Bonum Certa Men Certa

Red Hat and BlackBerry: Companies That Use Linux But Also Hoard Software Patents and Use These Against Rivals in the Linux Space

On carving out parts of the market using patent monopolies...

"Inventive people [at Novell] write more software patents per capita than anywhere else."

--Jeff Jaffe, Novell's CTO before these patents got passed to CPTN (Linux foes)



Summary: The use of a patent portfolio in the Free software world for divisive and discriminatory purposes, as demonstrated by Red Hat in servers and BlackBerry in phones

IN OUR previous articles which mentioned Microsoft's patent agreement with Red Hat [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9] we noted that:

  1. The patent "standstill" (implies temporary and falsely insinuates there was a two-way war) applies only to Red Hat and its customers, unless Red Hat can prove otherwise;
  2. The deal does not shield Red Hat and and its customers from satellites of Microsoft.


“We both know we have very different positions on software patents. We weren’t expecting each other to compromise.”
      --Paul Cormier, Red Hat
Well, we are still waiting for Red Hat's lawyers to speak out (Tiller and Piana were involved in this) or for Red Hat's management to get back to us (if it decides to). They need to go "open" (like an "Open Organization" [sic]), or at least clarify in some other way what exactly Red Hat did with Microsoft regarding patents. The FAQ is far too vague and it raises more questions than it answers. If we don't hear some time later this month, we shall assume that Red Hat is hiding something and we'll rally Free software people (urging them to comment on this subject), set up a public petition, etc. Transparency is extremely important here. This new article quotes Paul Cormier, Red Hat’s president for products and technologies, as saying: “We both know we have very different positions on software patents. We weren’t expecting each other to compromise.”

Well, both are applying for software patents, so it's not clear what he meant by that. Also, they compromised only among themselves; what about other entities that use the same software as Red Hat does? Are they too enjoying a patent "standstill"? Probably not. Only says ago Microsoft extorted -- using patents -- yet another company that was using Linux (Android was mentioned in the announcement).

"Nothing prevents Intellectual Ventures from going after Red Hat just like Acacia repeatedly did, so it’s a fool’s settlement."What has Red Hat really achieved here? It was a selfish deal and the inclusion of patents in it was totally spurious; it does a lot more harm than good. Ian Bruce, Novell's PR Director, once said that the Novell/Microsoft package "provides IP peace of mind for organizations operating in mixed source environments."

Meanwhile, the Microsoft-friendly media gives a platform to the world's biggest patent troll, Intellectual Ventures, without even calling it "patent troll". This troll recently sued a lot of companies that distributed Linux. Nothing prevents Intellectual Ventures from going after Red Hat just like Acacia repeatedly did, so it's a fool's settlement.

"Remember that BlackBerry habitually speaks about using patents for revenue and for market advantage."Speaking of potential patent dangers to Linux, recall that BlackBerry pays Microsoft for patents (including FAT, which relates to TomTom/Linux) and recall our articles about BlackBerry potentially becoming a troll [1, 2, 3, 4]. Some people's loyalty to this Canadian brand and its newfound support for Android can blind them to the risk which BlackBerry remains, especially because of its patents stockpile.

This new article [1, 2] serves to remind us that BlackBerry still has "Software And Patent Monetization" in mind (we covered this some weeks ago, quoting the CEO). This means that, failing the strategy with Priv and Venice (BlackBerry's Android devices and Linux-centric strategy), it could end up like Sony-Ericsson, suing Android players whilst also selling their own (unsuccessful) Android handsets.

"BlackBerry is proprietary to the core."Remember that BlackBerry habitually speaks about using patents for revenue and for market advantage. Also remember that BlackBerry is not -- at least not yet -- an Android company. BlackBerry is proprietary to the core. "The QNX division could also face higher competition from open source software such as Linux," wrote a financial site, "which many customers find more flexible and economical, limiting its potential in the burgeoning IoT and connected device market. For instance, Tesla reportedly uses Linux for its Model S sedan."

Don't be too shocked if BlackBerry eventually sells its patents to hostile actors, asserts them against competitors that use Android, or uses aggressive lawyers to compel various OEMs to remove features from their Android devices (both hardware and software features).

Law education



"I've heard from Novell sales representatives that Microsoft sales executives have started calling the Suse Linux Enterprise Server coupons "royalty payments"..."

--Matt Asay, April 21st, 2008



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