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12.04.07

Patents That Companies Have Got to Protect Linux Devices

Posted in GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, OIN, Patents, Red Hat at 9:03 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Primary prevention is better than cure”

Free software is against the idea that software should be patentable. That said, Red Hat holds quite a few defensive patents (a promise was made not to use them offensively). As Linux.com reported a month ago, Linux patents indeed exist. Where does that leave Free software? Is this a case of hypocrisy? A chicken-and-egg scenario that hinders resolutions to a patent mess? How does OIN fit into all of this? Not everyone can afford to file for a patent.

”It is not just mathematical knowledge, but an actual physical product with physical designs.“Exceptions are made with regards to patentability. For example, when an instrument is involved which is an integral part of the software, then some patent systems consider that patentable. This may be fine and it also protects Linux devices where there is more than just code. It is not just mathematical knowledge, but an actual physical product with physical designs. This sometimes adds an element of art and creativity.

Embedded.com has just released an extensive (albeit not in-depth) survey which covers embedded Linux patents.

As an electrical engineer with an automotive background, when I think of Linux, I think of servers, PCs, supercomputers, and so forth. Embedded applications don’t really come to mind when I consider Linux. However, Linux is used as an operating system for many phones, games, and other devices with embedded software.

[...]

You can search for patents by looking in the appropriate classes and subclasses if you can determine them. However, embedded Linux applications could be located in many different classes because they can be classified by the end system’s application.

[...]

In summary, most of the patent documents related to embedded Linux located in this search were filed between 2002 and 2005. No one company dominates the list of assignees but, rather, several companies from across the world. The number of U.S. patent applications filed related to the subject has seen as generally upward trend over the last few years, indicating increased popularity. Finally, even though Linux is a free-software operating system, it would be wise to search the U.S. patent database before commercially using Linux in an embedded application. Of course, refer to a licensed patent attorney if there is any doubt.

GNU and LinuxThis may sound like unnecessary hassle. Google’s Android (Linux-based platform/stack), for example, encountered release delays due to patent licensing issues. It remains unknown if this was related to Sun Microsystems or some other unnamed party/ies.

It is worth remembering that Microsoft itself has admitted in court that in order for software to be patentable, there must be a device. You see, deep down inside, Microsoft knows that software patent opposes are correct, but it’s too selfish to admit it out in the open. Unless you go back to days when Microsoft was an underdog and spot the sheer hypocrisy…

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