Home > Linux > Group: Linux potentially infringes 283 patents Group: Linux potentially infringes 283 patents Eugenia Loli 2004-08-02 Linux 28 Comments Linux potentially infringes 283 patents, including 27 held by Microsoft but none that have been validated by court judgments, according to a group that sells insurance to protect those using or selling Linux against intellectual-property litigation. About The Author Eugenia Loli Ex-programmer, ex-editor in chief at OSNews.com, now a visual artist/filmmaker. Follow me on Twitter @EugeniaLoli 28 Comments 2004-08-02 6:38 pm In this day and age without stepping on a stupid software patents. IMHO, I think computer-science luminaries of the previous age should have taken out patents on their inventions. Semaphores, heap management, garbage collection, threads, files, etc. That way the computer revolution would have effectively been halted, and Bill G would be just another poor college dropout. At least, that’d stop this insane software patent situation we have today! 2004-08-02 6:44 pm Well said, although Bill G isn’t as terrible as Steve J in this aspect. 2004-08-02 6:46 pm I don’t know who is more stupid. US Law makers for choosing patents over intelectual rights, or EU law makers for trying to keep up with US stupidity!!! I am a programmer, and I can’t search if there already is a patent for every thought I have during coding… 2004-08-02 6:48 pm If companies wanted to they could start a patent war that would devastate the industry but most are smart enough to not bother about such nonsense unless that infringement is extremely flagrant or they in desperate need of cash. I am sure companies like IBM and Sun alone could bring things to a crawl in the tech world if they wanted to do so. Then again let’s remember the motative behind this article and who helped to write it. 2004-08-02 6:58 pm Once again the point is missed. This is about protecting the IP or the individual/Company. If linux infringes on patents then they need to change it or come to some agreement with the IP owner within the confines of current law PERIOD. 2004-08-02 6:59 pm Has a similar study been done on Apple and Microsoft products? 283 sounds like a lot, but I wonder if Apple and Microsoft products have a number similarly as high. 2004-08-02 7:08 pm You know they do, but since you can’t see the source you can’t look to find out. 🙁 Sucks! 2004-08-02 7:11 pm Bill G would be just another poor college dropout Not quite. I believe that his mommy and daddy had some money themselves… 2004-08-02 7:16 pm Did not anyone see what the company that put out these results was. a Company that gives insurance to people for linux. Sounds like the security company a while back that had something to do with MAcOS X 2004-08-02 7:21 pm The point is not that whether Linux should or should not comply with patent law — the point is that software patents are a fundementally stupid idea. It’s entirely grounded in making a distinction between software algorithms and mathematical algorithms (which cannot be patented), that exists only in the minds of people who don’t understand computational theory. 2004-08-02 7:21 pm The point is not that whether Linux should or should not comply with patent law — the point is that software patents are a fundementally stupid idea. It’s entirely grounded in making a distinction between software algorithms and mathematical algorithms (which cannot be patented), that exists only in the minds of people who don’t understand computational theory. 2004-08-02 7:25 pm What point ? This article was written by a bunch of lawyers and insurance salesmen trying to scare people into buying insurance from them. The patent system in the US is a joke because you can get patents for almost anything. Like the other guy said you can start a patent war but what good would it bring to the tech industry ? 2004-08-02 7:46 pm “I am a programmer, and I can’t search if there already is a patent for every thought I have during coding…” those times you’re not sure, do as if there already is 😉 some time ago i happened to read articles citing examples of “technologies” and acknowledgements already patented, some of the descriptions appeared to me, just the results of someone inputing a dictionary to a routine generating all possible permutations and picking the ones that sound well … btw, i’m graduating in software engineering in italy … anyone could imagine my (and most of my fellows’) state of mind about the current trend 🙁 2004-08-02 7:46 pm “The point is not that whether Linux should or should not comply with patent law — the point is that software patents are a fundementally stupid idea.” I agree with you that software patents are not the best idea however, it doesn’t matter whether they are a stupid idea or not. Compliance with current patent law is in the best interests of the future of linux. You don’t fight the software patent fight by going against the law. 2004-08-02 7:52 pm What point ? This article was written by a bunch of lawyers and insurance salesmen trying to scare people into buying insurance from them. The patent system in the US is a joke because you can get patents for almost anything. Like the other guy said you can start a patent war but what good would it bring to the tech industry ? The problem is not the tech industry, as you say they have little to gain from such war, but what about the legal industry. We can expect that law firms will specialize in making money from IP litegation. This kind of business will also be hard to target for companies like IBM that normally could use their own patents to threat a potential atacker. A company with no real product but litegation will not be vulnerable to this. 2004-08-02 8:07 pm Compliance with current patent law is in the best interests of the future of linux. You don’t fight the software patent fight by going against the law. Yes, you need to follow the law but. Linux development is international. You could move development to countris that doesn’t have stupid laws. There is a lot of them in Asia. Many of them also have the advantage of lower saleris and more customers than in the US (and soon EU). You may need to move even if your job is not directly related to software. Countries with software patents will get higher software prices making all industry using that software competitively challanged on the international market. So unless you are not a lawyer prepare to move to the east. 2004-08-02 8:18 pm > It’s entirely grounded in making a distinction between > software algorithms and mathematical algorithms (which > cannot be patented), that exists only in the minds of > people who don’t understand computational theory. Well said, that distinction is silly. Silly distinctions are everywhere. It seems that any kind of categorization, in any context, becomes silly — if you dig deep enough. For examples, the world “artificial intelligence” is meaningless, because there is no real difference with human intelligence — computers are programmed by humans, our brains are programmed by natural selection. Another example: there is actually no difference between a computer virus and a biological virus. Ok, I’ll stop before I get modded down 🙂 2004-08-02 9:05 pm Re: Missed Point @SmartPatrol I think you missed the point that these are *potential* infringements. Not validated and verified infringements. You also missed the fact that the article stated that 98 of the patents in question were owned by Linux allied companies. 2004-08-02 9:05 pm If you follow your reasoning far enough, you can say “everything exists in this universe, so there is no distinction between any two things.” Of course, doing that would be foolish — while the generalization is correct, it’s meaningless. In making any decision, you must arrive at an appropriate level of generality — one where you ignore the details that don’t matter, in the context of the decision, and pay attention to the ones that do matter. In the case of patents, you must pay attention to characteristics that allow you to decide what should be protected and what should not be protected. In the context of traditonal patents, there are three key characteristics: 1) It’s a technique that does not have prior-art; 2) It’s a technique that isn’t obvious to a practitioner in the field; 3) It is not a statement of mathematical fact. Now the thing is, that software patents are disqualified by the third characteristic. If you get rid of that third requirement, then you could just as well patent Euler’s or Reimann’s mathematical techniques, which is something the authors of copyright law did not want to happen. If you retain the third requirement, you have to throw software algorithms in with Euler’s and Reimann’s mathematical techniques, because there is no meaningful distinction between the two at the level of generality in which we are operating. Let me give a more concrete example: Recently, Creative Labs beat Carmack over the head with a patent they had on the “depth-fail” technique of rendering shadow volumes. This is the algorithm in question: Render back face of shadow volume. If depth test fails, increment stencil value, else does nothing. Disable draw to frame and depth buffer. Render front face of shadow volume. If depth test fails, decrement stencil value, else does nothing. Disable draw to frame and depth buffer. Note, the frame-buffer can easily be treated as a large matrix, and rendering is simply the application of a number of algebra techniques to scenes represented as different types of graphs. Now, consider the algorithmic description of Gauss-Jordan elimination, an elementary matrix algebra technique (copied from here: http://www.aspire.cs.uah.edu/textbook/gauss.html) Read in a matrix of size mxn.(m rows and n columns) Begin working down the main diagonal starting at row one, column one. Check for a zero in the working position. If working position is zero, interchange the working row with the row directly beneath it. If you are on row m (last row) then the system is unsolvable. Repeat step 3. Divide the working row by the number in the working position. This will force the diagonal element to have a value equal to one. Replace the rows beneath the working row by the following: Store the value in the working column and next row. Multiply working position by the stored number. Subtract the product(step 2) from the from the next row entry. Move column one to the right. Multiply entry in working row new column by stored number. Repeat steps 2 – 5 until last column have been operated on. Keeping the working row constant, repeat steps 1-6 coupling the next row in line with the working row until all rows have been operated on. If this is done correctly, all the entries below the working position will be zero. Move to the next position in the diagonal. Repeat steps 3-7 until the last element in the diagonal has been operated on. Your matrix is now in row echelon form. According to some people, the first method is patentable, while the second is not. But how can you distinguish? Is it a question of complexity? No, because the second is more complex than the first. Is it a question of obvious-ness? The second is certainly less obvious than the first. Is it a question of where each technique is used? The first is used for graphics, and one of the uses for the second is graphics. Is it the type of data they operate on? Is an algorithm that deals with graphs of vectors any more patentable than one that deals with matrices? There is no real distinction you can make between them, indeed, you cannot distinguish between them any more than you can distinguish either from “a^2 + b^2 = c^2”. All three exist within the same mathematical framework. 2004-08-02 9:25 pm You guys realize these are the same people who will tell you that you should spend 40% (rough) of your income on insurance just in case you contract a rare disease and want to live 2 more years. I hope no one buys this, it’s just a company looking to make money off it. Obviously if they provide the insurance the risk is low…. 2004-08-02 10:16 pm “You don’t fight the software patent fight by going against the law.” It’s not against the law until the case is lost in court. Just because someone is granted a patent on “Method of storing numbers as strings” does not automatically mean that it is illegal to use it without their permission. All it means is that they might try to sue you for compensation. *If* they do, and *if* the patent is not invalidated and *if* it decided that you infringed, *then* it is the case that you have gone “against the law”. Until all of those things obtain, all you’ve done is write some software. Your attitude assumes that: 1. All patents are valid 2. All possible/claimed/questionable infringement is actual infringement 3. Civil disobedience is not acceptable in free software Bet you don’t like decss, eh? Sure we want to keep questionable stuff out of the Linux kernel, but if there are ridiculous patents out there that cover all disk access or all memory handling or something, then should we just be caving in to them? It seems those are fights we can’t and/or shouldn’t avoid. 2004-08-02 10:26 pm Just how are we defining blackmail these days? “You’re in violation of 283 patents, pay us or pay Microsoft.” 2004-08-02 11:35 pm If linux infringes on patents then they need to change it or come to some agreement with the IP owner within the confines of current law PERIOD Actually, it’s better to wait until the IP owner actually brings up the case in court, because statistically the patent has a 50/50 chance of being declared invalid (the percentage is even higher is the patent is clearly frivolous). See, filing patents is easy (if expensive) – USPTO clerks are overworked and don’t really check the validity of most patents. However, proving that patents are valid in a court of law is much harder… BTW, is it just me or is this article a dupe of sorts? I mean, the Newsforge article linked to earlier today speaks of the exact same thing… 2004-08-03 1:06 am i think that’s the best way to work on stuff. if linux infringes, let the so-called patent owner sue in court. you can’t expect the developers to know all those patents floating around. if they do that, they won’t get anything done. but the hard part is if the feature itself, not just a particular implementation, is what’s patented. for example, what if the person who thought of the metaphor of files and folders patented his/her idea? then no one will be able to implement such a thing without infringing the patent. if it’s just the particular implementation that’s patented, it can be as simple as rewriting code to make use of another possible implementation. but if the idea/feature itself is what’s patented, there’s no way to skirt around it. that’s why software patents are absurd. 2004-08-03 1:25 am A couple of yours ago I was compiling some Linux libraries for my system – I can’t remember exactly what they were but I think they were MESA related. I decided to read the README and it contained an article giving an academic backround to the work which was pretty heavily referenced. I thought wow these are pretty academically competent guys – then I realised – no they are establishing prior art for patent protection. Given who now owns the OpenGL patents (obtained in part by bribery) this was probably a wise tactic. However I think the lesson for developers is not only stay away from reading patents but also carefully document all the prior you use. It could protect your work from being stolen or suppressed by some patent bandit. 2004-08-03 3:20 am Lets sue Userlinux the minute it’s possible (sallable goods or services). From what I’ve been reading in the mailinglists it shouldn’t be too long. If we lose, we have consumed much of peren’s time and more importantly money as well as possibly resources of his farce insurance company. But more importantly when we lose we have locktight case for at least debian’s version. If we win, oh well there is always bsd. 2004-08-03 7:18 pm You also missed the fact that the article stated that 98 of the patents in question were owned by Linux allied companies. I read that part and it doesn’t matter. 98 patents owned by Linux allies still can be 98 points of leverage at a later date when allies and enemies shift. 1. All patents are valid 2. All possible/claimed/questionable infringement is actual infringement 3. Civil disobedience is not acceptable in free software 1. Do you have the money to defend linux in court to weed out BS patents? So your willing to leave it up to OS companies to foot the bill for possible litigation? say that 99% of the software patents are invalid and proved to be invalid in a court of law. That 1% patent infringment has the potential of seriously hurting Open Source efforts. 3. What i am saying is that there are proper ways to deal with these issues and just pretending that the law doesn’t exist is foolish and can over time bite you in the ass. You may need to move even if your job is not directly related to software. Countries with software patents will get higher software prices making all industry using that software competitively challanged on the international market. So unless you are not a lawyer prepare to move to the east. This has a high probablity of happening, but i think once software patents really come to a head there will be changes made in the law. 2004-08-04 3:58 am Your missing the point, which is that it would be counter-productive to rewrite code to make sure it infringed on no patents at all – as many of these patents must be upheld by a court of law if the owner claims infringement. In other words, infringement must be proven, and the alleged infringer is innocent until proven guilty. If the patents are serious and risk being confirmed by a court of law, then you change the code. If they are frivolous and likely to be overturned, then you don’t do nothing (presumably because the owner won’t even try to sue and risk losing time, money and the actual patent). No one’s saying that you’re fundamentally wrong, just that this requires a strategic response…which is why the group selling “open-source insurance” exists – the risk assessment will be based on the fact that most alleged patent infringement won’t actually be pursued.