Template:Cleanup Template:Expand Template:Computer programs, software and patent law Opposition to software patents is widespread in the free software community. In response, various mechanisms have been tried to defuse the perceived problem.

Positions from the community[edit | edit source]

Community leaders such as Richard Stallman,[1] Alan Cox,[2] Bruce Perens,[3] and Linus Torvalds[4][5] and companies such as Red Hat,[6] and MySQL,[7] and community groups such as FSFE,[8] IFSO,[9] and others have worked to raise awareness of the problems of software patents for free software.

Benefits of free software[edit | edit source]

Patent holders can require infringers of their patents to pay a fee for ongoing use of their patent, or to stop using the idea covered by the patent software (i.e. stop using the software that used the patented idea). With free software, software users have the additional option of removing the patented feature from the software. This allows them to continue using the software, but without that patented feature. However, if that patented feature is very important, then the software may not be useful without it. Also, this would not exempt the software user from having to pay damages for the past infringement of the patent.

US patent 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 legal protections.[10]

Problems for free software[edit | edit source]

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, and adding any requirements to pay or to notify someone each time a copy is made would make the software no longer free software.[11]

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".[12]

The 2004 OSRM study[edit | edit source]

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 conclusion was:[13]

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 reducing harm[edit | edit source]

Patent retaliation[edit | edit source]

"Patent retaliation" clauses are included in several free software licenses. The goal of these clauses is 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 license 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.[14]

Examples of broader clauses are those of the Apache License and the Mozilla Public License.

Patent pools[edit | edit source]

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 Linux-related applications".[15]

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 change[edit | edit source]

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.[16]

Promises from patent holders[edit | edit source]

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,[17] Sun, and Nokia[18] are three examples. These have been described by Richard Stallman as "significant", "not really anything", and "next to nothing", respectively.[19]

Infringement claims[edit | edit source]

Microsoft has claimed that free software such as OpenOffice.org and the Linux kernel violate 235 Microsoft patents and said that it will seek license fees.[20]

In January 2008, Trend Micro accused Barracuda Networks of patent infringement for distribution of the ClamAV anti-virus software.[21][22]

Microsoft's patent deals[edit | edit source]

Template:Seealso In November 2006, a highly controversial agreement was made between Novell and Microsoft that included patent licensing.[23] This led to much criticism of Novell by the free software community.[24][25]

In June 2007, Xandros announced a similar deal[26][27]

On June 13, 2007, a deal was reached between Microsoft and Linspire.[28] In return, Linspire would change its default search engine from Google to Live search.[29]

Ubuntu founder and director Mark Shuttleworth has said that Ubuntu will not be making any such deal,[30] as have Red Hat.[31] These have been joined by a weaker statement from Mandriva[32] that "we don’t believe it is necessary for us to get protection from Microsoft".

On October 2007, IP Innovation LLC, a company specialized in patent-protection, filed a suit for patent infringement against Red Hat and Novell[33][34][35]. However, IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of a company classified by some as a patent troll[36], and commentators suspect a strong connection between this company and Microsoft[33][34].

See also[edit | edit source]

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External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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