EditorsAbout the SiteComes vs. MicrosoftUsing This Web SiteSite ArchivesCredibility IndexOOXMLOpenDocumentPatentsNovellNews DigestSite NewsRSS

06.01.10

A Glimpse Back at Red Hat’s and Novell’s Stance on Software Patents in 2005

Posted in Europe, GNU/Linux, IBM, Novell, Patents, Red Hat at 2:38 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Piggy bank OIN

Summary: In hindsight, it is claimed that Red Hat too has an ambivalent view on the subject of software patents, at least historically; Novell, as expected, is not against software patents

“Webbink (then Red Hat) [was] in favor of [the European] software patent directive.” We have just learned this from Florian Müller, who is referring to incidents going half a decade back. Could it possibly be true? Let’s look at what we know.

We found the above claim curious if not contradictory because Mark Webbink expressed his opposition to software patents as he was leaving Red Hat a few years later. He made a video on the subject. In many ways, Red Hat follows IBM’s lead and may sometimes inherit the path chosen by IBM, which is of course in favour of software patents. On the subject of software patents at Red Hat we wrote last year:

Here is a video of Mark Webbink speaking about software patents. He doesn’t seem to like them at all.

“Concerning Mark Webbink (then with Red Hat, now involved with SFLC and other organizations), a couple of web pages still contain the text of a post I published on my old “NoLobbyistsAsSuch” blog in 2006,” wrote Florian. Here is the text (no longer at its original address, so we wish to preserve it):

Evidence for Mark Webbink’s pro-patent directive lobbying on July 5, 2005

In my previous blog article, I mentioned the fact that Red Hat’s deputy general counsel, Mark Webbink, lobbied in the European Parliament on July 5, 2005 (the day before the EP’s decisive vote to reject the software patent bill) to keep the software patent directive alive.

I had not anticipated the kind of Internet debate that this statement would trigger, including some insulting emails that were sent to me, and least of all I would have expected Mark Webbink to call into question the “veracity of [my] statements”, which is what he did in the discussion below this LWN.net article. He knows exactly what he did.

The word “motivations” also appears in that posting. It’s really simple: on the occasion of a patent suit having been filed against Red Hat, I thought it was time to tell the truth. Especially the free and open source software (FOSS) community should know where certain key players stand. That will better enable people to take a critical perspective on such initiatives as the OSDL Patent Commons.

Contrary to what Mark Webbink claims, my related statements are not “unverifiable”. What he did on July 5, 2005 is a well-documented fact, and here’s some evidence:

From: [name and address of adviser to Michel Rocard MEP deleted]
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2005 2:53 AM
To: Florian Mueller
Cc: europarl-help@ffii.org
Subject: Re: Economist article — coordinated response needed

[cut]
Yes. The day before the vote, as I had been considered by them as somewhat connected to Mr Rocard 8^) , I have been quite heavily lobbied by a group comprising Mrs Thornby-Nielsen (Sun), Mrs Moll (Google), Mr Webbink (RedHat) and Mr Cox (IBM). All four had basically the same concerns
[cut]

I have removed parts of the email and in particular the name of the author, further to his request. He would prefer to stay in the background, like many political advisers do. But europarl-help@ffii.org is a key mailing list of European anti-software patent activists, and dozens of people received that email directly. No one will seriously question its authenticity.

And here’s an important excerpt from a follow-up email:

From: [name and address of adviser to Michel Rocard MEP deleted]
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2005 1:44 PM
To: Florian Mueller
Cc: europarl-help@ffii.org
Subject: Re: Economist article — coordinated response needed

[cut]
> They were against the rejection deal, right? I know that Mark W. and
> Charlotte T.-N. didn’t want rejection.

It seemed so to me. All of them. Basically, it seemed to me they were not likely to have no sotware patents at all. The interpretation I gave Mr Webbink was that it is not culturally acceptable, for most people that come from the legal and patent world, to reject a system from which one can make some money…
[cut]
I believe the above should eliminate all reasonable doubt about what happened that day. While the FFII and I were asking everyone we knew in the European Parliament to reject the proposed software patent directive, Red Hat’s Mark Webbink, along with representatives of IBM, Sun and Google, pushed in the opposite direction.

So what did he really want to achieve? Someone pointed me to an article Mark Webbink wrote and which in its paragraph #20 refers to the EU software patent directive. He asks for a definition of the term “technical contribution” (a key term in patent law) that “will eliminate the vast majority of business method patents and will restore a substantial non-obviousness test to software patents”. If you read that carefully, it means he accepts software patents per se. He’d just like to raise the bar a little bit, and the FFII and I and all others who know how substantive patent law is applied in practice can tell you that defining “technical contribution” properly would not be a sufficient measure. It would just have the desired effect as part of a coherent framework of patentability criteria. Otherwise it’s like a bucket has five holes and you close one: all of the water will still go through the other holes.

In the same article, and in the Red Hat/Sun position paper that Mark Webbink published again on LWN.net, a lot of emphasis is put on an interoperability privilege. That, again, means to accept the patentability of software per se, but to demand a carve-out for certain purposes. To the FFII and myself, interoperability was not even a secondary priority. We focused on the definition of what is patentable and what is not. If software is not patentable at all, there’s no pressing need for an interoperability exception as far as we’re concerned. Interoperability was exactly the area in which the pro-software patent forces were most wiling to make a concession if it allowed them to win the wider battle.

Finally, I’d like to reiterate what I said in my previous post: What Mark Webbink did behind the scenes is not necessarily Red Hat’s position as a company, even though Red Hat has entrusted him with patent lobbying. There are many people at Red Hat who clearly oppose software patents, and who opposed the EU software patent directive, most of all Alan Cox.

People can judge the claims above knowing that they came from someone who pushed for abolition.

We previously wrote about IBM as a key player in OIN, but Florian names six key companies, Novell and Red Hat included. “I’ll also mention some things concerning the positions of its backers on software patents, such as what Novell told EU politicians in 2004,” Florian wrote. Yesterday he posted his analysis of OIN, which is interesting.

Only six companies call the shots

The OIN’s name starts with an utterly misleading term: “open”.

In reality, the organization is owned and run by a closed circle of six companies, some of whom have a terrible background concerning software patents:

* IBM (the world’s largest patent holder and one of the most ruthless ones, recently in the news for betraying its own “patent pledge” by infringement assertions made against open-source startup TurboHercules)

* Philips (a company that once benefited from the temporary abolition of patents in its country but later lobbied extremely aggressively for software patents, left the World Wide Web Consortium because of the latter’s royalty-free patent policy, and threatened politicians with killing software development jobs in Europe if they weren’t going to allow software patents, even though patents are always related to a target market in which they’re valid and 100% independent from where in the world the patented invention is made)

* NEC (a large patent holder)

* Sony (a large patent holder)

* Novell (which never supported any serious push against software patents and instead told EU officials in 2004 that it liked software patents a lot except that a proposed EU law on them appeared to limit “customer choice” a bit too much)

* Red Hat (which lobbied to keep the aforementioned EU bill alive when we had already formed a majority for its rejection, and which partners with IBM on a number of initiatives that appear to protect FOSS but are either ineffectual or even potentially harmful)

[...]

So what is the OIN good for?

The fact of the matter is that today, almost five years after its foundation, the OIN still hasn’t proven its ability to help any Linux (or other FOSS) company in any meaningful way. Totally unsubstantiated and illogical claims by propagandists aren’t a substitute for a single convincing success story. That success story would have to consist in some company potentially hostile to open source (and with a dangerous patent arsenal) accepting the OIN’s licensing terms. That hasn’t happened and I have serious doubt that it ever will.

The OIN continues to buy patents at auctions that might otherwise be acquired by regular trolls. At first sight, that may sound good. But given the intransparent and arbitrary structure of the OIN, it’s not clear whether that’s actually the lesser or the greater evil than a conventional troll. In the end, the OIN is under the control of those six companies who could decide to use some of those patents against competitors, including FOSS competitors. By controlling the definition of what the OIN calls the “Linux System”, they can always ensure that their competitors don’t benefit from it, even if they were or became OIN licensees.

Buying those patents at auctions is really expensive. So far the OIN has spent hundreds of millions of dollars. Given the way businesses operate, that’s not the amount of money that one would spend unselfishly. Instead, that level of investment, intransparency and unbalanced rights suggests ulterior motives, if not a long-term hidden agenda.

The analysis above leaves out players such as Google and Oracle (also in OIN). In the mean time, more patent pools are being created for Linux and there are also entities such as RPX. None of these entities strives to end software patents (certainly not Peer-To-Patent, either); they are only aggregating and/or endorsing them. As Carlo Piana put it last week, “the *only* solution is abolition NOW.”

The bottom line is that Red Hat could do more to end software patents as OIN is not enough. OIN is a symptom of a problematic framework and it’s that framework which needs to be tackled.

Share this post: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Reddit
  • co.mments
  • DZone
  • email
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • NewsVine
  • Print
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Facebook

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one

What Else is New


  1. Links 26/3/2017: Debian Project Leader Elections, SecureDrop and Alexandre Oliva FSF Winners

    Links for the day



  2. His Master's Voice, Jesper Kongstad, Blocks Discussion of Investigative and Disciplinary Procedures at the EPO

    The Chairman of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation is actively preventing not just the dismissal of Battistelli but also discussion of Battistelli's abuses



  3. Heiko Maas and the State of Germany Viewed as Increasingly Complicit in EPO Scandals and Toxic UPC Agenda

    It is becoming hard if not impossible to interpret silence and inaction from Maas as a form of endorsement for everything the EPO has been doing, with the German delegates displaying more of that apathy which in itself constitutes a form of complicity



  4. With IP Kat Coverage of EPO Scandals Coming to an End (Officially), Techrights and The Register Remain to Cover New Developments

    One final post about the end of Merpel’s EPO coverage, which is unfortunate but understandable given the EPO’s track record attacking the media, including blogs like IP Kat, sites of patent stakeholders, and even so-called media partners



  5. Everyone, Including Patent Law Firms, Will Suffer From the Demise of the EPO

    Concerns about quality of patents granted by the EPO (EPs) are publicly raised by industry/EPO insiders, albeit in an anonymous fashion



  6. Yes, Battistelli's Ban on EPO Strikes (or Severe Limitation Thereof) is a Violation of Human Rights

    Battistelli has curtailed even the right to strike, yet anonymous cowards attempt to blame the staff (as in patent examiners) for not going out of their way to engage in 'unauthorised' strikes (entailing dismissal)



  7. Even the EPO's Administrative Council No Longer Trusts Its Chairman, Battistelli's 'Chinchilla' Jesper Kongstad

    Kongstad's protection of Battistelli, whom he is supposed to oversee, stretches to the point where national representatives (delegates) are being misinformed



  8. Thanks to Merpel, the World Knows EPO Scandals a Lot Better, But It's a Shame That IP Kat Helped UPC

    A look back at Merpel's final post about EPO scandals and the looming threat of the UPC, which UPC opportunists such as Bristows LLP still try hard to make a reality, exploiting bogus (hastily-granted) patents for endless litigation all around Europe



  9. EPO Critics Threatened by Self-Censorship, Comment Censorship, and a Growing Threat to Anonymity

    Putting in perspective the campaign for justice at the EPO, which to a large degree relies on whistleblowers and thus depends a great deal on freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and anonymity



  10. Links 25/3/2017: Maru OS 0.4, C++17 Complete

    Links for the day



  11. Judge and Justice Bashing in the United States, EPC Bashing at the EPO

    Enforcement of the law based on constitutional grounds and based on the European Patent Convention (EPC) in an age of retribution and insults -- sometimes even libel -- against judges



  12. Looking for EPO Nepotism? Forget About Jouve and Look Closely at Europatis Instead.

    Debates about the contract of Jouve with the EPO overlook the elephants in the room, which include companies that are established and run by former EPO chiefs and enjoy a relationship with the EPO



  13. Depressing EPO News: Attacks on Staff, Attacks on Life, Brain Drain, Patents on Life, Patent Trolls Come to Germany, and Spain Being Misled

    A roundup of the latest developments at the EPO combined with feedback from insiders, who are not tolerating their misguided and increasingly abusive management



  14. It Certainly Looks Like Microsoft is Already Siccing Its Patent Trolls, Including Intellectual Ventures, on Companies That Use Linux (Until They Pay 'Protection' Money)

    News about Intellectual Ventures and Finjan Holdings (Microsoft-funded patent trolls) reinforces our allegations -- not mere suspicions anymore -- that Microsoft would 'punish' companies that are not paying subscription fees (hosting) or royalties (patent tax) to Microsoft and are thus in some sense 'indebted' to Microsoft



  15. Links 24/3/2017: Microsoft Aggression, Eudyptula Challenge Status Report

    Links for the day



  16. Bernhard Rapkay, Former MEP and Rapporteur on Unitary Patent, Shoots Down UPC Hopes While UPC Hopefuls Recognise That Spain Isn't Interested Either

    Germany, the UK and Spain remain massive barriers to the UPC -- all this in spite of misleading reports and fake news which attempted to make politicians believe otherwise (for political leverage, by means of dirty lobbying contingent upon misinformation)



  17. Links 23/3/2017: Qt 5.9 Beta, Gluster Storage 3.2

    Links for the day



  18. The Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation Has Just Buried an Innocent Judge That Battistelli Does Not Like

    An innocent judge (never proven guilty of anything, only publicly defamed with help from Team Battistelli and dubious 'intelligence' gathering) is one of the forgotten casualties of the latest meeting of the Administrative Council (AC), which has become growingly complicit rather than a mere bystander at a 'crime' scene



  19. Nepotism at the European Patent Office and Suspicious Absence of Tenders for Big Projects

    Carte blanche is a French term which now perfectly describes the symptoms encountered in the European Patent Office, more so once led by a lot of French people (Battistelli and his friends)



  20. “Terror” Patent Office Bemoans Terror, Spreads Lies

    Response to some of the latest utterances from the European Patent Office, where patently untruthful claims have rapidly become the norm



  21. China Seems to be Using Patents to Push Foreign Companies Out of China, in the Same Way It Infamously Uses Censorship

    Chinese patent policies are harming competition from abroad, e.g. Japan and the US, and US patent policy is being shaped by its higher courts, albeit not yet effectively combating the element that's destroying productive companies (besieged by patent trolls)



  22. 22,000 Blog Posts

    A special number is reached again, marking another milestone for the site



  23. The EPO is Lying to Its Own Staff About ILO and Endless (Over 2 Years) EPO Mistrials

    The creative writing skills of some spinners who work for Battistelli would have staff believe that all is fine and dandy at the EPO and ILO is dealing effectively with staff complaints about the EPO (even if several years too late)



  24. EPO’s Georg Weber Continues Horrifying Trend of EPO Promoting Software Patents in Defiance of Directive, EPC, and Common Sense

    The EPO's promotion of software patents, even out in the open, is an insult to the notion that the EPO is adhering to or is bound by the rules upon which it maintains its conditional monopoly



  25. Protectionism v Sharing: How the US Supreme Court Decides Patent Cases

    As the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) starts delivering some decisions we take stock of what's to come regarding patents



  26. Links 22/3/2017: GNOME 3.24, Wine-Staging 2.4 Released

    Links for the day



  27. The Battistelli Regime, With Its Endless Scandals, Threatens to Crash the Unitary Patent (UPC), Stakeholders Concerned

    The disdain and the growing impatience have become a huge liability not just to Battistelli but to the European Patent Office (EPO) as a whole



  28. The Photos the EPO Absolutely Doesn't Want the Public to See: Battistelli is Building a Palace Using Stakeholders' Money

    The Office is scrambling to hide evidence of its out-of-control spendings, which will leave the EPO out of money when the backlog is eliminated by many erroneous grants (or rejections)



  29. In the US Patent System, Evolved Tricks for Bypassing Invalidations of Software Patents and Getting Them Granted by the USPTO

    A roundup of news about patents in the US and how the patent microcosm attempts to patent software in spite of Alice (high-impact SCOTUS decision from 2014)



  30. “Then They Came For Me—And There Was No One Left To Speak For Me.”

    The decreasing number of people who cover EPO scandals (partly due to fear, or Battistelli's notorious "reign of terror") and a cause for hope, as well as a call for help


CoPilotCo

RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

CoPilotCo

Recent Posts