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10.11.07

Here Come the Patent Infringement Suits (Updated)

Posted in Action, Courtroom, Free/Libre Software, FUD, GNU/Linux, Intellectual Monopoly, Law, Novell, Patents, Red Hat, Steve Ballmer at 12:33 pm by Shane Coyle

Hmmm…. Ballmer Was Right?

Recently, in his most recent FUD eruption regarding Red Hat and alleged Microsoft IP violations, the Microsoft CEO also implied that one day soon other companies would "go to the open source world".

That’s why we’ve done the deal we have with Novell, where not only are we working on technical interoperability between Linux and Windows but we’ve also made sure that we could provide the appropriate, for the appropriate fee, Novell customers also get essentially the rights to use our patented intellectual property. And I think it’s great the way Novell stepped up to kind of say intellectual property matters. People use Red Hat, at least with respect to our intellectual property in a sense have an obligation to eventually to compensate us. [emphasis ours]

There are plenty of other people who may also have intellectual property. And every time an Eolas comes to Microsoft and says, “Pay us,” I suspect they also would like to eventually go to the open source world. So getting what I’ll call an intellectual property interoperability framework between the two worlds I think is important.

Well, it appears that a company known as IP Innovation LLC is now filing suit against Red Hat and Novell, regarding a patent for "a User Interface with Multiple Workspaces for Sharing Display System Objects". Having adopted a no-look policy regarding spurious software patents, I cannot comment on any specifics (the patent number is below for the curious and masochistic).

IP Innovation LLC et al vs. Red Hat Inc. et al

Plaintiffs IP Innovation and Technology Licensing Corp. claim to have the rights to U.S. Patent No. 5,072,412 for a User Interface with Multiple Workspaces for Sharing Display System Objects issued Dec. 10, 1991 along with two other similar patents.

Defendants Red Hat Inc. and Novell have allegedly committed acts of infringement through products including the Red Hat Linux system, the Novell Suse Linex[SIC] Enterprise Desktop and the Novell Suse Linex[SIC] Enterprise Server.

“Red Hat’s and Novell’s infringement, contributory infringement and inducement to infringe has injured plaintiffs and plaintiffs are entitled to recover damages adequate to compensate them for such infringement but in no event less than a reasonable royalty,” the original complaint states.

The plaintiffs also allege that defendants received notice of the patents, therefore the infringing activities have been deliberate and willful.

Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction from the court, increased damages and other relief that the court or a jury may deem just and proper.

T. John Ward Jr. of Ward & Smith Law Firm in Longview is representing the plaintiff.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Leonard E. Davis.

Case No. 2:07-cv-00447-LED

Now, I don’t believe this is the first infringement suit that has ever been filed against Red Hat, but is this the leading edge of a new wave of litigation spurred on by Mr. Ballmer’s repeated accusations? We’ll have to wait and see, I suppose. In the meantime, can anyone think of any prior art for having ‘multiple workspaces’ in your GUI?

Update:
The folks at Groklaw have picked up the ball and started running on this one, so you can find fairly comprehensive coverage of this suit and possible connections between the plaintiff (an Acacia subsidiary) and our friends from Redmond over there as well.

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13 Comments

  1. Shane Coyle said,

    October 11, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Gravatar

    Over at SeattlePI.com, there is some information about Microsoft and the University of California – a party to the Eolas infringement suit, apparently. UC licensed the technology to Eolas, and in return received 30.4M as their share of the settlement, it has not been disclosed what Eolas’ share was or the conditions of the agreement.

    Microsoft and Eolas Technologies are keeping the terms of their patent settlement under wraps. However, the University of California was also a plaintiff in the litigation, because it licensed to Eolas the technology at the center of the high-profile dispute. And the UC’s status as a public entity means it’s required to disclose what it received from the deal.

    It received $30.4 million, a UC spokesman said when I asked today.

    Interestingly, comments are already implying that the MS-Eolas part of the deal will include an agreement that Eolas does indeed go after Red Hat et al. Of course, the comment is from Fake Steve Ballmer, so take it for what it’s worth.

  2. John Drinkwater said,

    October 11, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    Gravatar

    Why would Ballmer remind people about Eolas if this wasn’t the case ;)

  3. Vexorian said,

    October 11, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    Gravatar

    I guess they should also sue apple, since they are including ‘workspaces’ as well.

    And microsoft, one microsoft toy has been doing this for ages.

  4. Michael Parkatti said,

    October 11, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Gravatar

    Seriously, what is Microsoft going to do next, pursue patents for the Latin Alphabet? Hmmmmmm

    http://www.humblenarrator.com/2007/10/09/microsoft-awarded-patent-for-latin-alphabet/

  5. Slated said,

    October 11, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Gravatar

    It seems that IP Innovation LLC are pursuing an old patent on behalf of Xerox:

    http://www.google.com/patents?id=3tUkAAAAEBAJ&dq=5,072,412

    Patent number: 5072412
    Filing date: Mar 25, 1987
    Issue date: Dec 10, 1991
    Inventors: D. Austin Henderson, Jr., Stuart K. Card, John T. Maxwell, III
    Assignee: Xerox Corporation

    If upheld, this could be a problem for anyone using the X Window System, since multiple workspaces is an inherent part of its design.

    Why would they wait 16 years to assert their patent rights?

    Isn’t there some kind of statute of limitations on patents?

    If these old Xerox patents (I’m sure there are many) are going to be asserted now after all these years, then you may as well wave bye-bye to all modern operating systems, since they are all fundamentally designed around Xerox’s ideas. This of course includes Windows, GNU/Linux, OpenBSD, Solaris, and Mac OS X.

    I really can’t see this being upheld, somehow. It would be the end of every OS on the planet.

  6. Slated said,

    October 11, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Gravatar

    Well I found out that apparently software patents expire 17 years after being granted.

    Talk about an 11th hour bid!!!

    OK, so what joker decided it would be a good idea to assert a patent that was about to expire?

    Is this a joke?

  7. Shane Coyle said,

    October 12, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Gravatar

    Here is a great writeup on the background of the plaintiff – IP Innovations, seems they are an Acacia subsidiary and Xerox sold them these patents.

    Acacia subsidiary IP Innovation LLC and fellow patent troll Technology Licensing Corp sued Red Hat and Novell in Marshall, Texas today. The claim? That Linux infringes the three patents in suit. Acacia previously sued Apple on one of these patents; Apple settled quickly. The patents were originally issued to Xerox, who sold them to Acacia and TLC. Thanks, Xerox.

  8. Shane Coyle said,

    October 12, 2007 at 12:41 am

    Gravatar

    And, apparently some are drawing connections back to Microsoft already. We’ll have to see how that pans out…

  9. vexorian said,

    October 12, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Gravatar

    A rational question is to ask “why also Novell”? Yes, we all know
    Novell and MS are buddies and all so this is a reason to think MS is not behind
    this lawsuit.

    Imho what’s going to happen is that Novell will be VERY collaborative and
    willing to accept to pay royalties for this BS patent, the game will be make Red
    Hat play alone. The expected aftermath (for MS-Novell) would be to make Red Hat
    look like a rogue company that does not respect IP. And yes, thanks to Novell
    the case will be much harder to solve for Red Hat than before, probably Novell
    will rush in making a deal so there’s precedent…

    Laugh at the ridiculous theory all you want, I just hope Novell does not prove
    me right on this one. But if they do, then I hope nobody will argue to me whose
    side Novell is playing for.

  10. Shane Coyle said,

    October 12, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Gravatar

    I believe that, if Novell makes a deal, it must be for everyone’s use (including Red Hat) or not at all – the GPL ‘liberty or death’ clause.

  11. Steve Ballmer said,

    October 12, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Gravatar

    I only implied that they should go after Linux, if they do that’s fine, there was nooooo pressure from us on them about it whatsoever! Then we paid them $60,000,000.

    http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com

  12. John Drinkwater said,

    October 13, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Gravatar

    “Novell and MS are buddies and all so this is a reason to think MS is not behind this lawsuit.”

    Oh come on, this helps their case! The only outcome where MS loses is if the case is thrown out (and asap). They have been saying Linux needs to face up to respecting other’s IP. The whole reason they have been shit-stirring is for the media to take notice; then they get a smaller company to attack Linux again. (notice it is only two Linux companies – yet another MS indication, as they only understand duopolies)

    Two things may happen imho:

    Novell as MS-puppets:
    What’s the likelihood of Novell settling early, Novell gets to say they respect IP, and Microsoft tell everyone so – Novell is an honest mans Linux!
    Novell as a Linux company:
    They fight alongside Red Hat to curb this stupidness.

    Just more FUD because SCO is no longer a burden to us.

  13. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 15, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Gravatar

    I’ve just gotten back. I think that a very important link to add here is this one. It points to a recent story about Acacia. This classic patent troll signed a patent deal with Novell quite recently.

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