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?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Companies: google, microsoft

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

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49 Comments
Ninjasays:

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

out_of_the_bluesays:

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.

Beechsays:

Re: 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!

Ninjasays:

Re: 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

Watchitsays:

Re: 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.)”

Richardsays:

Re: 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..

Anonymoussays:

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!!

Beechsays:

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.

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