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Alan Cox Files Patent For DRM 281

Posted by kdawson
from the counter-troll dept.
booooh writes "Alan Cox has filed a patent for DRM (Digital Rights Management). From the filing: 'A rights management system monitors and controls use of a computer program to prevent use that is not in compliance with acceptable terms.' According to the patent pledge of Cox's employer Red Hat, they will not license this technology if the patent is granted. And it can probably be applied to the DRM that is in Vista. This forum has a few more details.
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Alan Cox Files Patent For DRM

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  • by jimicus (737525) on Monday January 15, 2007 @08:48AM (#17612274)
    Had it been any other sort of technology, filing a patent for it and then refusing to license it, thus crippling adoption of that technology, would be considered a terrible thing on /. But in the case of DRM and RedHat, I think most would make an exception.

    But I'm still not that excited. Most on /. thought Novell was a fine upstanding company until recently.
  • by tfbastard (782237) on Monday January 15, 2007 @08:54AM (#17612300)
    From this patent application [freshpatents.com]
    The present invention provides a technique for preventing the unauthorized use of a computer application, operating system, or other program without causing the loss of any information or data.
    And a bit further down:
    When unauthorized use of the computer program is detected, any information and data is saved and the computer program and/or a portion of the computer system is disabled.

    As patent law, legalese and such is not my area of expertise, I'm out on a limb here, but doesn't this sound like a patent for saving the state of an DRM-aware application before exiting if a DRM-breaking state occurs, thus making legal DRM-aware applications even more annoying to use?

  • Not really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rumith (983060) on Monday January 15, 2007 @09:07AM (#17612366)
    You see, he's not trying to patent DRM as a concept, he's trying to patent the technology of DRM system state saving. While this patent may have little value itself, it might be a show-stopper for Apple, Microsoft and the like. IANAL, but I suppose that Red Hat lawyers have studied the piles of MS et al DRM patents and Vista license agreement, and have found a hole in it [i.e. something that they use in the license or in their technology but haven't patented]. And now that Vista is getting ready for launch, Microsoft gets this blow. Let's keep our fingers crossed and see what follows.
  • FrostWire (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SpooForBrains (771537) on Monday January 15, 2007 @09:08AM (#17612374)
    FrostWire [frostwire.com] - all the *ahem* benefits of using Limewire, but without the annoying "Upgrade to Limewire Pro" popups.
  • Re:Not really (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Monday January 15, 2007 @09:35AM (#17612568)
    Ah how sweet. Slashdot readers supporting an OSS company in patent trolling to damage Microsoft and others. I'm sure the irony, and indeed the stupidity of this move is totally lost on you.
  • by rvw (755107) on Monday January 15, 2007 @09:49AM (#17612702)
    So what if Microsoft would buy Redhat in the future, can Redhat now make it so that this patent will never be used, no matter what?
  • by RegularFry (137639) on Monday January 15, 2007 @09:50AM (#17612710)
    It's quite clever, actually. Any DRM-aware application that doesn't save state before shutting down will be vilified as being broken the first time anyone loses important data because of a false positive, and any DRM-aware application that does is in violation of this patent. This makes any DRM-aware application either a) broken, or b) illegal. Very neat. Simple, but neat.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by antek9 (305362) on Monday January 15, 2007 @09:51AM (#17612716)
    You gotta love that. DRM as prior art. Isn't it beautiful?
  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Monday January 15, 2007 @10:00AM (#17612828)
    '' It hasn't. However, the moment he tries to use it on one of the large companies, they'll haul the matter in to court, most likely bankrupting Mr. Cox in the process. ''

    There are two possibilities how this could go to court:

    1. Mr. Cox finds out that for example Microsoft does actually infringe on his patent, and he tries to do an Eolas on them. You can be sure that he would find lawyers who will happily support him for 60 percent of the proceeds on a no win, no fee basis. Mr. Cox would go down in public opinion quite a lot, but he might not care with $100mil in his pocket.

    2. Microsoft starts attacking Linux with patent claims, and Mr. Cox's patent is used as part of the "assured mutual destruction" policy that patents are used for. It won't be Mr. Cox paying for the court case.
  • He left a backdoor (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LPrecure (835868) on Monday January 15, 2007 @10:08AM (#17612906)

    From the patent:

    A rights management system monitors and controls use of a computer program to prevent use that is not in compliance with acceptable terms. The system monitors usage of the computer program for usage and activities that are not in compliance with the license or other use terms. Upon detection of a violation of these terms, state information pertaining to the computer program is saved and operation of the computer program and/or a portion of the computer system is suspended. The system maintains the suspension for as long as the violation exists. Once compliance has been reestablished, the suspension is terminated.

    All Microsoft has to do to get around his patent is make it so that, once DRM breaks your computer, it stays broke. (Until you do something. Like, the infamous "format and reinstall".) (Which, BTW, you can only do once.)

  • by XLawyer (68496) * on Monday January 15, 2007 @10:34AM (#17613172) Homepage
    This may be true somewhere, but not in the United States. In the U.S., you infringe a patent if any claim of the patent describes what you are doing.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday January 15, 2007 @10:38AM (#17613208) Homepage Journal
    It may also be used in copies of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is often licensed on a subscription model. Once the subscription expires, many companies typically end up using it anyway. Perhaps Red Hat is interested in stopping this. Notice that the patent covers use by application program os by operating systems. Red Hat is, first and foremost, an operating system vendor.

    While the individual packages of RHEL are GPLed, the integrated OS as a whole is not. One interesting thought is -- what happens when packages in RHEL move to GPL V3? Will Red Hat be forced to not include them if they implement this DRM for RHEL?
  • by Goth Biker Babe (311502) on Monday January 15, 2007 @11:13AM (#17613666) Homepage Journal
    What no one gets is that DRM is a big compromise. Like all security its a balance between keeping things usable and keeping the media suppliers and the customers happy.

    In a commercial world commercial companies have no requirement to sell anything to any one. So if you say I'll not buy it because it has X or does Y then that's your prerogative. It's the company's prerogative not to sell you something. It is the company's commercial decision to decide how many sales they are happy to lose that way.

    So if this goes through. That doesn't suddenly mean that you'll be able to buy any media from any store and play it on any player. All that will happen is that some products will lose their DRM and others will be taken off of the market and online stores will close because the media companies wont be happy to allow their wares to be out there unprotected regardless.

    So who will win from this? A bunch of evangelistic techie nerds who put their own principles over pragmatism. And who will lose? Basically you average Joe who's one of the many who's bought an iPod and one of the 2b downloads from iTunes say. And for us in between? I'll not lose out because DRM doesn't affect the CD rips I do and I never download pirated music anyway since most of the bands I listen to are small independent ones who sell CDs directly or through small record companies and who need every penny they can get...
  • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bwt (68845) on Monday January 15, 2007 @11:16AM (#17613698) Homepage
    I believe that the patent will be granted. The PTO doesn't see this patent as any different than the myriads of other stupid patents they routinely grant. But the only way it might not be granted is if the publicity alerts the bad guys (MS, RIAA, MPAA, etc...) that they need to spin up their lobbiests to affect the PTO. I wish this story had not been run.

    Assuming the PTO behaves as it has in the past, this patent will be granted and it will be up to litigation to sort out prior art. It will be up to Alan and Red Hat to pick who they want to attack first. If they pick somebody big, there is a serious danger that they will retaliate against Red Hat. Think about what IBM did to SCO. Every single SCO product has a patent claim infringement case against it.

    If Red Hat is smart, they'd work out a deal with a friendly party who is willing to spend the money and litigate against them first. IBM or Novell might be candidates. The idea here would be that the "defendent" would want the courts to reach a common outcome with the plaintiffs and both sides would cooperate insofar as they would force the court to pick between precedents that are favorable to both sides.
  • Re:Wow! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Omnifarious (11933) * <eric-slash AT omnifarious DOT org> on Monday January 15, 2007 @11:50AM (#17614160) Homepage Journal

    What? You expect RedHat to actually use this? I don't know what planet you're from, but you're not from mine.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Monday January 15, 2007 @12:56PM (#17615192) Homepage Journal
    2) a lot of people have been working on DRM for a long time.

    Yeah, but have any of them actually produced valid, workable DRM software? I get the impression that most of them are invalidated (i.e., "cracked") within days of release. Either that, or like the Sony "rootkit DRM", the DRM was a fiasco that was quickly withdrawn due to its side-effects on customers' equipment.

    Cox and RedHat can be making the claim that all previous DRM has been poorly-functioning and/or vaporware, and they're the first ones to have actually implemented it. If so, those who support DRM should support their patent. (Whether software should actually be patentable is an independent issue.)

    There's a lot of precedent for patents for inventions that others have attempted. I recently read an interesting history of the invention of the zipper. Many people tried to invent such a mechanism in the 1800s. Their attempts generally worked for a while, but were fragile and required frequent replacement. Finally, someone came up with the zipper that we all know, which both worked and was sturdy enough to last for years in normal clothing. They got a patent on it, despite the fact that many other (poor) zipper mechanisms had already been invented. Theirs was slightly different from all the others, and it actually worked well.

    There are many stories like this in the history of technology, with many false starts before someone comes up with a good solution to a problem.

    There is another potential problem with this patent, however. It's the way that the US Patent Office now accepts patents without a working model. So it's entirely possible that Cox and RedHat are also patenting vaporware that they can't build. Do we know much about this question?
  • Good DRM eg Steam (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nicolastheadept (930317) <`nick' `at' `redfern.org.uk'> on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:20PM (#17615546)
    There are a few examples of good DRM such as with Steam. This allows you to install on as many computers as you want and doesn't suffer the Music related problem of incompatibility of devices.

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