Taking a stand on open source and patents

Duane Valz, Senior Patent Counsel 

Cross-posted from the Google Open Source Blog 

At Google we believe that open systems win. Open-source software has been at the root of many innovations in cloud computing, the mobile web, and the Internet generally. And while open platforms have faced growing patent attacks, requiring companies to defensively acquire ever more patents, we remain committed to an open Internet—one that protects real innovation and continues to deliver great products and services.

Today, we’re taking another step towards that goal by announcing the Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge: we pledge not to sue any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked.

We’ve begun by identifying 10 patents relating to MapReduce, a computing model for processing large data sets first developed at Google—open-source versions of which are now widely used. Over time, we intend to expand the set of Google’s patents covered by the pledge to other technologies.

We hope the OPN Pledge will serve as a model for the industry, and we’re encouraging other patent holders to adopt the pledge or a similar initiative. We believe it has a number of advantages:

  • Transparency. Patent holders determine exactly which patents and related technologies they wish to pledge, offering developers and the public transparency around patent rights.
  • Breadth. Protections under the OPN Pledge are not confined to a specific project or open-source copyright license. (Google contributes a lot of code under such licenses, like the Apache or GNU GPL licenses, but their patent protections are limited.) The OPN Pledge, by contrast, applies to any open-source software—past, present or future—that might rely on the pledged patents.
  • Defensive protection. The Pledge may be terminated, but only if a party brings a patent suit against Google products or services, or is directly profiting from such litigation.
  • Durability. The Pledge remains in force for the life of the patents, even if we transfer them.

Our pledge builds on past efforts by companies like IBM and Red Hat and the work of the Open Invention Network (of which Google is a member). It also complements our efforts on cooperative licensing, where we’re working with like-minded companies to develop patent agreements that would cut down on lawsuits.

And, in addition to these industry-driven initiatives, we continue to support patent reforms that would improve patent quality and reduce excessive litigation.

We hope the OPN Pledge will provide a model for companies looking to put their own patents into the service of open-source software, which continues to enable amazing innovation.

Informática 2013 and 1992

The fifteenth Cuban international trade show and conference, Informática 2013, took place this week. Below, you see a photo of the opening session and a picture taken on the exhibit floor.

I looked around the Informática Web site and found a couple of interesting things. Below, you see the logos of the "diamond" sponsors. Note that four are Chinese and six Cuban. This reminded me of a recent post on Chinese tech companies in Cuba.

Informática is a collection of technical conferences on various topics as well as a trade show. (We have already described the health conference) The technical presentations were categorized as follows:
  • XV Congreso Internacional de Informática en la Educación “INFOREDU 2013”
  • 1er Foro Internacional de TV Digital
  • XI Simposio Internacional de Automatización
  • VI Congreso Internacional de Tecnologías, Contenidos Multimedia y Realidad Virtual
  • I Congreso Integracionista de las Ciencias y las Tecnologías Informáticas, Santiago de Cuba 
  • IV Simposio Internacional de Electrónica: diseño, aplicaciones, técnicas avanzadas y retos actuales
  • VIII Congreso Internacional de Geomática
  • IX Congreso Internacional de Informática en Salud
  • VI Simposio de Telecomunicaciones
  • II Conferencia Internacional de Ciencias Computacionales e Informáticas
  • Energía y Medio Ambiente
  • IV Simposio Informática y Comunidad
  • VI Taller de Calidad en las Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones
  • XI Seminario Iberoamericano de Seguridad en las Tecnologías de la Información
  • III Taller internacional “Las TIC en la Gestión de las Organizaciones”
The papers are not online, but abstracts, comments and the email addresses of the authors are.

I could not help noticing that the Web site was a bit amateurish. For example, author's photos were sometime distorted -- re-sized without maintaining the original aspect ratio and HTML tags were visible in many of the abstracts. These are minor quibbles, but they are jarring in 2013.

As Muchas Gracias points out in a comment on a recent post, Cubans were required to pay registration fees in CUC this year rather than Cuban pesos. (In the US, conferences often admit people to the exhibit hall only free or at a reduced price -- perhaps that was also the case at Informática).

Informatica 1992

Muchas Gracias' comment also reminded me of my visits to Informática 1992 and 1994. Cuba did not yet have IP connectivity at that time, and the Internet was not well known outside of the technical community. The Internet community was open and friendly to a professor from the US, and I presented papers and met many people. Since I've begun reminiscing, here are some photos that my colleague Joel Snyder took at Informática 1992:

Pabexpo -- the site of Informática 

Attendees coming for the opening speeches

The stage for the opening

Two rows of dignitaries

Looking down on the exhibit hall

On the exhibit floor

On the exhibit floor

An East German computer

Cuban hardware running Russian software

Russian chips

The Youth Computer Club booth

Ceniai booth

In the Ceniai booth

Relaxing afterward at the Bay of Pigs

Cuban conference on Health Informatics

The theme of the International Congress on Health Informatics in Havana is "health information and communication technology, a reality today, an opportunity for the future."

The program is divided into the following topic areas: computing, society and health; knowledge management, education and health information; new information technologies and clinical practice; Internet, networks and telemedicine; and Information and nursing procedures.

The papers are all on line (bravo), and I did searches of the titles looking for the words Internet, red, and Alba. Four papers have the word red in the title, two have the word Internet and none have the word Alba.

It is a pity that Cuban medical professionals do not have easy access to colleagues and information around the world and vice versa. As I've stated earlier, health care, education and research should be high-priority candidates for high speed connectivity to the undersea cable. The opportunity for the future is great; today's reality is not.

Chinese technology companies in Cuba -- what are they doing?

Jennifer Hernandez of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami has posted a note on her research on Chinese Technology Companies in Cuba.

She notes that "through bilateral trade agreements, China has been expanding its sphere of influence," and looks at the activities of two large Chinese telecommunication equipment companies, Huawei and ZTE. Much of her emphasis is on surveillance and she concludes that "China’s transfer of technology to Cuba does not necessarily benefit Cubans. Instead China seems to be equipping the island’s information technology infrastructure with systems that can potentially spy on Cubans."

Internet surveilance is pretty well taken for granted in Cuba and China, and it is deplorable, but I wonder about the up side. Are Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies also building Internet infrastructure in Cuba?

China was instrumental in installing the ALBA-1 undersea cable between Cuba and Venezuela, but what about infrastructure on the Island? We have spoken earlier of the mismatch between the speed of the undersea cable and the obsolete domestic Internet infrastructure -- the cable is strong link in a weak chain.

That fact had to be understood before work began on the cable, but it went forward regardless. It may be wishful thinking, but I hope Cuba will use the resources and expertise of Huawei and ZTE to strengthen that weak chain by, say, building a Cuban backbone or working to connect key sectors like education and healthcare -- even if they keep an eye on the users.

Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives on privacy legislation

This morning Richard Salgado, Legal Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security, will testify before a House Judiciary Subcommittee about the need to bring a key privacy law into line with how people use the web today.

The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations will explore whether to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The 1986 law, known as ECPA, regulates how government agencies can compel companies to disclose information about users.

Richard’s testimony explains that ECPA was a well-intentioned law when passed nearly three decades ago, but it no longer provides the privacy protections that users of these services reasonably expect.

You can read his written testimony and this recent blog post outlining Google’s approach to government requests for user data.

Alan Gross files an affidavit

Last November, Alan Gross and his wife filed a law suit against Development Alternatives, Inc. (the company that he contracted with for his ill-fated work in Cuba) and the United States of America for "damages arising from tortious conduct committed against them."

His attorneys have filed an affidavit based on three sets of in-person interviews (December 2012, February 2013, and March 2013) and reviewed by Gross. Tracey Eaton has posted that statement on his blog Along the Malecón. It is detailed and revealing -- I advise you to read it in its entirety. I did, and here are a couple of the quotes that I noticed.

His physical condition
I currently weigh 144 pounds. I am 5 feet, 11 inches tall. When I was arrested, my weight was approximately 254 pounds.
He was experienced
For the last ten years before my arrest, my projects through JBDC (his company) focused primarily on facilitating the use of information and communications technology ("ICT") to aid citizens in other countries with limited access to ICT. Over this period, I set up and managed approximately 150 fixed-earth stations to increase Internet access.
Before the project that led to my arrest, I had worked on numerous USAID sponsored projects throughout the world.
What he brought in
To do this work, I usually would purchase the required components and assemble what I call a "telco in a bag." These kits would contain "BGANS," which are commercially-available modems that permit connectivity from anywhere in the world by accessing satellites. (For more on the equipment, see this post)
Work in Jewish communities
Further, as part of my international development career, I also had worked on several development projects with numerous Jewish communities around the world, including Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Israel, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
His motivation
I was excited when I received DAl's RFP. The potential project provided me with an opportunity to combine my professional interest in technology and international development with my personal passion for helping Jewish communities around the world.
DAI security
When I arrived for the meeting on November 6, 2008, I was escorted into a conference room in which approximately 20 DAI employees were present. This was different from subsequent meetings, which were held in a secure suite designated for DAI employees working on the Cuba Project.
His proposal to DAI
I developed a proposal, known as "ICT4Cuba," or its trade name, "Para La Isla," that addressed all of the requirements ofDAI's RFP, particularly the goal of facilitating media access for faith~based groups. Specifically, I chose to focus on Cuba's small Jewish community; I proposed loaning ICT devices such as cell phones, wireless technologies, personal computers, BGANS, and other computer network devices to local community members at each project site, testing the equipment, and then training citizens to use the equipment.
His naivette
After my arrest, I was informed by Cuban Government officials that it was illegal in Cuba to distribute anything funded in whole or in part by USAID. At no point before or during the ICT Project was I aware or warned that activities contemplated by this USAID and DAl-sponsored project were crimes in Cuba.
During my trips to Cuba, I had significant success in connecting members of the small Cuban Jewish community to the rest of the world.

For example, some of my Cuban contacts were able to have video conferences with friends and relatives in Israel and other parts of the world, using Skype.

Similarly, one of the synagogues that I worked with was able to download the weekly Torah readings from the Internet.

Other Cuban Jews used the equipment to access Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica in Spanish.

Still others were able to download anti-virus programs, to protect the computers that they already had.
His openess
During none of my trips to Cuba did I attempt to conceal the equipment in my possession. Each time I arrived at the airport in Havana, airport security and Cuban Customs officials inspected all of my bags, including those containing the equipment. I even told them that the equipment was for the purpose of using computer systems inside synagogues.
DAI wiped his laptop
... several days after my arrest in Cuba, Jack McCarthy (DAI project leader) contacted Judy, who naturally was completely distraught emotionally about my arrest, and told her that DAI needed to take my personal laptop from my home and "wipe" certain information from it, for my own "protection."

DAI came to my house, left with my laptop, and advised Judy to come to DAI to retrieve the laptop within the following week.

Google Policy Fellowship applications due March 15th

Posted by Kate Sheerin, Policy Analyst

This Friday is the last day to apply for the 2013 Google Policy Fellowship -- all applications must be submitted by March 15, 2013 at midnight PST.  Please visit the website for application and program details.

The Google Policy Fellowship supports students and organizations working on the critical technology policy issues of our time. Fellows will have the opportunity to work at public interest organizations at the forefront of debates on broadband and access policy, content regulation, copyright and trademark reform, consumer privacy, open government, and more. The Google Policy Fellowship is open to students of all levels and disciplines.  

Good luck on your application!

Launching a dialogue on free expression with telecoms

Posted by Bob Boorstin, Director, Public Policy, and Lewis Segall, Senior Counsel, Ethics and Compliance

(Cross-posted from the Google Europe Blog)

We wake up every day at Google asking ourselves: how can we get more information to more people around the world? Unfortunately, officials in too many governments wake up every day asking themselves: how can we stop our people from getting more information?

Those opposing questions lay at the heart of our decision back in 2008 to be a founding member company of the Global Network Initiative (GNI). The GNI is a group of companies, human rights groups and NGOs, socially responsible investors and academics that works to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.

From the beginning, we hoped that the GNI would find common ground with other companies and groups around the world.  And today we’re happy to report that the GNI is entering into a two-year collaboration with a group of eight European telecommunications firms to “find a shared and practical approach to promoting freedom of expression and privacy rights around the world.”

The eight firms — Alcatel-Lucent, France Telecom-Orange, Millicom, Nokia Siemens Networks, Telefonica, Telenor, TeliaSonera, and Vodafone — provide services and equipment in scores of countries.

The firms, known collectively as the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue, have been meeting among themselves since 2011 to discuss freedom of expression and privacy rights in their sector, and have developed a set of guiding principles. Under the new partnership, they are not joining GNI — but the GNI will house the Industry Dialogue’s work and provide a place where members of both groups can learn from each other, develop new ideas, and collaborate in protecting and advancing user privacy and freedom of expression.

For the Industry Dialogue, we hope the arrangement will give the eight companies the chance to see the advantages we’ve found in an alliance that goes beyond industry and includes NGOs and others. For the GNI — a group born of the conviction that there is strength in numbers and a diverse membership — the arrangement marks a concrete step to building a broader and more global platform to help protect user rights.

Working together to reduce patent litigation

Posted by Eric Schulman, Legal Director

We’ve been encouraged by recent proposals for legislation and other reforms aimed at addressing the growing harm that patent trolls are inflicting on U.S. consumers and small businesses. We also think that companies can work together to help curb excessive patent litigation, so we’ve launched a new cooperative licensing website laying out some of our ideas and soliciting feedback from interested companies.

The problem of lawsuits brought by patent trolls—companies that don't make any products—is huge and getting worse. Additionally, in a growing trend, companies are selling patents to trolls that then use those patents to attack other companies. In some cases, those companies arrange to get a cut of revenue generated from the trolls’ suits.

We think companies should cooperate to reduce patent litigation—what’s been compared to nuclear arms control for the patent world. On our site, we outline several networked, standardized, royalty-free patent licensing agreements that increase companies’ freedom to operate while reducing patent assertions, especially by trolls.

For example, in a License on Transfer (LOT) Agreement, participating companies agree that when a patent is transferred (other than as part of a legitimate spin-out), the transferred patent automatically becomes licensed to other participating companies. Participants are thus protected from any future attacks if the patent was sold to a troll.

The more companies that unite in these kinds of agreements, the more beneficial the agreement becomes to its members, especially companies that don’t regularly sell patents or don’t want to spend money or time defending against trolls.

Take a look at the description of the LOT Agreement and the other approaches on our website and, if you’re interested or have feedback, let us know.

Transparency Report: Shedding more light on National Security Letters

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Our users trust Google with a lot of very important data, whether it’s emails, photos, documents, posts or videos. We work exceptionally hard to keep that information safe—hiring some of the best security experts in the world, investing millions of dollars in technology and baking security protections such as 2-step verification into our products.

Of course, people don’t always use our services for good, and it’s important that law enforcement be able to investigate illegal activity. This may involve requests for personal information. When we receive these requests, we:

  • scrutinize them carefully to ensure they satisfy the law and our policies; 
  • seek to narrow requests that are overly broad; 
  • notify users when appropriate so they can contact the entity requesting the information or consult a lawyer; 
  • and require that government agencies use a search warrant if they’re seeking search query information or private content, like Gmail and documents, stored in a Google Account.  

When conducting national security investigations, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation can issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to obtain identifying information about a subscriber from telephone and Internet companies. The FBI has the authority to prohibit companies from talking about these requests. But we’ve been trying to find a way to provide more information about the NSLs we get—particularly as people have voiced concerns about the increase in their use since 9/11.

Starting today, we’re now including data about NSLs in our Transparency Report. We’re thankful to U.S. government officials for working with us to provide greater insight into the use of NSLs. Visit our page on user data requests in the U.S. and you’ll see, in broad strokes, how many NSLs for user data Google receives, as well as the number of accounts in question. In addition, you can now find answers to some common questions we get asked about NSLs on our Transparency Report FAQ.

You'll notice that we're reporting numerical ranges rather than exact numbers. This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations. We plan to update these figures annually.

Identifying available spectrum

Cross-posted from the Official Google.org blog

Today, there are billions of phones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices connecting to the Web wirelessly. Meanwhile, people living in parts of the world without wired infrastructure rely on wireless broadband for their last mile connection. As more people go online and the number of wireless devices grows, so does the need for spectrum.

There is available spectrum out there -- but it can be hard to find if you don't know where to look. One way we're trying to help researchers and other stakeholders identify available spectrum is through dynamic spectrum sharing. Spectrum sharing allows devices to use spectrum when it is not in use by someone else simply by checking a data base. We're in the process (with several others) of becoming a certified database administrator for a band of spectrum called the TV white spaces.

Today, we’ve reached a milestone in the certification process: our database is beginning a public trial with the FCC. Our trial site allows industry stakeholders (broadcasters, cable, wireless microphone users, licensed spectrum holders) to test and provide feedback on the database. The trial site also allows anyone to find out how much TV white spaces spectrum is available at any location, such as your home or office.

Google Earth visualization of available TV whitespace spectrum.

The completion of the trial will bring us all one step closer to freeing up more spectrum, which in turn will help the industry bring new wireless technologies to market and enable people to get wireless Internet access when and where they need it.