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12.01.09

Does “Tivoization” Also Mean Massively Suing All Competitors Using Software Patents?

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents, Tivoization at 8:08 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

TiVo

Summary: TiVo’s shift to a strategy of patent litigation is not paying off, patent trolling becomes common, Microsoft rides the wave

TiVo is known for pioneering the practice of “Tivoization”, which prevents running code on particular machines if that code is modified. Tivoization was one of the reasons for making the third version of the GPL. TiVo is a notable user of Linux, but just using the code does not make TiVo a friendly company. In fact, as we have shown many time before (e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]), TiVo is a patent aggressor.

According to this summary from TechDirt, TiVo’s strategy as a patent aggressor is not working out.

TiVo has been spending a lot of effort suing others for patent infringement, but apparently not very much on actually improving their own services and giving customers a reason to buy them over the competition. So while it may be winning some of its patent lawsuits, it hasn’t helped much for the business, which is rapidly bleeding customers and losing marketshare.

Incidentally, TechDirt has also just written about law practices that turn to patent trolling.

From an economic standpoint, this activity is a pure dead weight loss on economic activity. There is nothing good that comes from it. You basically have companies that have ignored a patent they got for whatever reason, suddenly rediscovering it and using it to go after totally unrelated companies who actually innovated and brought products to market (almost always with no knowledge whatsoever of the questionable patent in the first place). And suddenly the actual innovators have to pay up to a company that did absolutely nothing with the invention.

This is in complete contradiction to the goals of the patent office. And watch what Microsoft is doing right now, looking for a patent on Fog Computing.

Microsoft has filed a patent to lock-down a method for moving data between different “clouds.”

As we showed last week, “Microsoft seems to be patenting stuff like crazy.”

‘“Other than Bill Gates, I don’t know of any high tech CEO that sits down to review the company’s IP portfolio” —Marshall Phelps

09.07.09

Patents Roundup: Microsoft. Apple, TiVo, IBM, and Lots More

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, IBM, Microsoft, Patents, Tivoization at 3:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Keyboard_1

Summary: A lot of patent news from the past few days

QUITE A LOT has happened since the last Patents Roundup and plenty of news relates to Microsoft as a threat to Free software.

An article from Law.com has rejuvenated [1, 2] interest in the real purpose of the world's largest patent troll, headed by Microsoft’s former chief, Nahtan Myhrvold. Mike Masnick calls this troll, Intellectual Ventures (IV), a “pyramid scheme”. He explains why:

Intellectual Ventures, of course, is the Nathan Myhrvold company that has been building up a huge portfolio of patents with which to get big tech companies to pay many millions of dollars to not get sued — and, according to many, to get a cut of future deals as well, making the whole thing sound suspiciously like a pyramid scheme.

[...]

But, a year ago, we noted that the company appeared to be getting antsy. While it was bringing in some hefty fees from a small group of companies who bought into the equity pyramid (which neatly lets the world outside be confused over what’s “investment” and what’s “revenue”), there was concern that investors were getting impatient. Pouring billions of dollars into a company that isn’t doing much can make some investors a little anxious. And while we still don’t know of any direct lawsuits, Zusha Elinson has noticed that Intellectual Ventures’ former patents are starting to show up in court, often involving some of the most well known names normally associated with “patent trolling.”

One reader of ours calls it “Mafia blues”, explaining that Intellectual Ventures “Make[s] the dirt job by others.” It’s an arsenal for hire. They use attack dogs to do their dirty deeds and friends/investors are ‘protected’ from this. Who are those friends/investors? Good question. Facebook seems like one that's a recent addition.

Bill Gates himself is an investor in Intellectual Ventures (private investment), which got Intellectual Ventures about $5 billion to get the ball rolling, i.e. harvesting patents. Microsoft itself turns out to be an investor and so is Apple (which occasionally uses patents against Linux contenders), according to this bit of information found in the corner of the article mentioned some days ago.

Both Apple and Microsoft have been reported to be IV investors.

It is interesting to find Apple investing in such “pyramid schemes” of patents. When it comes to patents, Apple and Microsoft enjoy a special peace (if not affinity). They cross-license. And as we pointed out some days ago, Google contributes its own share of problems, but at least it is a member of the OIN.

Another part of this problem is IBM, whose policy on software patents is unfriendly to Free software not because it’s suing but because it allows others to do so, to an extent. An IBM person currently runs the USPTO, so this is important. IBM’s view of the patent system impacts the policy on technology patents.There are finally some Slashdot comments about it (this has made the front page) and also an updated summary.

In its Amicus Brief to the US Supreme Court on the Bilski case, IBM is arguing that “patent protection has promoted the free sharing of source code [...] which has fueled the explosive growth of open source software development.”

[...]

Read also page 42 of the IBM letter:

In addition, disclosure of software inventions promotes collaboration among software developers (such as open source development)

Insane.

IBM tends to be seen as an eternal friend of Free software because of its pledges and sincere contributions, but by choosing to continue to accumulate software patents, IBM opens the door for others like Microsoft to pose a real threat. Another company which tends to be associated with Linux is TiVo , but as we regularly show, TiVo is a patent aggressor as well. Watch how one company is forced to pay TiVo $200 million just for patents.

Dish Network and its sister company EchoStar must cough up an extra $200 million to TiVo for continuing to offer DVR functionality in their set-top boxes after being slapped with a court injunction.

A few days ago we also saw the BBC spreading patent propaganda where criminalisation of patent infringement gets justified as a severe action. In relation to that article (one among two) from the BBC, Pamela Jones from Groklaw writes: “Hmm. Let’s see. Could we put Steve Ballmer in jail, then, for the i4i patent? Wait. Uh oh. Look at the picture of Mr. Baylis. I think he might be combing his hair in violation of patent No. 4,022,227, Method of Concealing Partial Baldness. Officers, put Mr. Baylis in the clink while we sort this out, will you? And since the CATO Institute recently announced that most companies infringe patents, I believe we could shut down the entire world economy in no time flat by following Mr. Baylis’ suggestion.”

Glyn Moody had this to say:

Which is the old confusion between theft and infringement. Indeed, it’s probably impossible to nick a patent, since it’s a government-granted monopoly, and they’re pretty hard to steal.

And it’s foolish on a practical level: imagine the current insanity of patent law cases turned into even higher-stake criminal cases, and the burden they would imposed on an already stretched legal system.

So, Trevor, do stick to inventing clever things, and leave stupid intellectual monopolies alone.

Regarding Microsoft's call for harmonisation of patent systems across the world, Moody wrote:

Riiight: “bold” as in “infect the rest of the world with the insanity that is the US patent system” bold, I imagine – not forgetting software as “patentable subject matter” while we’re at it.

Danke, aber nein, danke, Horacio.

Pamela Jones wrote this: “Microsoft suggests an international patent system. That way, it can kill off its competition, most particularly FOSS, everywhere at once. If you are reckless, you’ll go along with them.”

Peter Glaskowsky at CNET calls it a “premature patent proposal,” further arguing:

I really have no problem with harmonization if it is properly done, but I think it would be tremendously difficult to achieve good results. The reality of patent protection is radically different from that of copyrights because patents are allowed based on the merits of the application; someone has to make a judgment call.

In other news that we mentioned before (regarding the i4i case [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]), here are some articles about the latest development:

Here is a very interesting insight about this case.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, i4i’s chairman, Loudon Owen called Microsoft’s brief an “extraordinary document” that “captures the hostile attitude of Microsoft toward inventors who dare to enforce patents against them.” But with friends like Dell and Hewlett-Packard each filing amicus curiae briefs in support of Microsoft’s motion to stay the injunction, i4i is looking to have to fight more software and computer giants than just Microsoft. The AmeriKat predicts that with the addition of Dell and Hewlett-Packard’s briefs and in applying the third and fourth factors in the test for an injunction as set out in eBay Inc v MercExchange she would be surprised if the Court of Appeals does not lift or in someway amend the injunction given the far-reaching effect on third parties like Dell and HP.

Isn’t it enlightening that Microsoft and its allies pretend that the sky will be falling if Word gets banned? As PC World rightly points out, many alternatives to Word exist and they are a lot cheaper (or free).

First, there are plenty of alternative word processors out there, most of which read Word files perfectly well. Sure, there might be a few formatting glitches, but that’s to be expected during any file conversion. Microsoft Office users, particularly those who rely heavily on the well-honed integration between Excel, Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint, would experience the most problems. But, again, the ban would affect new sales of Word, not existing copies. So users would have time to develop workarounds.

Plus, there’d be one big silver lining to a Microsoft Word ban: A true universal document format could take hold, one that replaces today’s defacto standard — Microsoft’s doc/docx — that’s tied too closely to the whims of one software vendor.

Word ban? Sure, why not?

GCN has a similar new article, but the list of proposed alternatives is very limited and disputable.

In other interesting news, Microsoft has quietly settled yet another patent lawsuit where the scale of damages claimed was hundreds of millions of dollars. Only one publication (that we could find) actually covered it, twice even:

i. Microsoft settles Tucson firm’s patent lawsuit on imaging technology

Microsoft Corp., the world’s biggest software maker, settled a patent-infringement lawsuit filed by Tucson-based Research Corporation Technologies Inc. that sought hundreds of millions of dollars over a process to improve images on computer screens.

ii. Microsoft settles with local company

Microsoft Corp. reached a settlement with a Tucson firm that accused the software giant of infringing on patented digital-imaging technology, heading off a jury trial.

Check out this rant about the USPTO. It comes from a reputable source.

The U.S. patent office gets nearly 500,000 applications every year. Figuring out who owns what, typically in court, has morphed into a business worth $10-billion (U.S.) a year in the United States, where the global patent war is mainly being waged.

The ITC is revisiting bans in an important case where patent laws are seemingly being violated. So, there is at least a new sign that recognition of the problem remains poor and another embargo may be on its way.

The U.S. International Trade Commission has voted to investigate technology-related patent complaints brought by two companies, with the vendors asking the agency to ban the import of a wide range of products using flash memory.

In one case, Samsung Electronics of South Korea filed a complaint, and in the second, Samsung is among the targets in the investigation. The two cases involve different types of flash memory.

A Samsung representative didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the two cases.

If this is what “innovation” is all about, then perhaps we need less of it.

08.28.09

Patents Roundup: Microsoft and Linux

Posted in Europe, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, Patents, Tivoization at 5:25 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Sir Charles Groves

Summary: Sunny day here today, so here are just some patent ‘quickies’

TiVo is a patent nuisance to everyone. Despite using Linux, it is a patent aggressor [1, 2, 3], just like Akamai. And just because it uses Linux (and applies TiVoization to it) does not magically make it a nice company. TiVo carries on with its journey of aggravation:

TiVo said Wednesday that it is suing AT&T and Verizon over three DVR patents. The complaints seek damages and a permanent injunction.

Simply put, TiVo is pursuing the same legal playbook it followed against Dish/EchoStar. The patents in question include 6,233,389, 7,529,465 and 7,493,015.

Nintendo has just spared a lot of money to save itself from the likes of TiVo.

Nintendo Co., the maker of the top- selling Wii video-game console, settled a U.S. trade fight that could have resulted in a U.S. import ban of the popular gaming systems.

Nintendo and Hillcrest Laboratories Inc. filed a notice with the U.S. International Trade Commission on Aug. 21 that they reached a settlement of patent-infringement claims before the agency. Financial details were blacked out in the copy of the agreement made available to the public.

The patent system may often be characterised as a system of honour and mutual respect, but what we find here is a system of embargoes and strangulation. There is also such a thing as a “nasty patent” and Microsoft shows exactly what that can be:

Microsoft is seeking to patent a method for using a popular human-verification technology on the Web to deliver advertising to a captive audience.

We wrote about it two days ago, just as we mentioned HP and Dell helping Microsoft against patents. Here is another article about it.

Then there is Tuxera [1, 2], which The Register is falsely describing as a “Linux vendor”. Why are they showing off selling out anyway? Is Microsoft paying them?

To finish off on a brighter side, here is an entertaining new video.

[Via]

We wrote about this patent application right here. Someone has also just sent us what he calls “EPO propaganda”, saying that it is “a picture taken of an EPO job advertisement..” [click to enlarge]

EPO propaganda

06.02.09

How KDE Defeated DRM (and What Linux Might Do Next)

Posted in DRM, GNU/Linux, KDE, Kernel, Tivoization at 4:17 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

DRM Apple
Digital Restrictions, Meh

Summary: KDE’s lesson in maintaining Freedom and defending data accessibility at the same time

YESTERDAY WE WROTE about Linux pondering DRM, having already let in TPM or something that's akin to Tivoization. Some of us at Boycott Novell hold the belief that this is counter-productive for users who perceive GNU/Linux as a free (libre) operating system that respects its users by putting rights and trust in the hands of these users.

Aaron Seigo from the KDE project has just dispatched this encouraging post which revealed how they handled the growing plague of document DRM. From the opening paragraphs:

Jonathan Corbet wrote a piece on LWN about Okular and it’s implementation of user permission restrictions in PDFs (sometimes errantly refered to as “DRM”). This is actually something it has done since it was KPDF back in KDE 3. Obviously, permissions in PDFs are a generally misguided attempt at protecting the agenda of a publisher in a demonstrably ineffective way that comes at a cost to things like the concepts of fair use.

So what’s up with Okular having support for permissions? It’s quite simple: not only is permissions in the PDF spec, but there are organizations in the world who, for contractual or legal reasons, require permissions in PDFs be respected.

Do we simply not serve those users needs? Do we “know better” for the user who says “I want to accept the terms of the publisher of this document”? Of course not; that’s rather user unfriendly in itself.

So the strategy adopted was quite simple: make it an option that the user may choose to abide by the permissions flags in a PDF or not.

If a Linux authority ever insists on support for DRM*, then maybe developers can provide people with a similar option to that which KDE offers. Novell’s Go-OO developers take it a step further.

While on this important subject of Linux and Freedom, what is the consequence this new post from Jim Zemlin?

Canola Project’s GPLv3 Permissions are Worth a Look

[...]

The foundation and its members all believe that licensing choice is ultimately up to the developers and owners of a project. We are concerned, however, with whether the language of popular licenses is legally clear, and also with the fact that having too many licenses and license variations can become confusing.

Regardless of where you come down on the debate as to whether these permissions should be granted, it is clear that this language is effective and that its consistent use will be helpful for those projects and developers that DO wish to provide a similar exception to the GPLv3.

IBM is a little scared of Freedom (and by inference the GPLv3). It refuses to talk about elimination of software patents because it favours them and it is also a (or the) major force in the Linux Foundation and OIN, based on the respective portfolio. Under sufficient pressure from users IBM et al will need to readjust (or face negative impact on PR).

The GNU GPLv3 gains acceptance

______
* Linus Torvalds says he likes Tivoization, but he is glad to see music DRM fading at the same time. Some call it a contradiction.

04.03.09

Linux is Getting ‘Built-in’ Tivoization Equivalent

Posted in GNU/Linux, IBM, Kernel, Tivoization, Videos at 5:44 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Could this have played a role in Linus’ decision regarding GPLv3?

Richard Stallman and the GPLv3
GPLv3 launch

Summary: TPM in Linux raises important questions about Freedom

A COUPLE of years ago Linus Torvalds wrote “I think Tivoization is *good*,” which led to lengthy discussions.

Yesterday in the IRC channel a fascinating tidbit resurfaced as IBM’s Trusted Computing ambitions for Linux reared their ugly head again. The idea of embedding ‘trusted’ computing in Linux (it is the very opposite of trust) probably involved work from IBM, at least based on some prior reports and the Linux Weather Forecast, which has the following for Linux 2.6.30.

Support for integrity management in the kernel has been merged. This code makes use of the trusted platform module (TPM) built into many systems to ensure that the system’s files (including its executable software) have not been corrupted, maliciously or otherwise.

This can be misused to achieve the very opposite, where “corrupted” means benignly hacked. An older article about this seems innocent enough, but questions may arise, such as: could Linus have known something about TPM when rejecting GPLv3?

“What would this mean to Linux as a Free underlying platform?”“It was one of the main reasons for the rejection in the Linux kernel mailing list,” writes oiaohm. If binaries are changed (or their ‘integrity’ not authenticated), then programs won’t run.

“Problem is, there are devices where TiVo style security is needed,” claims oiaohm, “Like you don’t want people tampering with electronic voting systems.

“As I said, there is good and bad to it. Good for very particular uses. You really do want to be able to inspect the source code of a electronic voting machine to make sure it is not stuffed up. You also don’t want people tampering with it. If you look around, you can find other valid uses of the tech.”

What would this mean to Linux as a Free underlying platform? The GNU/Linux operating system could suffer from this. “Problem is, I would bet almost all the money I have that it will be abused to harm users,” concludes oiaohm.

Video on Trusted Computing:

Ogg Theora

12.14.08

Speeding Up Free Software Adoption — External and Internal Routes to Success

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, Tivoization at 6:16 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Newspaper headline

Striking balance between mindsets might be a factor on which the success of Free software is hinged. Put simply, a struggle against so-called ‘pragmatism’ may have been one of the greatest barriers to wider adoption of Free software. However, at the same time, such a struggle ensures that Free software never devolves to become excessively assimilated to proprietary software, at which point its fundamental goals are simply not met.

Over the past 25 years, Free software fought its growing pains and became an integral part of the computer industry. Against all odds, Free software, which at a later stage grew alongside the Open Source branch, has reached and touched almost every aspect of our lives, at least as far as computing goes. In the case of Open Source, nowadays it’s common to find that similar concepts get adopted almost everywhere, not just in technology.

“Even Microsoft Windows contained portions of BSD-licensed code.”To give a few examples demonstrating ubiquity, Google is powered by Free software at its deeper levels and Mozilla Firefox, which is said to have reached approximately 123 million desktops and laptops, is by all means Open Source software. The various BSDs gain acceptance also. As Macintosh users are probably aware, their system enjoys a symbiotic relationship with BSD (or Darwin) development. Even Microsoft Windows contained portions of BSD-licensed code.

When it comes to Free software, the outlook seems bright. Market predictions are largely optimistic and sharp growth of Open Source software is foreseen quite uniformly. An overwhelming lump of investments which were seen at the beginning of 2008, along with the one-billion-dollar acquisition of MySQL and another of Trolltech, are definite signs that Free software is no longer just a niche in the industry; it is a major part of it.

Obstacles to Adoption

There are areas where Free software has been more successful than others. In order to understand how adoption can be sped up, one needs to look at known weaknesses and barriers, then address them.

There are two separate sides to consider here; the first is the environment to which Free software needs to adapt and the second is the environment in which Free software is being developed.

In the first case, a reciprocal relationship can be seen. The industry wishes to leverage Free software to its own advantage, whereas Free software relies on an industry which supports, funds, and contributes improvements to the software being deployed. Those two sides are bound to meet half-way and benefit mutually.

“Separate strands — at times even referred to as “movements” — adopted slightly different routes to a digital emancipation.”In the second case, there are frictions to be addressed and reconciliation to be reached. As alluded to at the beginning of this article, there is no single ideology which represents everyone. There are those who prefer to make compromises that can be seen as shortcuts to acceptance, which come at a cost. This is typically accompanied by caution or resistance from one side (developers) and acceptance from another (targeted market).

Separate strands — at times even referred to as “movements” — adopted slightly different routes to a digital emancipation. They strive to accomplish very similar goals, but they use different software licenses. While their philosophy is not inherently the same, it is still almost identical. The development methodologies are largely consistent across the different strands and yet, unnecessary arguments sometimes get in the way. That barrier is akin to a ‘civil war’ and it can quickly becomes a distraction.

In order for Free software to become more dominant, here are just a couple of broad issues that need to be resolved. They correspond to the items above.

External Factors

The problem: In a market where customers are seen as passive, they are often referred to as consumers. Most consumers out there in the market are foreign and oblivious to the ideas which make up Free software. To many people, “Free software” means “cheap software”, which at a mental level translates to “bad quality”. However, “Free software” truly ought to be synonymous with freedom, as in free speech or liberty. This ambiguity in the English language can be misleading and unfortunately enough it has been rather damaging to this software’s reputation.

“Software producers gain greater control over the user’s wallet, too.”In recent years, innocent consumers have grown more familiar with some harms of proprietary software by witnessing unwanted behaviours which can be explained in fairly simple terms. Examples include the inability to access or edit one’s family videos and the loss of access to entire music collections, which need to be repurchased. As the days go by, computers control the user more then the user controls his/her own computer. Software producers gain greater control over the user’s wallet, too. “Why,” you ask? Because they can, particularly as long as customers obey and accept rather than demand change through resistance.

There is clearly a problem of perception here. Users who are ‘external’ to the development world frequently fail to see where they are being led and how they are being controlled. Additionally, despite the fact that software is not tangible, people tend to forget that software is duplicated virtually free of charge and therefore, cost of acquisition says very little about quality. The value of software depends a great deal on the number of people who use it.

Companies that stock and sell Free software are still required to combat public perceptions, which is why the term “Open Source” is used more commonly than “Free software”. What remains unclear, however, is the number of Free software values that are maintained once this transition from Free software to Open Source is made. This can lead to backlash.

There is a always a level of pragmatism which strives to ease migrations between software, including entire operating systems, but the process tends to blur the gap between Free software and proprietary software. Consider the fact that companies which sell GNU/Linux desktops are struggling to please each and every customer and supplier (developer). If the freedom of software and hardware is preserved, this often means that the customer must then cope with a steeper learning curve. There are usually those who would bluntly accuse the company of betraying or exploiting Free software developers if proprietary ‘shims’ are included to remove adoption obstacles such as DVD playback and proprietary codecs.

Lastly, there is the perception that good products are advertised heavily. Wealthier companies, whose business model thrives in high cashflow (higher spendings and higher revenue), are able to raise awareness of their products. The public is drawn in by hype and there is no equally-effective response from the Free software world. Broadly speaking, advertising may be the Achilles Heel of Free software.

Possible solution: Education is probably the key to resolving the issues above. When stressing the value of freedom (and gradual loss thereof) users will be led to exploring more options. Not so many people are aware of real choice.

By raising the importance of user’s control in computing and by understanding that advertising does not necessarily reflect on the quality of advertised products, people can better appreciate Free software alternatives to what they currently use. Manufacturers of software and hardware need to understand this as well in order for them to properly support lesser-known operating systems such as FreeBSD and GNU/Linux.

Pragmatism can sometimes be seen as a case of giving up because there isn’t sufficient understanding out there. Hardware companies, for example, are sometimes unwilling to offer documentation that is needed for improved interaction with Free software. Their attitude is incompatible with Free software ideals simply because they fail to understand the economic benefits of customer-centric computing. Myths and fallacies play a significant role here.

Internal Factors

The great divide between developers and everybody else is so infamous that it created the “nerd” stereotype, but there is another divide which involves just developers. This problem is broad, but let us consider one individual example which is representative of most.

The problem: The creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, considers himself to be pragmatic. He happily buys Apple hardware on which he immediately installs his own software and he takes pride in focusing on just the technical merits of his work. He rarely gets distracted by some of the more philosophical and seemingly-boring questions that are associated with software. And that’s a good thing, not a problem.

Torvalds distanced himself somewhat from the Free Software Foundation when he made the decision to stick with an older software license of theirs, the GNU GPLv2 (General Public License version 2). The main factor that led Torvalds to this decision is a set of clauses which forbid Tivoization. The term Tivoization is used to refer to a GPLv2 workaround which permits manufacturers to forbid modification joined by execution of a program. Some view this as controversial, but some do not. While Tivoization is legally permitted based on the GPLv2, this does not sit right with the spirit of the GNU project as a whole. The GPLv3 (version 3) was introduced to close the Tivoization loophole.

“It is hard to tell whether a solution is near, but it seems to be approached.”Torvalds has openly said that he likes Tivoization. He insists that Linux does not require some of changes introduced in GPLv3. This led to mild hostilities and disagreements. By no means was this a case of infighting, but tensions rose and a little fracture appeared.

Possible solution: While the problem at hand is truly a matter of opinions, divergence in terms of ideologies can be endemic in the sense that it can lead to forks. It is hard to tell whether a solution is near, but it seems to be approached. A year ago Sun Microsystems said that it would license OpenSolaris under the CDDL and the GPLv3 (dual). Past correspondence in the Linux mailing lists seems to suggest that Linux may have no choice but to swallow the GPLv3 along with terms that are perceived as undesirable by Torvalds. Alan Cox, unlike Linus Torvalds, has shown little or no opposition to this and he is very influential.

Summary

The greatest enemy to the success of Free software is Free software itself, as well as public perception. Some mild disagreements regarding the definition and values of Free software can lead to fragmentation, but there are usually some resolutions within sight.

What remains to be achieved is a grand goal related to education. Some computer professionals still fear what is yet to be understood a little better. Getting the word out there is probably the best route to removing that last major obstacle.

Originally published in Datamation in 2008

10.07.08

Patents Roundup: TiVo, Amazon and Community Patent

Posted in GNU/Linux, Patents, Tivoization at 10:20 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

We’ve already mentioned TiVo’s role in the patent mess several times in the past, e.g. [1, 2]. Here is the very latest on this subject. [via Digital Majority]

The Supreme Court is refusing to disturb a $74 million judgment against Dish Network Corp. for violating a patent held by TiVo Inc. involving digital video recorders.

[...]

TiVo sued in 2004, alleging that EchoStar, a satellite broadcaster, infringed on TiVo’s patented technology that allows viewers to record one program while watching another. EchoStar Communications changed its name to Dish in late 2007.

Equally notorious for software patents is Amazon ('one-click shopping', anyone?), which has patented another very trivial ‘invention’.

Amazon patents ‘customer review incentives’

The self-described patent reform advocates at Amazon.com don’t seem to have broken their habit of putting legal hooks on just about anything they dream up.

Last Tuesday, Amazon was awarded a patent for “creating an incentive to author useful item reviews.”

Over at IAM, it is being claimed that a back door to software patents in Europe is likely at a standstill.

The vice-president of the European Commission, Gunter Verheugen, claims that he remains hopeful that a way forward can be found in negotiations over the creation of a one-stop Community patent covering the entire European Union. In an interview published at the end of last week, Verheugen – who is so committed to patents he fell asleep during a press conference on the subject in May – saluted the efforts of the Portuguese and Slovenian presidencies in getting talks moving. However, he did not mention France, the current holder of the presidency, despite the interviewer’s claim that the Community patent was a priority for the French.

Where is the “innovation” that they speak of? All we have here is a lawsuit, a laughable patents, and political games. It’s a total waste of time.

“I think that “innovation” is a four-letter word in the industry. It should never be used in polite company. It’s become a PR thing to sell new versions with.”

“It was Edison who said “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. That may have been true a hundred years ago. These days it’s “0.01% inspiration, 99.99% perspiration”, and the inspiration is the easy part. As a project manager, I have never had trouble finding people with crazy ideas. I have trouble finding people who can execute. IOW, “innovation” is way oversold. And it sure as hell shouldn’t be applied to products like MS Word or Open office.”

Linus Torvald

09.15.08

Microsoft-Novell: Leaving It to the Lawyers

Posted in Law, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Tivoization at 5:16 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

It was almost two years ago, several weeks after the devious deal had been signed, that the following message was posted to USENET. Looking back, it’s worth quoting verbatim:


    From: Geico Caveman
    Newsgroups: alt.os.linux.suse,comp.os.linux.advocacy,comp.os.linux.misc
    Subject: Novell / OpenSuSE admit they paid protection money
    Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2006 15:21:22 -0500

http://www.linux.com/article.pl?sid=06/11/27/2113210

“Q: Novell claims to have not acknowledged any patent infringements by
Linux. But Novell is now paying a tax to Microsoft on the Linux
distributions it ships. What, exactly, is Novell paying for?

Nat Friedman: We’re paying for the promise that Microsoft made to our
customers not to sue them.

Q: Not to sue them for *what*? For problems you don’t acknowledge exist?

Nat Friedman: We put together an agreement with Microsoft to make Linux and
Windows work better together. Now, as everyone knows, Microsoft has spent
the last 10 years saying negative things about Linux, including implying
that there are IP issues in Linux. It didn’t make sense for us to do a
partnersihp with Microsoft on interoperability issues and still have this
patent cloud hanging around for our customers, so Microsoft asked us to put
together a patent agreement as well. And so we promise Microsoft’s
customers that we won’t sue them and they promise the same thing to our
customers. They pay us for our promise and we pay them for their promise.
It doesn’t matter if the allegations from MSFT are true or not. People can
sue each other anyway, and a patent lawsuit is very expensive to defend
against. ”

So, essentially what they are saying is :

“”We do not acknowledge any M$ patent violations in stuff we distribute, but
we will pay M$ a lot of money so that they do not sue us for things we are
not guilty of. We want a partnership with them at all costs even if we have
to pay that illegitimate protection money.””

Apparently, its not costly for Novell to fight SCO when it has no case, but
it is costly to fight Microsoft when they have none either. Pretty clear
who badly wanted this deal – it was Novell (agrees with Microsoft
statements that they were approached). As for Microsoft, it was just
Christmas that came early.

This deal is just like a gift that keeps on giving for Microsoft and makes
less and less sense for open source users as revelations keep coming. At
best, it is an industrial shakedown that Novell capitulated to. At worst,
Novell decided to become Microsoft’s underling (the most polite word I
could think of in this context) just for a partnership that lasts 5 years.


Ever since, Novell has committed to a lot more partnerships and collaborations with Microsoft. According to what Novell’s CEO said last month, “we originally agreed to co-operate on three distinct projects and now we’re working on nine projects and there’s a good list of 19 other projects that we plan to co-operate on.”

It sure sounds like the difference between Novell and Microsoft will be blurring further, does it not? Matt Asay returns to his concerns about Novell when he posts a strong statement: “A sign that Microsoft is becoming the world’s biggest law firm.”

There was some distressing news buried in Sean Michael Kerner’s look into Novell’s and Microsoft’s virtualization partnership. The news, however, had nothing to do with virtualization, and everything to do with Microsoft job titles.

[...]

When you have someone whose job it is to come up with “intellectual property and licensing products,” you’ve lost your way. Most software companies focus on selling (gasp!) software. Not, apparently, Microsoft.

Ken Hess is again raising those personal speculations about a Microsoft-Novell merger.

I foresee VMWorld bringing some significant surprises to light this year. Whether it’s a Microsoft-Novell merger, a Sun-Microsoft partnership, or simply that the whole world goes virtual Desktop mad; there will be an abundance of high fiving, glass clicking, and from me — some “I told you so’s.”

What will it eventually be? Those who dare to predict that allies will roost under the same roof are being labeled “conspiracy nuts”. Novell is very cheap to acquire and its worth keeps sliding.

No Patents in Linux

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