If we’re going to be successful in defending our industry from extortionists, we need to focus on extortion. If we spend our energy bickering with each other over our personal agendas, we will fail.
Apple is not a patent troll. Neither is Microsoft. Neither is PixFusion. Patent trolls, by definition, produce nothing but lawsuits. Using the legalized monopoly power of a patent against competitors is how the system is designed to work. Whether that system should exist at all is a separate issue. Whether this company or that company is being a dick is a separate issue.
We are going after one type of behavior: obtaining patents for the sole purpose of extracting licensing fees. That this is a burden to all technologists is something we should all be able to agree on, and is therefore something that we should all be able to work together to change.
If we start equating Apple to Intellectual Ventures, or if we try to eliminate software patents entirely, we are going to find ourselves up against the platform vendors, and we are going to lose. Save those battles for another day.
The past few weeks have been very dark indeed. Rovio and others targeted by new lawsuits, Craig Hockenberry predicting doom, and Matt Gemmell’s morale falling like Stonewall Jackson. The only thing keeping me from joining my colleagues in abject depression is working for an 11th hour rally.
Rally time starts now.
Intellectual Ventures and their ilk are many tentacled beasts who use thousands of shell companies to do their dirty work. When they send blood-sucking tentacles like Lodsys into our community, we need to cut them off.
Eventually the head will figure out to stop losing tentacles. Eventually the patent trolls will learn to avoid indies the way dogs in East Texas learn to avoid anthills.
Of course patent trolls are more likely to be from California than from Texas, so they might not know about the anthills. I actually spent part of my childhood in Texas, and learned the hard way that if you step on an anthill you’ll soon be covered in swarming, biting ants. You could, in theory, crush them one by one, but it’s much easier to just avoid anthills.
Let App Makers be as the ants of East Texas, minding their business until someone invades their anthill. Then Swarm! Swarm! Swarm! We will let the patent trolls know: if you attack one indie, you attack all indies, and we will file every motion we can against you, we will attack your patents, and we will show you for the mafioso thugs you are.
Our general in this fight is Michael McCoy, a Longhorn Texas technology attorney who is also conveniently licensed in California. We’ve been meeting in Amsterdam to hammer out a strategy and form a plan for immediate action.
When he returns to work next week, Michael will assemble and lead the Appsterdam Legal Defense Team, establish the Appsterdam Legal Defense Fund, and start implementing our strategy, codenamed Operation Anthill.
Legal action and education will be the start. We will also consider other ways of protecting ourselves, such as pushing for legislative reform. Of course, our enemies are both wealthier and better connected than we are, so will have to take our story to the people, let the public know that small businesses, jobs, and the economy are being threatened by parasites—and pray that democracy can still prevail.
We must move the fight away from the story that has been conceived by our enemies. This isn’t a patent infringement issue. There’s nothing most of the affected App Makers could have done to avoid being targeted. This is extortion, plain and simple, with the familiar twist of misappropriating the law to harass the very innovators patents are meant to protect.
NPR primed the pump of public awareness with the latest episode of This American Life, “When Patents Attack!” Ready or not, the time to act is now. I propose a tongue-in-check brown ribbon campaign to raise awareness. Brown? Obviously.
Software patents are bullshit.
Steve “Scottie” Scott and John Fox of iDTV recorded an interview with Michael McCoy and me, Mike Lee. (8:15 audio file, MP3 format). If you are a member of the media and would like a high quality copy for your broadcast, or would like to schedule an interview, please contact bmf at le.mu.rs.
Much has been made of Lodsys, and we have heaped scorn upon them. But Lodsys is nothing but a container for scorn, a shield in East Texas, one shell in a game of shells designed to distract us from the real villain—Silicon Valley itself.
At the core of a network of thousands of patent trolls lies the biggest troll of all, a protection racket called Intellectual Ventures. If you’d like to know more about Intellectual Ventures and their relationship with Lodsys and other trolls, I recommend the latest edition of This American Life, who did a story on the subject.
The story was familiar, but the conclusion was novel—Intellectual Ventures is a Silicon Valley startup, funded by venture capitalists who are expecting massive returns, which are only possible by squeezing as many revenue streams as possible.
One thing you have to know about the Valley is that, underneath its non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements, it is completely incestuous. The same investors, the same funds, the same companies come up with their finger in the same pies again and again and again.
That means that when IV and their horde of hypodermic parasites land on other Valley companies, the licensing fees are just moving money around between the same people. The only real revenue is from Valley outsiders—indies and foreigners. You know, the ones they laugh at.
When you follow the money all the way through the complex tunnels of financial and legal confusion, you end up at the Valley itself. This whole patent war is really just a huge anti-competitive play that the Valley has made, intentionally or not, to screw the rest of the technology world.
A Silicon Valley refugee such as myself, who has fled to a jurisdiction with a saner patent system, finds himself stuck, because all the serious platforms are based in or around the Valley.
Even if a European company makes apps to sell in Europe, they still have to go through a Valley company, making them potential victims of this whole scam. The EU is going to need to step in to protect its technologists from this American madness.
There is also an opportunity here. I’ve said before that this nonsense is going to leave the US a third-world pariah in technology. Right now the calculus must be that even if they lose the App Makers to broken healthcare and immigration systems, they still control the platforms.
But for how long? Because right now the US patent system is every app platform’s major weakness. If someone were to exploit that by making a decent platform out of reach of American attorneys, I and most other developers would flock there.
News from the front has not been promising. Tech blogs read like Tolkien short stories. Our colleagues are being overrun by patent trolls. Widget Press is about to fall, and Iconfactory may be next.
None of us are ready to take up this fight, but if we don’t bring the fight to them, they’re going to bring the fight to us.
At this point we have two options. We continue business as usual, going along our separate paths, spending each day praying we are not the next to fall. Or we stand together, here and now, and fight back.
Abandon the notion that lawyers are our enemies. There are many lawyers who would like to help stop this misuse of patent law. I know because when lawyers and others want to help App Makers, they contact the Appsterdam movement.
Our goal is to serve the interests of App Makers all over the world, and there is no greater interest than fighting the destruction of our industry, our businesses, and our way of life.
Let this be our rallying cry. We’re starting by putting the call out for attorneys and patent experts who would like to help assemble a legal team: email bmf at le.mu.rs.
In a few weeks, we’ll set up a legal defense fund to fuel that team. Then we will formulate and implement a strategy to fight these bastards.
Together, we will get the message across: If you come after indies, we will come after you. They can afford to fight, but we cannot afford to lose.
My #unlodsys bug was closed as a duplicate. What does that mean?
Right now #unlodsys bugs are being closed as duplicates almost as soon as they are created. Although the response you get is pre-formed, rest assured that a real person sent it. It doesn’t take long to spot another in a series of duplicates, and the fact the bugs are being closed so soon means someone has noticed the trend.
From this we can extrapolate the bug is blinking red in Radar (Apple’s bug tracker) right now. That’s exactly what we want. The more times a bug is duplicated, the more powerful it becomes, because it shows the will of the people. This campaign is the same as calling your representative in government. The contents of the individual call is not as important as the number of calls they have received about the issue.
Aren’t we wasting the time of some poor engineer?
Absolutely not. Bug reports are not scrubbed (i.e., handled) by engineers, they are scrubbed by specialists. Only then are they forwarded to the appropriate people. We are not taking them away from their usual duties. Scrubbing these bugs is their job.
Bombarding these folks with duplicate bug reports is not an abuse of the system, it is exactly how the system is designed to work. Apple wants us to communicate with them via Radar. Doing it this way is, in a word, respectful, whereas flooding the email box of some poor evangelist or Steve Jobs himself would not be.
What do engineering bug reports have to do with legal?
It is a misconception that Radar belongs to engineering. Radar and its kin are used throughout the company for tracking all sorts of issues. Moreover, big events in Radar trigger a response beyond Radar. You can bet that when Radar blows up with something, Steve knows about it pretty quickly.
There’s also the very simple fact that our making a coordinated effort makes our grievances known all over the internet. The press have already noticed the #unlodsys boycott and reported on it, which increases the pressure on Apple.
Aren’t boycotts a waste of time?
Often, yes, because the number of people participating in the boycott is tiny compared to the total number of customers. In this case, however, there really aren’t that many productive developers. Action by a few hundred people means nothing relative to, say, the customer base of Proctor and Gamble, but in terms of the developer base of Apple, it has a huge impact.
Isn’t the Lodsys patent patently absurd?
It looks that way, but even absurd, easily invalidated patents cost more to defend against than most developers can afford. That’s the whole point of #unlodsys. We can’t even afford to have this conversation, so we’d like someone else who can, and who has skin in the game, to jump in.
What about other claims from Lodsys and other patent trolls?
There is a lot going on in the realm of patent trolling lately, and a lot more to come if we don’t act in a loud and coordinated fashion to stop it. Like good engineers, we have to focus our efforts on one API on one platform with one parasite. We picked the one that is a clear-cut case for Apple’s intervention and that actually impacts their revenue.
Isn’t this unjustified panic?
Regardless of whether it is justified, panic is useless. We need to funnel whatever feelings we have into action. Filing bugs and not using an API that could get us sued is a pretty reasonable course of action. We’re not filing a class action lawsuit or picketing 1 Infinite Loop. We’re just letting Apple, and those who watch Apple, know what we need and why.
Won’t Apple fix this anyway?
Maybe, and maybe our boycott will have no effect whatsoever. On the other hand, we might make them move faster, or with more severity. Moreover the online conversation this has generated will make its way into Apple. It might educate them. It might move them. It might even make them help us. The one thing we can be sure of is that the most effective way to have no effect is to do nothing.
What if Apple doesn’t respond?
Then that will be a wonderful opportunity for Google.