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We're in the middle of a patent war (duh)

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memenode's picture
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As events continue to unfold the full potential of the threat which software patents present to the Free Software movement seems ever more evident. I remember Richard Stallman saying pretty much that software patents are one thing that can stop the Free Software movement. GPLv3 was his response to that threat, and based on that prediction it was formed soon enough for it to MAY make a difference.

We are in a wreckage here. We have a company signing patent agreements with GNU/Linux companies on one hand and fueling patent lawsuits against those same companies on the other.

I am utterly impressed and disgusted at the same time with the amount of deviousness that this presents and the sheer amount of ugliness that the patent system in US allowed. I almost wanted to puke when I heard the news today. It makes me sick.

And yet, why am I to be surprised? We should have expected this. We celebrated the win over SCO, yet the next SCO was just about to start. Even if this one is ultimately won it doesn't seem AT ALL implausible for a yet another one to be prepared just right after. This can go on forever and the only way to stop it is the tough one: eliminate software patents from US law.

But.. with the amount of real democracy in US this seems to be a long way to go. The battle is really edgy in USA, between the Free Software movement and the problem it arose to solve. Will the movement survive in USA? I have no doubt, even if it goes illegal. But will it ever prevail against the corrupt industry that USA is supporting?

It's an open question.

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Another thing we have to

Another thing we have to consider, and really makes me shudder is that Microsoft now more or less has a hand on the Unix-rights, although they supported SCO in their battle.
The rights to Unix have been decided to belong to Novell, which now is, after signing that piece of sh.. aehm, paper, sort of a partner of Microsoft.
This unholy alliance might give MS a big big bat to smack the Free Software-baseball out of the field. If they can somehow convince Novell that the rights to Unix might be in better hands with MS, then we might be in for a really serious problem.

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Even if MS bought Novell and

Even if MS bought Novell and set about systematically making key parts of the OS proprietary, I think it would be a major battle lost but not the war.

Surely there would be a GPLv3 fork of the unencumbered parts? Alternatively GNU/Hurd is a fallback position and would get a new lease of life with the influx of refugee hackers. Besides this, there's still a great body of work done and being done on open formats and free drivers and apps.

That said, patents remain a problem in the US and hang as a threat over Europe and trotw.

Maybe when that guy gave a speech asking us to "respect Microsoft", he meant don't take your eye off this problem for a second, don't be lulled into complacency and imagine the attacks are over and the war is won, above all, never underestimate the rapaciousness of the corporation, for I say unto you, so infected with the sickness of greed is the corporation that it will destroy all that is good in it's insatiable quest for power and profits.

On a less biblical note, if history teaches us anything it's that doing good alone is not enough, it does not repel all attackers, on the contrary, it's like the scent of blood to a shark. If patents come into Europe I'm outta here to a free country so I can code and build co-operative capacity. I know how KD feels.

memenode's picture
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reptiler wrote: The rights
reptiler wrote:

The rights to Unix have been decided to belong to Novell, which now is, after signing that piece of sh.. aehm, paper, sort of a partner of Microsoft.

That's UNIX, not GNU or Linux and "GNU's Not Unix" as the name says. Therefore even if Microsoft got their hands on the UNIX copyrights this wouldn't necessarily prove they own ANY copyrights to what constitutes a GNU/Linux system and if they would allege so they would basically repeat what SCO was trying to do and pretty much failed, although for different reasons (they didn't own it, Novell did). I think it would be quite hard for MS to prove much in such a copyright suit though.

In addition, although I'd never bet on it, Novell doesn't seem to keen on accepting Microsoft's allegations about patent infringement and in the spirit of that they don't seem to me keen on giving up rights to UNIX either. After being as deviously attacked by a Microsoft's ally now, why would they suddenly feel like giving up their rights. If these people at Novell have any brains left they should be trying to find a way to break away from the MS-Novell deal and fight off this latest stupid lawsuit as brilliantly as they did the SCO one - and NOT think of giving Microsoft even more weaponry.

Unless they just want to give up the fight and surrender to Microsoft (in an acquisition)..

democrates wrote:

Even if MS bought Novell and set about systematically making key parts of the OS proprietary, I think it would be a major battle lost but not the war.

Agreed, as cynic I sometime feel about all this.. I agree.

democrates wrote:

Surely there would be a GPLv3 fork of the unencumbered parts?

Why would there be anything encumbered? If MS bought Novell they would get their patents and copyright to some things as perhaps Mono, but the larger GNU/Linux system was not developed by Novell. They still wouldn't own the copyrights to that. The core thing cannot really be touched by any corporation because the core things; GNU system belongs to FSF's GNU Project and Linux belongs to Linus Torvlads and other kernel hackers.

democrates wrote:

Maybe when that guy gave a speech asking us to "respect Microsoft", he meant don't take your eye off this problem for a second, don't be lulled into complacency and imagine the attacks are over and the war is won, above all, never underestimate the rapaciousness of the corporation, for I say unto you, so infected with the sickness of greed is the corporation that it will destroy all that is good in it's insatiable quest for power and profits.

As biblical as these verses may sound, they're quite a well sounding thing to read. And as much as we tried not to focus our attention on Microsoft alone, I think the latest events show that they at least require most if not all of the attention in the battle between the Free and Non-free world.

Others can be devious, sure. But no others can inflict the amount of damage that MS can and arguably no other company has the power, cash and influence that MS has. Those who choose to participate in the lines of defense must be wakeful.

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That's clearer now
democrates wrote:

Surely there would be a GPLv3 fork of the unencumbered parts?

libervisco wrote:

Why would there be anything encumbered? If MS bought Novell they would get their patents and copyright to some things as perhaps Mono, but the larger GNU/Linux system was not developed by Novell. They still wouldn't own the copyrights to that. The core thing cannot really be touched by any corporation because the core things; GNU system belongs to FSF's GNU Project and Linux belongs to Linus Torvlads and other kernel hackers.

Thanks, that clears up some confusion on my part, I was overestimating Novells ownership of unix, just assuming any posix compliant os would be included, plain lazy thinking I'm afraid.

As for Novell management, their views might not count for much if a takeover offer appealed to shareholders. For instance MS could portray itself as a white knight with deep pockets who can help Novell in this patent fight which threatens share price and dividends. This "covertly cause problem, overtly offer solution" is just one theory on what conspiracy MS might be hatching, time will reveal the actual game plan.

Edit: Now that I think of it, that pincer takeover might be a good thing for free software. Hear me out:-) MS is uniquely predatorial against free software because they are uniquely dependent on revenue from packaged proprietary software. MS is already diversifying it's revenue stream into gaming and mobile, online ads etc. If they got into software services that's big bucks, over time the percentage of revenue from the old os/office suite will be so low that they could have more to gain by getting the community on side than fighting it.

Or it could just be used as leverage to wage greater war. For now they're still bug #2, and swpats are #1.

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democrates wrote:Thanks,
democrates wrote:

Thanks, that clears up some confusion on my part, I was overestimating Novells ownership of unix, just assuming any posix compliant os would be included, plain lazy thinking I'm afraid.

Well, I'm not a lawyer not expert on these things, but from what I know copyrights can only apply to the actual written code, therefore the UNIX code. Trademarks, which also seem to be owned by Novell are another thing. However neither has much to do with GNU/Linux.

Now as for patents, well that's a whole different story. Of course, Microsoft would gain quite a bit bragging/threatening leverage by being able to say they now own UNIX, if that would include whatever UNIX related patents Novell has.. but now we're entering fuzzy waters..

But that's why, as you say, software patents are the number one problem to eliminate, a bug to fix.

democrates wrote:

Now that I think of it, that pincer takeover might be a good thing for free software. Hear me out:-) MS is uniquely predatorial against free software because they are uniquely dependent on revenue from packaged proprietary software. MS is already diversifying it's revenue stream into gaming and mobile, online ads etc. If they got into software services that's big bucks, over time the percentage of revenue from the old os/office suite will be so low that they could have more to gain by getting the community on side than fighting it.

It sometimes seems to me that those who are to blame for the current corrupt ways and deviousness of Microsoft are mainly its management, starting from Ballmer, while a large part of the company lower in its hierarchy is quite keen on changing its ways. Indeed I have a feeling that once this stupid war fog settles a new innovative Microsoft may emerge, one we occasionally get to see even today perhaps.

So that theory might not be all that far off, but unfortunately I think it would require a change of leadership. Bluntly speaking, Ballmer and friends should leave or be kicked out of the company, to be replaced by someone more open minded and more balanced, someone who, for once, wouldn't have Microsoft's absolute domination in mind as a top goal to be achieved at any cost, but who actually cares about making good technology and empowering its users, therefore someone who may for those exact reasons turn the company's policy on Free Software around, especially if they manage to profit from it well enough to remain a healthy company with slowly regaining reputation.

Edit: That said, another thought popped into my mind. Maybe one of the keys to bringing the software industry closer to a reform would be exactly to influence Microsoft itself, internally, to change. What if analysts and people who usually are heard by corporations would start appealing to Microsoft and its shareholders that the time to change has come, that Ballmer must go and that patent litigation must be left alone and Free Software finally considered, completely genuinely, as a good thing for their future?

Perhaps one of the ways to gain traction towards a reform of the patent system and the software industry is to also reform Microsoft itself, among other companies.

I guess it does in the end come down to "change or die" though. Changing would be preferred however.

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