From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Opposition to software patents
is widespread in the free software community. In
response, various mechanisms have been tried to defuse the
Community leaders such as Richard Stallman, Alan Cox, Bruce Perens, and Linus
companies such as Red Hat, and MySQL, and
community groups such as FSFE, IFSO, all
believe that patents cause problems for free software.
Patent holders can require infringers of their patents to take
out a license to continue using an invention covered by the patent,
which may or may not require payment of a fee. Otherwise, the
infringer must stop infringing the patent, possibly by removing or
modifying the patented feature so that the product no longer
infringes. This possibility may be easier with software than other
types of inventions since computer program often perform many
different functions or a similar result may be achieved in a
different, non-infringing manner. Nevertheless, the software may
not be useful without the patented feature.
Benefits of free
attorney Dan Ravicher argues that free software's
distributed development model which leads to fewer concentrations
of wealth, plus free software's public benefit create economic and
Problems for free
Free software projects cannot agree to patent licences that
include any kind of per-copy fee. No matter how low the fee is,
there is no way for a free software distributor to know how many
copies are being made. Also, adding any requirements to pay or to
notify someone each time a copy is made would make the software no
longer free software.
A patent licence that is royalty-free, or provides a one-time
worldwide payment is acceptable. Version 2 of the GNU General Public License
does not allow software to be distributed if that software requires
a patent licence that does not "permit royalty-free
redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies
directly or indirectly through you".
In 2004, Open Source Risk Management commissioned a patent
study, carried out by Dan Ravicher. For this study, Ravicher
performed patent searches to estimate the patent-risk of the Linux kernel. His
In conclusion, he found that no court-validated software patent
is infringed by the Linux kernel. However, Ravicher also found 283
issued but not yet court-validated software patents that, if upheld
as valid by the courts, could potentially be used to support patent
claims against Linux.
Techniques for opposing
"Patent retaliation" clauses are included in several free software licences. The goal of these
clauses is to create a penalty so as to discourage the licensee
(the user/recipient of the software) from suing the licensor (the
provider/author of the software) for patent infringement by terminating
the licence upon the initiation of such a lawsuit.
The Free Software Foundation
included a narrow patent retaliation clause in drafts 1 and 2 of
version 3 of the GPL, however, this clause was removed in draft 3
as its enforceability and effectiveness was decided to be too
dubious to be worth the added complexity.
Examples of broader clauses are those of the Apache License
and the Mozilla Public License.
In 2005, IBM, Novell, Philips, Red
Hat, and Sony founded the Open
Invention Network (OIN). OIN is a company that acquires patents
and offers them royalty free "to any company, institution or
individual that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux operating system or certain
Novell donated the valuable Commerce One web services patents to OIN.
These potentially threaten anyone who uses web services. OIN's
founders intend for these patents to encourage others to join, and
to discourage legal threats against Linux and Linux-related
applications. Along with several other projects, Mono is listed
as a covered project.
Lobbying for legislative
Movements have formed to lobby against the existence and
enforceability of software patents. The earliest was the League for Programming
Freedom in the USA. Probably the most successful was the
anti-software-patent campaign in Europe that resulted in the
rejection by the European Parliament of the
Proposed directive on the patentability of computer-implemented
inventions which, the free software community argues, would
have made software patents enforceable in the European Union. A
fledgling movement also exists in South Africa.
Promises from patent
Some software companies who hold significant patent
portfolios have made non-aggression pledges to the free
software community. These have varied in scope and have received a
variety of responses. IBM, Sun,
and Nokia are
three examples. These have been described by Richard Stallman as
"significant", "not really anything", and "next to nothing",
Microsoft has pledged not to assert any claims against open
source developers which
Ballmer called "an important step and significant change in how
we share information about our products and technologies." . This
pledge has been accepted with some skepticism .
Microsoft has claimed
software such as OpenOffice.org and the Linux kernel violate
235 Microsoft patents and said that it will seek licence fees, but
has so far failed to disclose which
patents they violate.
In January 2008, Trend Micro accused Barracuda
Networks of patent infringement for distribution of the ClamAV
In November 2006, a highly controversial agreement was made
between Novell and Microsoft that included patent licensing. This
led to much criticism of Novell by the free software community.
In June 2007, Xandros
announced a similar deal
On June 13, 2007, a deal was reached between Microsoft and Linspire. In
return, Linspire would change its default search engine from Google
to Live search.
Ubuntu founder and director
Shuttleworth has said that Ubuntu will not be making any such
have Red Hat. These
have been joined by a weaker statement from Mandriva that
"we don’t believe it is necessary for us to get protection from
On October 2007, IP Innovation LLC, a
company specialized in patent-protection, filed a suit for patent
infringement against Red Hat
However, IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of a company classified
by some as a patent
commentators suspect a strong connection between this company and
In December 2007, Microsoft granted the Samba project access to certain
proprietary documents and must maintain a list of related patents
for a one-time fee of 10,000 Euros .
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- ^ a
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"LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corporation... This
past July Acacia hired Jonathan Taub away from his job as Director,
Strategic Alliances for the Mobile and Embedded Devices (MED)
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- ^ a
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