In a world where the most recent arguments over IP are almost impossible to track effectively (although I’m grateful to the The Guardian for providing this handy diagram on who is suing whom in the world of mobile phone technologies) it’s nice to be able to catch an argument that is going to be huge in its early stages. David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science in the Coalition Government, has praised the US patent system and suggested that in the UK we are too reluctant to allow the patenting of wide areas of invention:
“In the US, it’s easier to obtain software patents, and Google was able to patent some work – using a federal grant, I might add – that it might not have been able to patent in the UK. The US rule is that ‘anything man has invented under the sun you should be able to patent’. That’s something we do wish to investigate.”
Knowing the vehemence of the European anti-software patent lobby, this seems likely to be a controversial course, should the government decide to pursue it. It was also somewhat in contradiction to the themes in David Cameron the Prime Minister’s speech at the same event which talked about widening fair dealing exceptions to copyright law to better mirror those in US law (the document underpinning the PM’s speech also trailed a ‘peer to patent’ system of vigorous crowd-sourced patent application testing specifically for the UK, which might work against the ‘everything under the sun’ approach that Willetts advocated).
Argument number 2: GPL-licensed media player VLC has been converted to run on iOS, the operating system used on Apple’s portable devices the iPod Touch, the iPhone and the iPad with the blessing of the managers of the project. Unfortunately a contributor to the project has taken exception to this and believes that distributing his work under the GPL via Apple’s App Store is an infringement of his copyright. This is an extremely interesting example of why IP management in projects is a sticky, potentially ugly but essential issue. Project managers need to be sure they have the rights necessary to do what they want to do. Discussions of this issue on the VLC mailing list (including one thread started by the Licence Compliance Officer at the Free Software Foundation explaining why they are supporting the complaining developer and which quickly degenerates into abuse) are ongoing, and it is not yet clear if Apple will remove the app from their store in response to the complaint.
Argument 3: Oracle has responded to Google’s response to their complaint over Java on Android. Despite doubts over whether Oracle could make the copyright infringement accusations stick, Oracle have come back strongly with alleged actual code borrowings between Oracle’s Java and Android’s Dalvik virtual machines. The Register has reported that – although Google’s code is based on the Apache Software Foundation project Harmony, the alleged borrowings are not present in the Harmony code base, and so must have found their way into Android through Google’s downstream customisation work. This is good news for Apache, but potentially awful news for Google and the Android ecosystem.