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06.23.10

The Real Debate About OIN

Posted in IBM, Microsoft, OIN, Patents at 7:57 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Scarecrow

Summary: The main downside of the OIN is not its secrecy but its function as endorser of software patents; Groklaw and Müller carry on arguing

YESTERDAY we wrote about Canonical joining the OIN. This reopened the debate about OIN, mostly comprising OIN sceptics and OIN proponents (the debate about how OIN should be operated from within is a minor one*). As expected, the legal side from Groklaw defends OIN, which is also aligned with the interests of IBM. Pamela Jones portrayed Florian Müller’s criticism as one that refers to secrecy (the minor debate, not the real debate) by writing:

Bergelt is highly respected in the FOSS community, as is OIN, as you can verify by looking at the lists of those signed on as licensees. I see Florian Mueller immediately attacked OIN. Yes, again. He’s wrong again, of course, and all I ever see from him is attacks on those working hard to protect FOSS from the patent threat. His complaint this time is that OIN isn’t transparent enough.

You know who I think would *really* love OIN to be transparent? Microsoft. Then it could avoid getting checkmated by OIN next time. Remember, it was OIN who blocked Microsoft’s attempted sale of antiLinux patents to patent trolls last year. Florian didn’t do that. I didn’t do it. You didn’t do it. OIN did it. And he thereby protected Linux from an evil machination designed to tie Linux to the railroad tracks, as I wrote at the time. For this one act alone, the community owes OIN our thanks to time indefinite. Yes. Really. I’m guessing that is why OIN is now a target for FUD attacks.

Jones is right about the latter point. The OIN did well on that occasion [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6], but it’s hard to find other examples. A lot of effort could instead be spent explaining to legislators why US patent law is the black sheep when it comes to software patents. The US ought to be brought into alignment with global patent law, not the other way around. The same goes for copyright law, but that’s another story we generally don’t cover at Techrights.

In response to Groklaw’s post, Müller had this to tell us:

The thing PJ gets wrong intentionally is that I never said they should be transparent about everything they do with those patents. Of course they can have a confidential strategy every time they use those patents, just like everyone else would. My original blog posting on OIN made it absolutely clear that there’s simply no transparency about how they define what “the Linux System” is, and that’s the scope of protection of the entire license agreement. They can boost or disadvantage certain GNU/Linux-based software by including or excluding it, and they can do so at a moment’s notice if they want.

I also think it’s quite weak that the OIN announces the new category of Associate Members and provides no explanation of what rights and obligations those Associate Members have (as compared to Licensees). Usually someone who wants to generate publicity for a new initiative wants to provide at least a minimum level of substance. All they talked about was protecting the Linux ecosystem, which would apply to Licensees just as well. So the difference isn’t specified in the slightest.

Finally, PJ’s claim that I don’t deal with where the threat is coming from is preposterous given the diversity of topics covered (and companies criticized) on my blog. It’s actually PJ who doesn’t want to deal with threats coming from IBM and its allies.

Let’s emphasise that software patents ought to be abolished (including IBM's). OIN does nothing to get us there; au contraire — the OIN only legitimises them. The OIN is to patent law what crutches are to foreign policy and war. A more transparent OIN would also respond to these reasonable criticisms.
___
* It is a common debating strategy to shift attention off one debate and onto a non-existent one, e.g. claiming that scientists in one field disagree among themselves not about minor points but about substantial theories as a whole. Strawman arguments are related to it in the sense that they rely on falsehoods or distortions. Another technique is the use of emotionally-charged words like “believer” or “denier” (connotation with religion or with the Holocaust, respectively) to make one side of a debate look irrational and sometimes dangerous.

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2 Comments

  1. Yuhong Bao said,

    June 25, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Gravatar

    “Let’s emphasise that software patents ought to be abolished (including IBM’s)”
    I know that programmers hate it, and many don’t like software patents, and it has many problems, but why is abolishing them really the only option?

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Because they should not exist (as enforceable monopolies). You could use them for documentation.

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