01.15.14

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Lawyers’ Attacks on Free/Open Source Software (FOSS)

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Patents at 4:45 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Leading and cutting-edge FOSS in jeopardy because of a culture of frivolous litigation

OpenStack, which SUSE and Microsoft were trying to make proprietary, recently got protection from OIN because “patent trolls invade the cloud” and as the President of the OSI, Simon Phipps, put it the other day in his post about OIN, “patent trolls target their next victim: Cloud computing”. He explains that “Cloud computing’s success has caught the attention of patent trolls — so the Open Invention Networks is gearing for battle” (although it cannot defend from trolls, only from other large companies with products).

According to this one report from last night, a “Patent Troll Sues The FTC” for standing in its way. To quote some background: “We’ve written a few times about patent troll MPHJ, a company which had a bunch of bizarrely named shell companies sending threatening letters to thousands of small businesses, demanding $1,000 per employee, if those companies happened to have a network connected scanner that had the common “scan to email” feature. MPHJ claimed it had a patent that covered this, and wanted to go after the end users with threats, in order to clean up on “settlements.” MPHJ had become one of the poster children for extreme patent trolls abusing the system, and various states had begun suing the company for threatening local businesses. In fact, just today, NY apparently settled with MPHJ — and revealed that MPHJ acquired its five patents for… $1.”

Let’s clarify that patent trolls (usually lawyers) are a huge problem that needs to go away. But trolls are not the only problem; we need more restrictions on patent law (probably necessitating intervention from SCOTUS [1], which historically did almost nothing to make patents saner). The sad thing is that some legal firms (i.e. lawyers) don’t give a damn about innovation; consider this very recent example [2] where a firm called for “crackdown” on FOSS “internet browsers and payment systems which facilitate illegal activity” (worse than trying to ban research tools like nmap and wget).

No all lawyers are evil, but putting aside those who serve public interests (not many), lawyers should be treated as one of the major threats to FOSS.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Supreme Court looks to rein in top patent court with two new cases
  2. O’Donovan calls for crackdown on internet browsers and payment systems which facilitate illegal activity

    Fine Gael TD for Limerick, Patrick O’ Donovan has called for tougher controls on the use of open source internet browsers and payment systems which allow users to remain anonymous in the illegal trade of drugs, weapons and pornography. Deputy O’Donovan has written to the Oireachtas Communications Committee, of which he is a member, asking it to investigate the matter.

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