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03.18.10

IMAX — Not Just Apple — Attacks Free Software With Software Patents

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 9:47 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Commonality found between IMAX and iMacs

Museum of science and industry in paris

Summary: Another legal attack against Free software comes in the form of a threat (issued against Sandy3D) and Apple’s reason for suing Android seems like gradual iPhone defeat (Linux is winning)

AT THE BEGINNING of this month we showed that an Android/Linux application got shot down by software patents. It wasn’t the first (a GIMP plug-in comes to mind). Now we learn that Sandy3D, a Free software project, is under attack by IMAX. TechDirt covers this thusly:

Proffer alerts us to the bizarre story of how IMAX (last seen suing competitors and misleading people about what an IMAX film really is) is now threatening the folks behind the Sandy3D open source 3D flash engine. Apparently, IMAX has some sort of 3D drawing system called SANDDE. So, maybe, if you squint, you could see how IMAX might be complaining about a trademark issue. But the letter from IMAX is quite odd. It doesn’t mention trademark at all. Instead, it mentions a French patent.

[...]

In the end, it looks like some IMAX lawyers decided to just threaten these open source developers, hoping that by spewing some totally unrelated info about a patent, it might scare the developers into changing the name on a product, even though the patent has nothing at all to do with the issue, and the company has no registered trademark on the name in question.

Free software wins when the non-Free software world becomes ever more aggressive. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” said Mahatma Gandhi, so we should be vigilant, but not demoralised or afraid. We should watch patent law and attempt to rectify it because Microsoft and other companies are trying to change it for the worse. Earlier today, the president of the FFII posted publicly a “Confirmation that Microsoft is lobbying in Brussels for a central patent court in order to validate software patents without a new directive.”

At the moment, Microsoft also relies on Apple [1, 2, 3] for its attacks on GNU/Linux [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. We’ll discuss this more properly in the next post.

Joe Wilcox, formerly the editor of Microsoft Watch, says that “Apple’s HTC patent lawsuit is a bluff” (yes, that’s his headline). He rightly argues that Apple’s lawsuit is indicative of fear — a fear of Linux.

Apple has good reasons to fear Android. In the three months from December to February, Android’s US smartphone subscriber share shot up from 2.8 percent to 7.1 percent. Worldwide, in 2009, Android smartphone market share — based on sales — rose from 0.5 percent to 3.9 percent, according to Gartner (The first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, shipped in late 2008). Last month, Google CEO Eric Schmidt asserted that 60,000 Android handsets are shipping by the day.

All this circles back to my claim that the patent lawsuit is a bluff. My reasoning:

1) Apple chose HTC, not Google. There is no immediate risk to any patent claims against HTC. Since the real claims are against Google, Apple may find the court — or even the ITC — reluctant to rule against an Android licensee in good faith. There is perceived risk, but none in the short term, which is long enough for a united Android front to do market damage against iPhone — particularly in emerging markets.

2) Apple filed against HTC and not other licensees. Apple had its chance to take on Android licensees, choosing instead to go after one.

“Google’s Open Web vs Apple’s vendor lock-in” is another noteworthy new post from ZDNet’s Google blog that says:

Who will win the battle? I think it will be a couple of years in the making. However, there is a reason that Eric Schmidt left Apple’s board of directors last year. There is a reason that Google is pushing into countless new markets and bringing products into widespread beta as quickly as possible. Google and Apple both know: he who controls the screen controls the Web (and all of the money that entails). I have to say that I’m rooting for Google’s open approach that welcomes a wide array of hardware and software. Vendor lock-in isn’t good for consumers, content providers, or developers. Apple’s HTC lawsuit was the first shot across the bow. What’s next? And when will Google take the gloves off?

Thanks to Chris Dawson for this, but Google is not an emancipation either. The difference is, Google hasn’t a history of using patents to intimidate or to sue; contrariwise, Apple has done this for decades. People have an innate inclination to personify companies based on their principles, but it’s not always a good thing. Here at Boycott Novell we care about Google only as far as Free software goes; we have our fair share of criticisms of the company, including its snubbing of the AGPL.

Just to clarify (as we often receive flak over this subject), we are not defending Google. Some of Google’s products incorporate Free software within them, so when Google gets sued, then it may also mean something for that software or for software freedom in the broadest sense. One thing we know for sure; the following new headline says it best: “Apple is Open Source’s sworn enemy”

Those who are still living in the fantasy of a FOSS-loving Apple should look no further than this list of 27 references about Apple's attitude (a few more here) — one that we accumulated over a year ago for the purpose.

The good news is that based on this week’s coverage:

Open Source Developers Pick Android Over iPhone

Open source developers ditch iPhone for Android

A new report has shown Google’s Android platform is enticing open source developers away from creating apps on the iPhone.

One of the biggest proponents of the AGPL, namely Funambol, is set to gain from this. As Matt Asay has just put it (he has personal involvements he may not disclose):

If the desktop is dying, mobile sync is king

[...]

It’s this desire for open clouds and open syncing to those clouds that is blessing Funambol’s open-source mobile sync business. It’s the same desire that will likely create a host of new competitors in this fertile mobile-sync market.

Apple, Microsoft, and other non-Free software vendors play hardball against Free software right now. They are willing to risk public backlash (enraging the collectives with lawsuits) to achieve the unachievable as Free software will never disappear and it has grown steadily over the years. The next post explores Microsoft’s latest campaign of FUD against Linux. It shows that Microsoft has run out of ideas.

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