Nothing (in the quoted part, anyway) about is is novel or should be worthy of a patent. Given the existence of an internet connection and GPS, it is an incredibly obvious "invention".

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:05am

    Re: Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    Have you been studied for science yet?

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:09am

    Re: Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    Protip: you may want to look up the meaning of the word 'monopoly'.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Beech, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:14am

    Re: Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    Yes, google is working against the public interest here by offering a free map service for free that you can opt out of using at any time by simply not using it. Makes perfect sense.

    also, anyone could voluntarily use Microsofts maps, or mapquest or whatever, so in what sense does google have a monopoly? Just because most people choose to use their site? Those bastards!

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:16am

    Re: Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    Whined about the RIAA yet?

    No?

    Then your rants about large corporations are still bullshit.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Beech, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:19am

    I'm beginning to see the light.

    I think I cracked the code. By requiring companies to "reinvent the wheel" to solve an old problem a slightly different way they are INNOVATING a new (if redundant) solution! Perhaps the system works after all?

    /s

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:23am

    So they're suing them in Europe instead of the US, where they would certainly be infringing on the same patent, right?

    The nerve of patent lawyers.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Shmerl, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:35am

    Can anyone clarify please. I thought EU doesn't recognize software patents. So how does this one exist?

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    jackn, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:42am

    Re: Re: Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    don't forget to add logic to your posts; otherwise, we will all be saying, "WTF," after reading your posts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    AB, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:44am

    I stand by my belief that patents, copyrights, or any other form of IP should not be transferable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    jackn, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:44am

    Re:

    germany recognizes the first to file suit rule. Whoever sues first gets the rights (esp. if it is not google).

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    jackn, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:46am

    Re:

    They know over here, we could immediatly think of 7 or 8 companies to deliver the said functionality before MS. so its a non-starter here. (except maybe in Texas).

     

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  16.  
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    Watchit (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:47am

    Re:

    They circumvented it with subtle word play.

    Here's an excerpt from the article you must have missed: "Moreover, it is of course implemented in software; given that Article 52 of the European Patent Convention explicitly excludes "programs for computers" from patentability, the fact that the EPO granted a patent here is an early example of how it circumvented that exclusion because a computer was used to run that software (well, doh.)"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:48am

    Re: Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    Google and Microsoft both have competing free services (among others). If Microsoft can shut down Google they can do it with any similar service. The criticism is not restricted to Microsoft but to the whole situation.

    And again, MY FIX for this patents is to rule out software patents, also to prohibit corporations from owning patents, and even to apply a means test for granting patents, besides upon trying to enforce them.


    Congratulations for reaching the same ideas that are presented on course of several articles on the issues regarding software patents here at Techdirt. And for making a fool of yourself =D

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Watchit (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:51am

    Re:

    I disagree. Patents and Copyright needs to be transferable under the current system so it can be used by those who would actually use it rather than be locked up for 100+ years without anyone being able to use it. Though, I suppose licenses could be used, but that would have it's own slew of problems as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Shmerl, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:52am

    Re: Re:

    My question is, why does such crooked logic work, since it's still software (of course it runs on the computers, where else), and can't be this patent be busted on this basis?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:53am

    I wonder if this has anything to do with various move towards Linux in the German government agencies. Microsoft keeps claiming that other operating systems and services infringe its patents.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    izzitme101, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 9:56am

    Ive been aware of florian for a long time to, never known his 'analysis' to be right.
    ever.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:00am

    can anyone name any company that is more concerned with benefiting the public and/or innovation over their own control and profits? Microsoft, like Apple, are one of the worst. want everyone else stuff for free, want to charge for their stuff, even when it is based off the back of others. the ones that suffer, as usual, are the people. greed is so all consuming!!

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Bengie, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:11am

    Anyone else?

    Software parents should include pseudo-code, as patents apply to the implementation, not the end result.

    If the pseudo-code is not the same, then it doesn't infringe.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:23am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Patents attorneys make words mean one thing at the patent office, and another when they get to court. Part of a patent case can be defining what the words mean in a patent. Once lawyers become involved the meaning of language becomes rather flexible.

     

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  25.  
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    Watchit (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:28am

    Re: Re: Re:

    It probably got through due to little to no oversight in the EU patent application process, similar to the broad patents handed out in the US that clearly shouldn't be patented.

    I don't know enough about EU copyright/patent law to know if or how it can be busted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:28am

    Re: Anyone else?

    Software should not be patentable. And honestly, patents should be abolished and the system should start over.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    CAPO (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:37am

    This is in direct retaliation of google’s actions towards windows phone. With Google blocking access to the youtube api and also blocking access to google maps and making stupid comments about not allowing the platform access, also the blocking of active sync to gmail accounts via windows phone. This is a warming shot.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:42am

    Re: Florian Mueller

    Prone to incumbent bias in general really.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:44am

    Re: Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    out_of_the_blue doesn't understand rhetorical questions, the news at 11.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    DannyB (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:46am

    Re: Florian Microsoft

    Florian Microsoft.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:47am

    Re: I'm beginning to see the light.

    You see your honor, we didn't use the microsoft wheel in our product. You can see here in the cross section that our product is a multi-billion sided trapezoid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:49am

    Re: Anyone else?

    That's essentially using patents like copyright. Better to just use copyright.

    Although I agree that software patents should not be allowed, period.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:49am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So they splork for infinite splorks and get them?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    jackn, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:50am

    Re:

    I don't know if they are concerned with the public over their own profits, but google probably comes closest.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:52am

    Re: Florian Mueller

    I have read a number of statements from this idiot and I wouldn't call him biased. payed shill is more like it...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:54am

    Re:

    He did once accurately asses himself as an Oracle shill.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:55am

    Re: What a great example

    With a bit of word substitution, this patent describes any graphical multi-user game/world. Could that be used to invalidate the patent?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 10:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Yep.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 11:19am

    Re:

    The corporations would get round this by enslaving the Inventor in a golden cage with the best of medical attention. Wouldn't want them to die before their time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Richard (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 11:23am

    Re:

    Can anyone clarify please. I thought EU doesn't recognize software patents

    The EU doesn't - and most member states national patent offices don't. Unfortunately this is the EPO. A separate transnational organisation not under control of the EU, which has been writing its own rules for decades. Usually it is hard to enforce EPO patents without a national patent but in Germany..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Mar 12th, 2013 @ 11:24am

    Re:

    I stand by my belief that patents, copyrights, or any other form of IP should not be transferable.

    and I stand by my belief that patents, copyrights, or any other form of IP should not be.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    gnudist, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 11:26am

    Re: Let me get this straight: you're FOR Google's monopoly...

    "You're FOR Google's monopoly"

    Want some iced tea Out_Of_The_Blue? You must be powerful tired from setting up that whopper of a strawman

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 11:30am

    Re:

    Its a European patent, maybe the 'Inventor' didn't bother with a US patent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 11:54am

    Re: Re: Florian Mueller

    Well, one lead to the other.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Grumpy, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

    Re:

    I stand by my belief that patents, copyrights, or any other form of IP should not exist.

    FTFY

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Beech, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Re: I'm beginning to see the light.

    "That multi-billion sided trapezoid best not have rounded corners...

    Love,
    Apple"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Beech, Mar 12th, 2013 @ 3:04pm

    Monopoly

    The whole patent system is starting to seem like a giant board game. Take Monopoly for example. Technological progress is signified by moving along the board one square at a time, and maybe once in a great while you get to move a couple squares at once, so no "rolling dice" to have a chance to get around houses/hotels. Once you get ahead of someone else you can instantly deter their progress unless they find a different way around your roadblock (not really possible in Monopoly, but pretty tricksy at times in meatspace). Players as a whole don't benefit from houses, only the one in the lead. Hotels don't spur the other players to go faster, if the Top Hat drops a house on Baltic...that's where Racecar was going next turn anyway. Not like Racecar was just sitting on Go and had was never going to move until he saw Top Hat move. Baltic is the only place TO go. Just like when you have a computer, and you have maps, something similar to Google Maps is part of the natural progression. If Google/Microsoft didnt do it, someone else would have.

    Patents should only exist on making NEW products, or, for the sake of my analogy, for NEW board games. If Top Hat says "Fuck Baltic" and heads over to the Peppermint Forest (from Candyland) instead, then that's really something Racecar may NEVER have thought of. It's an AMAZING leap of progress as opposed to developing the same thing everyone is developing just a little bit faster. If Top Hat makes such a revolutionary jump it makes sense to let him build a toll bridge along the way. And not a hotel on every square of Candyland, just on getting to the new place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Mar 13th, 2013 @ 7:13am

    Yeah. That and $5...

    Germany, like France, will soon find themselves in the Internet "Black Hole". Talk about the Law of Unintended Consequences! These boneheads will soon learn about that!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    standardsguy (profile), Apr 24th, 2013 @ 9:43am

    Check out a 2004 article in GIM International on this very patent and possible prior art.

    portal.opengeospatial.org/files/?artifact_id=28360

    Cheers

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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