04.20.12

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Patent Pledges Are Pointless, Here’s What Red Hat Can Learn From Twitter

Posted in Site News at 2:09 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

How not to ‘pull a Novell’

Liar Liar poster

Summary: Even though Twitter made a mistake by validating software patents as a concept, its new licence can help Red Hat prevent the “weaponisation” of its patents (learning from Novell’s mistakes)

The problem with patent pledges is that they’re missing the point and are a short-term solution, if any solution at all. Twitter is against software patents, as we showed some years ago. The executives openly complained about software patents. Despite support from people with a lot of money, Twitter’s new patent pledge is merely a promise not to use its patents offensively (agreement here), but one can just “fork and troll” as the FFII’s president put it. Also, it gives birth to yet more software patents.

“Why get weapons in the first place? It doesn’t even deter against trolls, which would be terrorist equivalent if one used a nuclear analogy.”Twitter might not be the only company in possession of these patents over the next 20 years. As one put it, “I wonder if that would change with Netscape patents?” (which Microsoft now ‘owns’, as strange a concept as it may seem)

Netscape/AOL gave code to open source, so one might think their patents were “defensive” or at least harmless. But they are ending up in Steve Ballmer’s portfolio this month, rendering any implicit promises pointless and useless. It is the same with Novell’s patents, which were formerly included in the OIN and are now with Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle, all of which attack Linux with patents (Oracle uses Sun’s patents against Android, so Sun’s promises/goodwill too are useless).

Novell used to assure people that its patents were not a problem and so did Red Hat (which can in principle e sold along with its patents, only to see those patents used against Linux). Why get weapons in the first place? It doesn’t even deter against trolls, which would be terrorist equivalent if one used a nuclear analogy.

Twitter received a lot of positive press for the move, including this:

Say what you want about Twitter – pointless, annoying, noise, useless – at least the company has its heart in the right place. Twitter just announced the Innovator’s Patent Agreement, a promise not use their or their employees’ patents offensively. In a world where yesterday’s innovators are today’s patent trolls – Apple, Microsoft, Oracle – this is a big deal.

The basic gist of the – for now – draft agreement is that Twitter promises not to use its patents or its employees’ patents in an offensive manner without explicit permission from the people listed as inventors. This applies to both past, present, and future patents, and is strictly transferable; if the patents are sold, the original agreement still stands.

Red Hat made no legal promise, not one that would be honoured if the company got bought out. Zonker from (formerly) Novell explains that “Every Company Should Adopt Twitter’s Internet Patent Agreement”. To quote:

Twitter has raised the bar for recruiting the best and brightest developers, and without any real costs. Instead, the company’s Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA) appeals to a cause near and dear to many of today’s best developers: Refusing to weaponize software patents.

What Twitter did should urge Red Hat to do the same, but ideally, Twitter should just never have gotten any software patents and the same goes for Red Hat.

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