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05.07.10

Canonical Needs to Tell Ubuntu Users How Much It Paid MPEG-LA for Patent ‘Protection’

Posted in Europe, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents, RAND, Ubuntu at 7:57 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: Canonical ought to offer some form of disclosure about patent deals with the MPEG cartel

FOLLOWING the KnowRi§ht conference which we wrote about in the morning (FFII has a whole page about it), the president of the FFII linked to this article from Slashdot, which in turn links to a Microsoft booster from The Register. We have already written about this article and sort of defended Canonical’s position when it comes to H.264 patents*. FFII’s president, however, reacted differently and wrote: “Time to book BoycottUbuntu.com? How much did Canonical spent on the H264 patent license for Ubuntu? Ask them please.”

He later asked Canonical’s COO, but has received no answer yet.

Popey (from Ubuntu) passed along the message that “Microsoft patents portable applications,” as reported by Microsoft boosters.

On Tuesday, Microsoft was awarded a U.S. patent for “portable applications.” The description of this innovative technology? Running an executable file from a flash device.

The accompanying remark says: “Goodbye portable Firefox?”

In other news, a European/British lawyers’ blog hosts this piece about “Removable Features of Operating Systems”; it covers patents as follows:

It is long established that intellectual property law applies to computer software. Source code written by programmers is subject to copyright and, where programmers are employees, the copyright is almost always assigned to their employer. The processes and techniques embodied in that source code may be further protected by patents. Individual programmers or, as is more common these days, teams of programmers invent technical solutions to problems, and those solutions may be protected by patents. Again, a patent will usually be assigned to the employer, if any, of the inventor, but sometimes to some other organization.

Software patents have no room in Europe and what’s baffling is that Canonical pays for software patents, despite the fact that it’s based in the UK. What gives?

That having been said, earlier today the president of the FFII said that the “European Commission [is] still using the undefined term FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory), pushing for patents.” He linked to this new article:

Uncertainty over royalty payments is a bugbear of the wireless industry, as seen by the current nervousness over the IPR burden that will materialize in LTE devices. Once standards are set and start to appear in commercial products, patent holders often emerge from the woodwork to claim their fee, leading to complex cross-licensing negotiations and sometimes lawsuits and hefty royalty fees.

Many bodies, particularly the European standards agency ETSI, have been trying to get patent holders to declare their holdings in a would-be standard upfront, and the European Union is now offering a powerful incentive to turn this into best practise. The EU says companies that provide technology that could be adopted in industry standards could be exempted from strict European antitrust laws if they set out, from the start, the maximum fees they would charge for their patents.

[...]

According to the Reuters news agency, the draft rules contain benchmarks to assess the level of FRAND licensing fees. The Commission said companies would need to disclose their intellectual property rights before their patents were included in standards. “No or unclear disclosure obligations may furthermore give incentives to ‘patent ambushes’, that is companies hiding patents until industry is locked in and thereafter refusing to license or request exorbitant fees,” the statement said.

As we pointed out before, heavy lobbying from Microsoft has bamboozled Neelie Kroes into accepting software patents through (x)RAND [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Does the H.264 cartel utilise the same RAND trick which Microsoft is already exploiting?

“Digital society depends upon open standards and interoperability. And with this in mind, public organizations should practice what they promote. If they don’t use open standards, why should citizens?”

Jan Wildeboer

___
* Canonical paid to appease the patent troll, but the problem is that it legitimises an attack on other distributions like Fedora, Mandriva, and even Asterisk distributions.

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