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03.29.09

Red Hat, Microsoft, EU Lobbyists, and Software Patents

Posted in EFF, Europe, Free/Libre Software, Law, Microsoft, Patents, Red Hat at 8:02 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Steve Ballmer license

Image from Wikimedia

Summary: A roundup summarising important developments pertaining to software patents

A LOT has happened since the last post regarding software patents. Here are some reports and developments to be aware of.

Red Hat Revisited

For some background, see the posts which criticise Red Hat’s attitude towards software patents [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. The short story is that Red Hat is not telling the whole truth and it doesn’t do as it preaches. Glyn Moody addresses incognitos at Red Hat, asking for answers to very important questions which, as far as we know, Red Hat has not formally answered yet.

I’d like to direct your attention to a long and interesting piece that has appeared on the Digital Majority site asking a very important question: “Did Red Hat lobby for, or against software patents in Europe?”

The piece is dense and closely argued, drawing on Red Hat’s statements down the years to support its case. The central question it tries to address is whether Red Hat is truly helping to fight software patents in Europe, or whether it simply wants the patent system reformed to something more convenient for its own purposes as a big software house, while retaining the good graces of the free software movement.

Red Hat’s response would be very important at this stage. The former head of the FFII names this “The Conspiracy of Silence” and he rightly lumps in some other companies like Sun Microsystems and IBM. He writes:

For me, the greatest threat to the Abolitionist movement is not the “bad guys” who wear black hats and do stupid things like suing RIM, or TomTom. It is the “good guys”, who silently collect patents, allow the Community to be scared into accepting that these “defensive” patents are necessary, and who keep a blanket of silence over the public discussion of software patent abolition.

And those who allow this, from the best motives, are part of the conspiracy. Those who invest in projects like Peer-to-Patent are part of the conspiracy. Those who write how OIN is a great achievement, how various “promises not to sue” are sufficient to waive all concern… it is these good willed people who are the problem.

Novell’s so-called ‘hackers’ as well are obtaining software patents rather than abolishing them. If they do so at the behest of their employer or shareholders, this is hardly an excuse. Moreover, promises not to sue are useless because they are not legal contracts and thus unexpected takeovers render them obsolete.

Speaking of Red Hat, in spite of the Microsoft connections at Lenovo, this OEM will stock Red Hat Enterprise Linux and no longer just SLES. We spotted this news about the ThinkStations the other day:

ThinkStations are certified from third parties to ensure compatibility with major applications, and the systems are preloaded with Windows Vista with support for RedHat Linux Enterprise 5.2.

Microsoft Attacks Linux with Patents

There are many articles, posts, and good comments about Microsoft’s attempt to befriend open source whilst attacking it viciously in court (moreover targeting the feeble, which is already on the verge of bankruptcy).

Here is yet another article on this subject, which combines Microsoft’s attack on Linux with Red Hat’s unnecessary armament that damages the work of abolitionists.

‘Patents Are FUD’

“It’s sad that Red Hat thinks they need those patents,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

“The fix is still patent reform, since these patents will only protect Red Hat from companies that actually produce projects, and not patent trolls,” Mack added.

“I hope 2009 will see the death of software patents before the U.S. Supreme Court,” blogger Robert Pogson added. “We need that because the TomTom matter may take years to sort out.

“A decisive victory for freedom of software should reduce the threat of patents to a whisper,” Pogson told LinuxInsider. “Until that day, patents are FUD that delays adoption of GNU/Linux and increases the cost of having to maintain a defense against these evil spirits

A formal document titled “Microsoft Launches Patent Offensive Against Linux” [PDF] was released. Any legal document with the headline “Microsoft Launches Patent Offensive Against Linux” can be seen as directly contradicting Microsoft’s claims that this had nothing to do with Linux. Microsoft wants to sue and to scare without ever being scrutinised. How cheeky. SCO said the same thing when it sued IBM (that it was only a case against IBM and not against Linux).

Sean from Jupitermedia wonders if “Microsoft [is] feeling TomTom Linux patent chill.”

That said, last year at OSCON, Ramji was quite literally mobbed by the audience after his presentation by attendees that were ‘curious’ about Microsoft’s patent stance. The TomTom case potentially represents Microsoft’s first real patent legal attack against Linux and as such, somehow I suspect that eventually that will trigger a chill of some sort.

Microsoft intentionally does not send out its ‘Ballmers’ and 'Horacios'. Instead, it is sending inexperienced people who will be painted as victims and make Microsoft’s real victims looks like “zealots”, like the bad guys.

Last week we wrote about BackWeb's lawsuit against Microsoft. It is an interesting situation because of the nature of the patents and many articles about the case have been published. For future use and reference, here are some more resources about this case against Microsoft.

In an article that IDG has spread all over the place (many of its domains), “open-source” firms are being encouraged to handle a bizarre strategy that only legitimises software patents.

Open-source software companies are missing out on a relatively inexpensive way to fight concerns about patent liability, according to an attorney who spoke at an open-source conference in San Francisco this week.

More open-source companies should be asking the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to re-examine patents that may pose a threat to them, as a cheaper, sometimes more suitable alternative to waging a patent lawsuit, said Van Lindberg, an attorney with Haynes and Boone LLP, who spoke at Infoworld’s Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.

Wrong approach, sorry. It’s better to eliminate software patents altogether, not pull another EFF. This article was also mentioned in The Inquirer.

LEGAL EAGLES working for Open Sauce collectives have discovered that there is a cheap way of fighting concerns about patent liability.

Those “LEGAL EAGLES” are probably just looking for business. To them, abolishment of software patents — especially globally — would mean financial bankruptcy or immediate career change.

Microsoft for Software Patents in Europe

We are utterly appalled by what Microsoft is doing with its lobbying guns in Europe. Yesterday we wrote about ACT/Jonathan Zuck, to give just one example. He is determined to illegalise and eradicate Free software. It’s not just about patents and Free software by the way. “ACT was also defending Microsoft in the EU antitrust case,” says an informant. “There are video recordings of him on the Audiovisual website of the Commission. Those are hidden on the EC website. You have to obtain a login and search in there.”

“…Microsoft-sponsored presidencies and those which Microsoft helps install are pushing for obstructive change relentlessly.”We provided some evidence of this before. We did collect some press which shows Zuck et al AstroTurfing in defence of Microsoft, as an ‘independent’ body. That’s just their spiel and they stir up trouble in Brussels every week.

According to this report (in German), the EU Parliament has thrown out another attempt to introduce software patents. It figures. But whilst many attempts to change these law are failing, Microsoft-sponsored presidencies and those which Microsoft helps install are pushing for obstructive change relentlessly.

Digital Majority does a spectacular job stalking the so-called “Community” — as in “anti-Free software community” — patent. Here are reports to watch out for:

1. Patent litigation reform to cut costs for SMEs

The European Commission is seeking powers from EU member states to conclude an agreement on a Unified Patent Litigation System (UPLS), which would establish a court with jurisdiction for existing European patents and the future Community patent system.

[...]

Under the UPLS, the ECJ would rule on preliminary questions raised by patent courts regarding the interpretation of EC law and regarding the validity and interpretation of acts from the Community institutions. The Commission will have to ensure that the rules of any draft agreement are consistent with the creation of a Community patentexternal.

2. Patents: EUROCHAMBRES welcomes negotiation mandate for the European Commission

Today, the European Commission requested from the Council a negotiation mandate on the European and Community Patent Court.

3. Patents: Commission sets out next steps for creation of unified patent litigation system

The European Commission has adopted a Recommendation to the Council that would provide the Commission with negotiating directives for the conclusion of an agreement creating a Unified Patent Litigation System (UPLS). The UPLS would increase legal certainty, reduce costs and improve access to patent litigation for businesses, in particular SMEs. The court structure to be established in the framework of the UPLS would have jurisdiction both for existing European patents and for future Community patents. This constitutes a further significant step in the pursuit of the EU’s patent reform agenda.

No attempt to ban Free software is complete without some McCreevyism, either. This is just appalling, yet predictable.

IPJur.com wrote this good article where the unified patent litigation system is labeled “Another Secret Project Of The EU Commission.” Has ACTA taught us nothing?

It looks as if this might well be something different than the European Patent Judiciary envisaged as counterpart to the EU Community Patent, the chances of which to come into life have further deteriorated since Mr Topolanek’s forced demission. In the absence of further facts, the title might be understood as if there has happened some high-level decision to put aside or even abolish the well-known project of a European Patent Judiciary but to launch negotiations aiming at a more radical approach, e.g. merging all national patent courts (also for EP bundle patents and even for national patent?) into a single institution (“Unified” Patent Litigation System). Otherwise, it might also just be merely a technical turn to include EPC Member States not forming part of the EU (e.g. Turkey) into said European Patent Judiciary. I don’t know if any of the readers of this Blog have a particular idea about the meaning of this new EU project.

Digital Majority has also netted a couple of new PDFs, from which it extracted text of interest to those who target the bad system through abolishment, not elimination of one patent or one lawsuit at a time.

Regarding Bilski:

According to the majority of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) in Re Bilski, inventions directed to so-called `business methods’ and software-implemented inventions may still be patentable but must now overcome an arguably greater obstacle before issuing to patent in the US. In setting out the `machine or transformation test’ in its judgment of 31 October 2008, the CAFC, sitting en banc, appears to be moving towards a more European approach to patentability, and away from the broader tests of previous US decisions such as the well known State Street authority. Bilski could have significant implications for European businesses active in Europe as well as the US, at a time when the European Patent Office (EPO) and other national European patent offices are also reviewing this area. It remains to be seen whether the decision in Bilski will have an impact on these future deliberations.

Here is a submission to the EPO [PDF] (regarding the referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal). We liked this part:

The sequence of execution of a program is the same regardless of whether the program runs on a physical machine, a virtual machine or in the minds of people.

Software patents must be stopped without exceptions. Microsoft will be there to encourage more of them, so Red Hat must join the fight against them. Deeds can be louder than words. Red Hat may be the second-largest open source company (or largest bar Sun, if Sun’s posturing is anything to be believed) and since Sun is a lost cause (Novell likewise), we need Red Hat.

Silence is no good and neither are promises, either written or verbal.

“Fighting patents one by one will never eliminate the danger of software patents, any more than swatting mosquitoes will eliminate malaria.”

Richard Stallman

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9 Comments

  1. Dan O'Brian said,

    March 29, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Gravatar

    Good lord, so now you consider Red Hat to be “evil”?

    My guess is that when the guys and gals at Red Hat read this they’ll be laughing their asses off and likely saying the same thing that Bruce Byfield says.

    pcolon Reply:

    Must have missed the Red Hat is evil part.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    There was no such part. Storm in a teacup.

  2. Zac said,

    March 29, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Gravatar

    Dan O’Brian, I hope Red Hat’s management are not laughing at us at keeping us deceived?

    Just remember that Red Hat is a public company whose obligation is to its shareholders. Red Hat has been riding a wave of increasing share price, conducive rumours and good publicity, which they, as one would do, are taking advantage of. Red Hat (its management) knows that it is seen as being the ‘good guy’ for Linux and knows Novell is seen as the ‘bad guy’. It is important for Red Hat to keep thinking in the Linux community because its revenue and profits depend on the community’s efforts. I see Red Hat trying to keep this outward image as much as possible. After all, we would do the same. For example- Red Hat’s deal with Microsoft: what is really in the confidential deal? ; Red Hat’s patents ;
    Lenovo ThinkStation pre-loaded with Windows now support REHL. That is good but why does it have to be pre-loaded with Windows? Microsoft still gets the sale. Why does Red Hat work with Lenovo to pre-load REHL?

    Maybe it’s nothing, I hope so. Just keeping a watchful eye on developments.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Don’t be too surprised by this. Dan O’Brian is always here to defame the Web site and defend Novell.

    Ian Reply:

    Where did he mention Novell?

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    In other threads (and it was implied in this case too).

    Dan O'Brian Reply:

    Maybe you missed it, but I’m defending Red Hat here.

    Am I now a Red Hat shill?

  3. David Gerard said,

    March 29, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Gravatar

    This is important – in the corporate world, “Linux” means Red Hat, nothing else.

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