12.26.07

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Fighting the Cost Advantage of GNU/Linux Using Software Patents

Posted in FSF, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Steve Ballmer at 2:52 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Novell’s deal with Microsoft has become controversial for a variety of reasons. Only one of them is a path towards deduction from Linux revenue, capitalising on the notion of ‘patent tax‘. Such payments are not justified for several reasons, including:

  1. The invalidity of software patents in the vast majority of the world
  2. The fact that most software patents would fail in court (Bruce Perens argues that only 5% of these would survive the court's acid test, and only after a great monetary investment)
  3. Inability to specify infringements

Microsoft Novell

”Novell has, in some respect, assisted the opening of that jar of worms. Novell granted Microsoft the precedence it so badly craved.“The list goes further than this. It remains a fact that at the time of Novell’s deal with Microsoft (November 2006), patents were not seen as a principal challenge to Linux. Novell has, in some respect, assisted the opening of that jar of worms. Novell granted Microsoft the precedence it so badly craved. On numerous occasions shortly after the deal had been signed, Microsoft's CEO used that deal explicitly as proof “that open source is not free”. That was before the middle of May when Microsoft decided to openly ‘assert its rights’.

The Economist published a good article a couple of days ago. Other than the fact that it somehow attributes the success of Free software to Linus Torvalds (others like Richard Stallman will be rightly — or leftly — put off by this), it does point out the role of cost as an advantage.

Pundits agree: neither Microsoft nor Apple can compete at the new price points being plumbed by companies looking to cut costs. With open-source software maturing fast, Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox, MySQL, Evolution, Pidgin and some 23,000 other Linux applications available for free seem more than ready to fill that gap.

As you can see, it’s not only a question of freedom, but also a question of cost. At the moment, amid some financial discomfort, Microsoft’s eye is focused on making Linux not free. This goal is made easier to accomplish with the help of Novell, which took money to change everything. Can this ever work and be generalised to affect all GNU/Linux vendors? Maybe.

PC Magazine has just published an article that quotes those whom we have had our eyes on. There is a continuing attempt to impose per-unit royalties on Linux shipments (never mind the notion of redistribution, being one of the essential 4 freedoms), using patents. Will it work? That is already happening at Novell. Fortunately, Andy Updegrove has presence in this article where he rebuts:

The twist with any new Linux lawsuit is that past cases have “mobilized a huge and passionate community,” says attorney Andrew Updegrove, an open-source litigation expert. Today, any new open-source project is scrutinized by hundreds of erstwhile developers looking for potential patent infringement. “If a company is going to proceed with its claims of IP infringement, it better have a smoking gun,” says Chris Swenson, the director for software industry analysis at NPD Group.

It’s important that Linux users and customers join forces and fight attempts to change laws and rewrite rules in order to marginalise GNU/Linux. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is determined to bring change to patent laws in the United States, so there’s still plenty of hope. According to an article from Linux.com, this FSF initiative ought to have begun about a month ago. It has yet to bear fruit.

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3 Comments

  1. zoobab said,

    December 26, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Gravatar

    The FSF will probably try to build a case on patentable subject matter to go to the US Supreme Court.

  2. Bruce Byfield said,

    December 26, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    Gravatar

    “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

    “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”
    - Proverbs 24:4-5

    In this case, I hardly know which of these two pieces of advice to follow.

    I acknowledge an error in talking about the OOXML voting; earlier today, I asked Datamation for a correction when I saw it earlier today, and I expect it will be corrected soon.

    Otherwise than this purely factual point, from here on, I think that I’ll go with not answering. If nothing else, it will save me from wasting time. As an ex-English instructor, misreading and misrepresentation irk me, but I also have learned to recognize a hopeless case when I see it.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 26, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Gravatar

    Bruce,

    I do like your articles, but the only criticism I’ve had recently is an unfair depiction that involves terms like “conspiracy theory” (or “witch hunt” in some other places). These terms have a negative connotation and are therefore used to discredit us. They are used to intercept our message.

    People speak. People exchange E-mails. They exchange phonecalls and they also exchange favours. That’s the way things work, so there’s no point in denying that. Not everywhere we look do secret agreements exist. However, in order to understand what is happening behind the scenes, one must take into consideration all sorts of evidence. This isn’t a case of look and see. A lot is happening away from sight. If we identify many ‘coincidences’, we wish to draw the readers’ attention and have them reach their own conclusion.

    If you spot mistakes or inaccuracies, please weight in so that we can correct them (as we regularly do).

    Having an uncomfortable or an unpopular assessment is not easy. There are many people who do not like what we show here. It doesn’t falsify some factual information, such as the fact that a Novell Vice President was also the President of the GNOME Foundation, until recently.

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