We’re running a few days behind, but this week’s selected antitrust-related pieces include a look at the groundswell of anger from the open source community in light of IBM’s thinly-veiled threat to sue the makers of TurboHercules for patent infringement, Apple’s bid to more closely control the development of its Application store software, and Google’s closely-watched acquisition of mobile advertising player AdMob.
IBM/TurboHercules – IBM breaks the taboo and betrays its promise to the FOSS community | FOSS Patents
Already under investigation by European and American antitrust authorities for allegedly anticompetitive behavior in the mainframe market, IBM does not appear worried and continues to aggressively protect its near-monopoly share of the market. This time, however, IBM risks alienating one of its greatest assets: its cozy relationship with the open source community.
IBM’s recent move to enumerate the patents it believes are being infringed by the maker of an open source software package is a 180 degree course reversal from previous promises to “pledge” to protect the open source community using its patent portfolio, particularly the 500 patents it supposedly donated the community. TurboHercules, the software accused of violating various IBM patents, allows Big Blue mainframe users to interface with other brands of hardware, which cuts into corporate profits and caused IBM to react swiftly to Roger Bowler’s request for a bit of FOSS largess with a thinly-veiled threat of impending legal action. Florian Mueller has more:
This proves that IBM’s love for free and open source software ends where its business interests begin. In market segments where IBM has nothing to lose, open source comes in handy and the developer community is courted and cherished. In an area in which IBM generates massive revenues (an estimated $25 billion annually just on mainframe software sales!), any weapon will be brought into position against open source. Even patents, which represent to open source what nuclear arms are in the physical world.
Mueller is definitely not on board IBM’s policy reversal from its previous bid to play nice with open source and neither are a number of other very vocal opponents of this escalation of patent warfare by one of the largest holders of intellectual property in the world.
Kelly Fiveash at The Register weighs in on the issue in her related piece, IBM tears up open source patent pledge, claims FOSS:
“This is so appalling that I felt compelled to show to the FOSS community what IBM is doing: IBM is using patent warfare in order to protect its highly lucrative mainframe monopoly against Free and Open Source Software.”
IBM certainly has some explaining to do. It needs to make clear where it stands on open source, and where on software patents. It needs to understand that the two are not compatible, and that it cannot truly be a friend of the former while deploying the latter as weapons against free software, even when the victims sit on the latter’s fringe rather than at its heart. After such a long and mutually beneficial relationship, it would be sad if IBM decides that it prefers software patents to open source – and ultimately to its detriment.
The basic sentiment among the FOSS cognoscenti is that of betrayal, or as Maureen O’Gara puts it: “IBM is an Indian Giver!” TurboHercules’ founder Roger Bowler has gone so far as to file a formal complaint with European Union authorities accusing “IBM of tying the use of its dominant mainframe operating systems to its own mainframe hardware.” A lawsuit might be what what IBM had in mind when it sent Bowler its long “non-exhaustive” list of infringed patents but not one against them. This developing case is worthy of future attention and one that will set the tone for open source/IBM relations for years to come.
Apple - Why Apple Changed Section 3.3.1 | Daring Fireball
As Apple’s iPhone/iPad operating system edges closer to being a defacto standard for the mobile space, the company is faced with some of the same issues that Microsoft faced with the introduction of the Java middleware technology back in the 1990’s.
John Gruber’s suggestion for Apple to tie users closely to proprietary services is exactly what Microsoft did back in the halcyon days of the Windows operating system and the large number of hardware and software products that interfaced with the platform. Developers latched onto the well-established base of PC hardware and set up kind of a self-feeding loop of writing more software because more people were jumping on the PC hardware bandwagon because there were more software applications available. Apple needs to leverage this same kind of self-referencing effect by establishing their Applications store as a standardized, and proprietary, platform for software development. Gruber comments:
We’re still in the early days of the transition from the PC era to the mobile era. Right now, Apple is winning. There are other winners right now too — RIM is still growing, and Android has grown a ton in the past year.
The App Store platform could turn into a long-term de facto standard platform. That’s how Microsoft became Microsoft. At a certain point developers wrote apps for Windows because so many users were on Windows and users bought Windows PCs because all the software was being written for Windows. That’s the sort of situation that creates a license to print money.
And with Apple’s recent announcement that they will absolutely not have Adobe Flash compatibility in their software development kit for iPhone/iPad developers, they are making a move in the right direction. Again, Gruber offers his thoughts on the downside of cross-platform apps and Flash integration:
Adobe’s goal isn’t to help developers write iPhone apps. Adobe’s goal is to encourage developers to write Flash apps that run on the iPhone (and elsewhere) instead of writing iPhone-specific apps. Apple isn’t just ambivalent about Adobe’s goals in this regard — it is in Apple’s direct interest to thwart them.
Acting in one’s own direct interests sometimes involves being more selective and careful about just who you’re partnering with, and in Apple’s case, they’ve laid down strict guidelines for admission to the iPhone/iPad development club and can leverage this control into large quantities of money if developers continue to buy into a non-Flash environment. Adobe, on the other hand, will have to suck it up, despite having spent a fortune making sure their Flash product will integrate with Apple’s platform, which they have since been banned from. I can almost hear Adobe pinging their legal team to see if there’s some way to sue their way back into Apple’s Application store…
Google/AdMob – FTC circling the lawyers on Google-AdMob deal | cnet news
Tom Kravitz has a few thoughts on what’s been plaguing Google lately, among them a closely-scrutinized bid to purchase a major mobile advertising company with the FTC leading the charge:
Staff members inside the regulatory group have been asked to start preparing for the possibility of action against Google, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily planning to take action, but the move–coming weeks after reports that AdMob competitors were being asked to weigh in on the deal–shows that the FTC clearly hasn’t decided against it, either.
Google has already fired up the PR machine and put up a web-page dedicated to defending its purchase of AdMob and is doing its best to “rebut arguments that the deal would hurt competition by marrying the leading desktop-Web-advertising company with the leading mobile-Web-advertising company.” Steve Jobs’ announcement that Apple will be entering the mobile Web advertising business with their iAds service is certainly good news for Google , but it’s unclear whether the FTC will be persuaded enough to give the AdMob purchase the green light.
Google – Google: The Next Evil Empire? | NetworkWorld
In other Google news, the Mountain View, California-based search/advertising giant might be coming under additional, unwanted scrutiny from another Federal agency, this time the very pro-privacy Christine Varney, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to be assistant attorney general for antitrust at the Justice Department. Preston Gralla has more details for the gentle reader:
On June 19, 2008, well before the election, Varney participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the American Antitrust Institute. According to the Bloomberg news service, she warned that Google, not Microsoft, presents the greatest antitrust danger in the 21st century.
“For me, Microsoft is so last century. They are not the problem,” she said, adding that our economy will “continually see a problem — potentially with Google,” because it “has acquired a monopoly in Internet online advertising.”
Varney warned that Google may present other dangers as well, particularly in cloud computing. The company is “quickly gathering market power in what I would call an online computing environment in the clouds,” she said.
Lest anyone miss her point about Google, Varney added, “When all our enterprises move to computing in the clouds and there is a single firm that is offering a comprehensive solution, you are going to see the same repeat of Microsoft.”
Oh my. A “repeat of Microsoft” seems to imply an anti-trust lawsuit by the DOJ with resulting fines and reduced market share. Gralla wraps up his thoughts with this closing, and cautionary, quote: “…if I were a Google executive, there’s one place where I’d be hiring instead of cutting back: the legal department.” Solid advice in light of Varney’s very vocal opposition to “dangerous” companies like Google.