from the nice-try,-act dept
A few months back, we wrote about how two different groups had sent letters concerning a key part of Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s proposed patent reform bill: the “covered business methods” program (CBM), which allows for a much faster process for challenging and rejecting bad patents. A very narrow version of this program was introduced in the 2011 America Invents Act, but only for financial services patents. One of the ideas that many people support is expanding this program to software and other business method patents. It’s difficult to think of a reason to be against this unless you have a ton of really bad patents. As we noted in that original article, the App Developer’s Alliance — a trade group representing an awful lot of app developers (and, it should be noted, a sponsor of our site), sent a letter signed by hundreds of app developers asking Congress to expand this program. On the flip side, there was a bunch of old stodgy companies that have seen their innovative days disappear into the past: Microsoft, IBM, Qualcomm. Companies that have become reliant on abusing the patent system to keep out competition, rather than continuing to innovate.
That letter was actually put together by the BSA (the “Business Software Alliance”), a trade group that pretends it represents “the business software industry,” but which everyone knows takes its marching orders from Microsoft. In a recent interview with a BSA official, Tim Lee at the Washington Post pointed out that Microsoft seems very opposed to the expansion of CBM, and suggests that Microsoft is driving the BSA’s position against this. He also points out that there’s an obvious reason for this: Microsoft has a ton of low-quality patents that it doesn’t want to lose. The BSA official tries to tap dance around the whole thing, but doesn’t make much sense. Basically, they don’t like CBM because there are other ways to deal with bad patents — even though those aren’t working.
Of course, Microsoft is not exactly known for attacking on a single front. Another well-known Microsoft front group is a group called ACT, the Association for Competitive Technology, which calls itself a “grassroots advocacy organization” representing “small and mid-size app developers,” despite the fact that the organization only seems to reflect Microsoft’s interests. ACT has also set up a related organization specifically for app developers, called “ACT 4 APPS” which looks like it’s trying to be what the App Developer’s Alliance actually is, but without actually caring what actual app developers want. For example, last week, it sent a letter to Goodlatte arguing against CBM, just like the BSA, but in complete contrast to the App Developer’s Alliance. The App Developer’s Alliance has hundreds of names signed onto their letter in favor of expanding CBM and being able to knock out bad patents quickly.
In contrast, ACT 4 APPS’ letter could only turn up 14 signatures. And almost all of them appear to have some sort of close connection to… (you guessed it)… Microsoft. One of the signatures is from a former ACT employee, who appears to have just left a few months ago. And with at least ten of the other signatures, they appear to be Microsoft partners. Hell, the CEO of District Computers is involved in so many Microsoft efforts it’s tough to keep track of them all:
Steve is currently is one of Microsoft’s 21 Worldwide SMB Partner Area Leads (PAL); one of the three in the North American Region, representing the United States. He sits on the Microsoft US Small Business Specialist Community Partner Advisory Council (PAC). Also Steve is active on the U.S. Board of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), while maintainting the role of the president of the DC Chapter of the same organization.
Also, most of the companies on the list appear to be IT shops, helping companies set up (of course) Microsoft software and systems, rather than what most people think of as actual “app developers.” And many of them are based in DC, rather than around the country. Real “grassroots.”
When you look at the letters from the BSA and from ACT, it seems pretty clear that Microsoft is deathly afraid of this accelerated review of crappy patents, and it’s getting various groups to “front” that effort with letters to Congress. But when you dig deeper into those letters and look, it’s pretty clear this is just Microsoft knowing that an awful lot of its patents are likely to be of very low quality, and easily challenged under such a program. Next time, perhaps Microsoft should focus on actually innovating, rather than betting so much of its strategy on shaking down companies with weak patents.