Steve Jobs: “A Patent Pool is Being Assembled to Go After Theora and Other “Open Source” Codecs Now.”
Summary: Apple’s threat not only to Free/libre software but also to standards everyone can use is made more apparent because of new mail
APPLE’S legal attacks against Android and Linux go quite a way back when Apple used legal threats and sabotaged APIs to prevent access to its platform/s; Last month Apple took it up a notch and actually launched a legal attack. Hugo Roy from the FSFE has contacted Steve Jobs and received a nauseating response which he posted in full with maximal proof of authenticity
From: Steve Jobs
To: Hugo Roy
Subject: Re: Open letter to Steve Jobs: Thoughts on Flash
Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2010 06:21:17 -0700
All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents. An open standard is different from being royalty free or open source.
Sent from my iPad
Based on some other messages from him, it sure seems like his style (the signature for example). What Jobs has sent from his hypePad seems to suggest that he knows something that others do not. Apple already invests in the world’s biggest patent troll and Apple is a key opposer when it comes to Ogg Theora as part of HTML5. Perhaps that explains it. Apple was also accused of ‘poisoning’ HTML with some patents it refused to relinquish control of.
Florian Müller’s interpretation of the letter from Jobs (which he mailed us a short while ago) was as follows:
According to an email of today, Steve Jobs wrote that a patent pool is being assembled to go after Ogg Theory and other open-source video codecs (codec = encoder/decoder software, such as a video player program).
While I can’t ascertain the authenticity of Steve Jobs’ email published on http://hugoroy.eu/jobs-os.php , the person who published it (along with the email delivery record) is a credible source. He’s a core activist of the Free Software Foundation Europe and received Steve Jobs’ email in reply to this open letter he had published on the web and sent to him by email: http://blogs.fsfe.org/hugo/2010/04/open-letter-to-steve-jobs/comment-page-1/#comment-72
As the founder of the European NoSoftwarePatents campaign and author of the “FOSS Patents” blog (FOSS = Free and Open Source Software), I hope you will find my following comments useful in your analysis of this matter:
1) Steve Jobs’ email doesn’t say who the patent holders are who will contribute to the patent pool that is going to be used against those codecs. Therefore it’s unclear whether Apple would contribute any patent(s) to that pool or not.
2) In connection with Microsoft’s patent licensing deal with HTC, a maker of mobile phones running Google’s Android open source (Linux-based) operating system, I believe there hasn’t been enough attention to an important fact: While Microsoft doesn’t try to force any Android phone vendor out of the market, Apple uses some of its own patents very aggressively in order to prevent such companies as HTC from providing certain functionality at all. I’s important to see the difference from the perspective of competitors and consumers: the worst thing that can happen with patents is if vendors, especially leading ones, use their patents for exclusionary purposes.
Should Apple be a contributor to the patent pool Steve Jobs mentioned, that would be very bad news because then the objective may very well be to prevent any commercial use and distribution of Ogg Theora and other open-source video codecs.
3) Multimedia codecs are one of the worst patent minefields out there, enforcement is aggressive and there’s no such thing as a video standard 100% unencumbered by patents. There are too many software patents out there to perform reliable clearance and patent offices often grant new patents on old ideas.
I wrote about these issues 10 days ago on my FOSS Patents blog:
That blog post starts with the story that Google might release its VP8 codec (which it acquired as part of On2 Technologies) on open-source terms. My blog post argues that even Google with all its knowledge and resources won’t be able to guarantee that any such codec software is 100% unencumbered by patents. The post discusses the impossibility of reliable patent clerance and also talks about the aggressive enforcement of such patents (the confiscation of MP3/MP4 product samples is part of the annual routine at the CeBIT trade show).
4) This is not the first incident this month of patents threatening open source. IBM’s threat letter to TurboHercules, which I published and discussed on my blog ( http://fosspatents.blogspot.com/2010/04/ibm-breaks-taboo-and-betrays-its.html ), shows that even a vendor claiming to be a friend and protector of open source (something that Apple never claimed) is determined to assert patents in order to protect a lucrative turf.
Florian’s words deserve a level of skepticism not because of IBM’s position (which we never supported anyway) but because of him standing up for the company that sidles with Microsoft. His history of fighting against software patents in Europe and also standing up against Microsoft lobbyists makes his analysis worthy of attention though.
Earlier today we showed more evidence connecting Apple’s attack on Android/Linux to Microsoft (more on that later today). Several months ago, former Microsoft evangelist Michael Gartenberg claimed that Apple was moving towards Microsoft, but Gartenberg too should be treated with extreme skepticism for reasons we gave in, e.g.:
- Michael Gartenberg’s AstroTurfing for Microsoft Takes ‘Entelligence’ Tag
- IDG Gives a Platform for Microsoft’s Familiar Attack Dogs (and Former Employees) to Smear GNU/Linux
- IDG Carries on Publishing Anti-GNU/Linux Rhetoric from Microsoft Evangelist in More Domains
- Paid Microsoft Slug Michael Gartenberg Does the OLPC Slog
- Microsoft’s Twitter AstroTurf Continues
- What is Microsoft Doing Inside the ‘Press’?
- Microsoft-Funded “Analysts” Fight Against the Truth
- Deceptive Vista 7 Advertising, Neglect, Bugs, and More Security Problems
- Microsoft is Losing to Google in Search and in Mobile (Linux)
- Microsoft PR Presented as ‘News’
Other Patent News from Europe
The president of the FFII, Benjamin Henrion, highlights this new page about UPLS (United Patent Litigation System). This comes from an FSF-backed project. Henrion tracks the UPLS as it may serve as a back door to software patenting in Europe (and Microsoft front groups already lobby for it). The following new ruling that he points to shows a software patent being revoked in France (around the same time Germany does the opposite). A site called Tangible IP (it’s like saying “solid solidity” about water) writes:
One of our interests on Tangible IP is the never ending story of software patents. Just to recap: the European Patent Office is currently considering the degree to which computer-implemented inventions are patentable. On the other side of the Atlantic the US Supreme Court has head arguments in the re Bilski case and we’re waiting for a decision.
The EPO Examiner initially rejected the patent on the grounds that it was not possible to determine the technical problem which was to be solved by the invention. The Applicant’s attorneys responded that the technical problem has been clearly described in the description and that this problem was solved by the claims. The EPO granted the patent.
“French Court TGI rejects search engine software patent EP1182581 based on subject matter exclusion (art52 EPC),” claims Henrion (information in French) who also found evidence
[PDF] of what he claims to be “5.000.000 EUR for violation of a software patent.” Aren’t software patents already illegal in Europe? Well, there are loopholes that are being exploited. █
“[The EPO] can’t distinguish between hardware and software so the patents get issued anyway”, —Marshall Phelps, IAM: Microsoft to have 50,000 patents within two years, Phelps reveals