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Red Hat Software Businesses Linux Business Patents Your Rights Online

Red Hat Makes a GPL-Compatible Patent Deal 59

Posted by timothy
from the step-one-agree-that-the-gpl-is-about-copyright dept.
Bruce Perens writes "Red Hat has settled patent suits with Firestar Software, Inc., Amphion, and Datatern on a patent covering the Object-Relational Database Model, which those companies asserted was used in the jBoss Hibernate package — not in Red Hat Linux. The settlement is said to protect upstream developers and derivative works of the upstream software, thus protecting the overall Open Source community. Full terms of the settlement and patent licenses are not available at this time."
Reader Koohoolinn adds a link to RedHat's own report of the settlement and adds that the deal "is GPLv2 and even GPLv3-compatible." Koohoolinn also points out commentary on Groklaw that this deal "means that those who claim the GPL isolates itself from standards bodies' IP pledges are wrong. It is possible to come up with language that satisfies the GPL and still acknowledges patents, and this is the proof. That means Microsoft could do it for OOXML if it wanted to. So who is isolating whom?"
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Red Hat Makes a GPL-Compatible Patent Deal

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  • Good for them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chunk08 (1229574) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:15PM (#23767671) Journal
    Red Hat is the best thing for the open source community in terms of patents.
    • Re:Good for them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:26PM (#23767889) Journal

      Red Hat is the best thing for the open source community in terms of patents.

      If I understand this rightly, this is a veritable gift to the Open Source community. Kudos.

      • Gift? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday June 12, 2008 @08:44PM (#23772785) Homepage Journal
        This would be a gift if Red Hat didn't get value from that community. But since they do, I think the best way to describe it is that Red Hat is sharing the way the community would like more companies to share.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cp.tar (871488)

          Since the GPL was considered to be incompatible with patents, I'd say this was more than simple sharing.

          Several companies have shared their patents with the Open Source community -- or at least promised never to sue for infringement (yes, I know there is a difference), but nobody has ever done that with someone else's patent.
          This alone makes it a gift; showing that it is possible is another gift, as now we can expect more of the same.

          • Re:Gift? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday June 12, 2008 @10:28PM (#23773561) Homepage Journal
            Since the GPL was considered to be incompatible with patents, I'd say this was more than simple sharing.

            That was FUD, though. The GPL wants some of your patent rights, just enough to protect GPL software from patents. You still have lots of room to license them commercially.

            We can certainly call this an achievement. But really, this sort of legal innovation is what any company that wants to be a sincere partner in the Open Source community to the extent Red Hat is would be expected to do. We're not upset with Novell because they "didn't give us a gift". We're upset with them because they didn't do what is expected of anyone in their position. Red Hat just made that especially clear.

          • by KGIII (973947)
            Hmm... Joomla! vs. community and their interpretation of GPL3... Which version of GPL is RH using? Anyone else know the history and see any oddities here?
  • Thank you RedHat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pembo13 (770295) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:16PM (#23767695) Homepage
    Not sure why there is even a patent on this, but making a deal which protects everyone is pretty nice.
  • Are you sure this protects anyone other than Red Hat, Inc.?

    "The settlement is said to protect upstream developers and derivative works of the upstream software, thus protecting the overall Open Source community. Full terms of the settlement and patent licenses are not available at this time."
    In other words..."trust us, you little people wouldn't understand the details?"
    • by mhall119 (1035984) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:58PM (#23768393) Homepage Journal
      In other words the settlement details are rarely every made public in these kinds of situations. What they have announced is that the settlement grants a royalty-free patent license to all upstream and downstream developers, distributors and users.
    • by eparis (1289526) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @03:00PM (#23768415)
      Obviously I am not a lawyer but the way I read it many people other than Red Hat are protected, but not quite all. If you develop your own project completely from scratch and you are violating this patent (which may or may not be dubious, RH never admitted to violating it or that it was legit) you are on your own. The licence of your wholely new and unrelated project is irrelevant. If you go and get your project accepted into Fedora (pretty easy task) you are then covered since Fedora is a RH brand. Now your upstream code from the Fedora project (and any predecessor code created before you got accepted into Fedora) is now covered by this licence so other distros or projects can take your work use, modify, and distribute it just like any GPL code and are legal. It seems from my reading of all the press over the last 2 days and the RH FAQs like the only condition that needs to be met is that code which makes use of this 'patent' exist in a Red Hat brand. If it exists, existed, or will exist, in Fedora everybody is covered. This is a great thing for RH to do to support all of us who use a RH supported distro or some other distro.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        It seems like this would be simple enough to work around: You have something totally new and you want it covered? Find something Redhat distributes, pick a couple of highly generic classes out of their code, stick them in your code, now it's a derivative and your covered. No?
    • by rs232 (849320) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @03:01PM (#23768435)
      "Are you sure this protects anyone other than Red Hat, Inc.?"

      "Upstream developers receive a perpetual, fully paid-up, royalty-free, irrevocable worldwide license to the patents in suit"

      "All products distributed under a Red Hat brand are covered .. In addition, derivative works [redhat.com] .. are protected"
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rolman (120909)
      Read carefully:

      "The settlement is said to protect upstream developers and derivative works of the upstream software". It means that any implementation of the same code will be protected by this deal, whether is made by Red Hat or not.

      That also means it'd be quite the same for you to say about the kernel: "Trust Torvalds, Molnar, Cox and many others, you little people wouldn't understand the kernel internals' details".
      • by jvkjvk (102057)
        Almost, but not quite. As I said in another post [slashdot.org], this is true only if your code is GPLv3 as well. For example, if you did a clean room implementation for BSD you could still find yourself facing patent lawsuits. Unless I am missing something...
  • Not hard (Score:5, Informative)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:33PM (#23767987)
    License the patent to all software that is licensed under GPLv2 or latter, problem solved. The GPLv3 doesn't actually ban you from patenting anything, it just says that if you implement those patents in a GPLv3 covered work, you must grant downstream developers the right to implement those patents in their modified versions of the software. Similarly the paragraph which demands you do not sign certain types of patent deals only applies to deals which gives protection to only a subset of the receivers of derivative works. Nothing stops you from making such a deal which provides a license to anybody who uses a GPL compatible license for works that implement it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mapsjanhere (1130359)
      The issue is that such a license can badly backfire if it deals with software, since software is so nicely reusable.
      Using so all so popular car allegory, lets say I make trucks, and I have a patent for a new suspension. Now, since I'm not interested in cars, I license the patent to car makers under GPL. And gosh, some clever truck manufacturer will find a way to claim the design out of a GPLed car to fit into his truck, and point to my GPLed patent.
      So, is the truck axle a protected "derivative work" of t
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cduffy (652)
        Folks making proprietary use typically won't want to be subject to the GPL -- so they'll need to get a patent license, because they're certainly not covered. That limits the extent to which this patent can be reused, and thus to which having offered it can backfire on the licensor.

        (That said, Red Hat was prepared to shoot them down hard if they didn't agree to settle -- lots of prior art dug up).
      • Re:Not hard (Score:5, Insightful)

        by BlueParrot (965239) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @04:49PM (#23770145)

        And gosh, some clever truck manufacturer will find a way to claim the design out of a GPLed car to fit into his truck,

        Yes, that is the idea, IT IS PRECISELY THE IDEA. The GPL is not intended to let you limit your software patents to only some subset of all GPL software. It is intended to keep GPL software, any GPL software, safe from patent threats. Thus if the truck manufacturer licenses his trucks under the GPL, he will be allowed to use the patent that covered the car. This is not a flaw, IT IS WORKING AS INTENDED. To be safe from the patent he will have to put the truck under the GPL, which means he will be forced to give the operating manual and blueprints of the truck to anybody who buys it from him. Thus either he will be blocked from implementing the patent, or the community gains information about how to build trucks. This is only a problem if your goal was to use some GPL code that implements your patent (i.e the cars ) while simultaneously threatening OTHER GPL products which implement your patents (i.e the trucks). The GPL seeks to prevent you from doing this. Thus while you have given a very good example of how the GPL achieves this, you incorrectly described it as a problem when it is in fact the very point of the GPL.
        • Re:Not hard (Score:4, Interesting)

          by mapsjanhere (1130359) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @05:11PM (#23770473)
          Sure, in your case that's how the GPL is intended. In my case the truck manufacturer has no intention to license his truck patent under the GPL for use in trucks. He is trying to license it for the use in cars under the GPL. Then someone is taking the car part to break the truck patent.
          In software terms, as an engineer I might have a patent on a method to model the aging of engineered structures. Now some academic approaches me to use my program to look at erosion in Triassic fossil fields. Not seeing a conflict or commercial value, I give him a little GPLed program for his application. Now some other engineer modifies that code to compete in my field, claiming GPL protection from my patent since it's "derivative work" of a piece of GPL code.
          This is not about me using GPL code and not passing it on, it's about me potentially NOT being able to give the code away fearing for my legitimate patent (which protects my work in a specialized application, not something a patent troll has coughed up to sue).
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by bobsledbob (315580)
            If you choose to release your work under the GPLv3, then you are obligated not to sue the downstream "other engineer" for patent infringement, because his code is a derivative work.

            But, this doesn't exclude him from having to follow the requirements of the GPL as well. Meaning, because he is a derivative work, his code is now "infected" and upon distribution, he too will have to provide the source code to his product as well.

            In essence, he is bound to release his product as GPLv3, and because of this, he i
          • by james_gnz (663440)

            In software terms, as an engineer I might have a patent on a method to model the aging of engineered structures. Now some academic approaches me to use my program to look at erosion in Triassic fossil fields. Not seeing a conflict or commercial value, I give him a little GPLed program for his application. Now some other engineer modifies that code to compete in my field, claiming GPL protection from my patent since it's "derivative work" of a piece of GPL code.

            I don't understand why you, and the authors o

  • Legitimacy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by XanC (644172) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:36PM (#23768061)
    Does a deal like this lend legitimacy to a ridiculous patent, thus encouraging more patent trolling? Would ignoring them have been better? Maybe this patent is actually meaningful, but I doubt it.
    • by chunk08 (1229574)
      Well, we would have to see the patent, and be able to understand it, before we could make that judgement.
    • Re:Legitimacy? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by chunk08 (1229574) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:56PM (#23768353) Journal
      I just read through part of Red Hat's release, and they seem to claim that they did not admit to infringement. So, it is possible that Firestar and Datatern were afraid of a countersuit as it became clear that they had little standing, and Red Hat decided to settle to quickly get the terms they wanted.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The GPLv3 itself gives software patents (more than a few of which are ridiculous) a level of legitimacy, by implying that they are a threat to free software and aren't going anywhere any time soon. As much as I'd like to, we can't just ignore patent trolls. They have to be dealt with in some manner, whether that's by challenging the patent or by paying them enough to get acceptable licensing terms.

      If you really want to solve the problem once and for all, there's only one way to do it. Get the patent syste

    • IMHO the best outcome for RHAT is as follows: software patents exist, but impact no free software. Thus such a precedent is good for them.

      It even makes some sence (if we assume "sence" and "SW patents" are compatible), since open-source is a way of sharing secrets/knowledge for a benefit, just like patents are (at least in theory).
  • NeXT EOF? (Score:5, Informative)

    by chochos (700687) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @02:54PM (#23768339) Homepage Journal
    I guess Apple could have just jumped in and showed prior art with the Enterprise Objects Framework they got from NeXT; it's the oldest ORM I've seen (and used). Version 1.0 came out in 1994. They ported it to Java when they ported WebObjects in 2001. Cayenne is an open source implementation very similar to the original. Surely Apple has some patents on those stuff, or they could have just showed prior art, I mean, how old are the patents from these companies that RedHat paid off?
    • by Tweenk (1274968)
      I suspect that challenging the patent would have been costlier than settling. Additionally, what interest Apple could have in helping Red Hat?
      • by chochos (700687)
        They could go after CoreData next...
      • by Miseph (979059) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @05:06PM (#23770393) Journal
        Didn't you get the memo, Apple are so nice and fair that they would always happily lend a hand to other large corporations with or without any kind of motive or incentive. They'd also never engage in vendor lock in, or support DRM to keep software from being used in unapproved ways or on unapproved hardware.

        This is just common knowledge.
  • HURRAY.

    Kudos Red Hat guys, you keep going. In the end, the decent shall prevail.

    Im all behind you guys.
  • While this deal might be good news for RH and anyone up/down stream using the code base, I fear it's counter to the spirit of the F/OSS movement. Yes, I'm actually one of those people who thinks RMS and the GNU Manifesto make sense and raise important considerations. The problem is this: as an intermediate coder (I'm a sysadmin, not a programmer, fwiw), I will now hesitate to look at the source of some "open source" code for ideas and methods. If I do, I might cherry-pick a method which is encumbered, even
    • by setagllib (753300) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @04:35PM (#23769919)
      At least the GPLv3 protects you in this case. If I remember correctly, by distributing to you a GPLv3 implementation of their patent, a company explicitly protects you from suits based on that patent. GPLv3 has guys like you in mind. That's why it's an even more aggressive little-guy protector than GPLv2.
      • by jvkjvk (102057)
        Yes, however only if you utilize the same license (GPLv3).

        Using any other license, even doing a clean room implementation, does not protect you from a patent lawsuit. Even someone creating a public domain implementation could still be sued, if I follow things correctly.

        While this is unarguably good news if you prefer the GPLv3 for your work, it quite clearly shows how GPLv3 is an aggressive license designed to out-compete other licenses in the license world. The more patents that are aggregated under the
        • by setagllib (753300)
          This isn't fair to say. GPLv3 already offers an incredible level of protection within the limits of copyright law, and you're demonising it for not being able to extend those protections even further. What evidence is there that it is "designed to out-compete other licenses"? If it genuinely offers protections other licenses don't, I very much hope it does get used. We only need several good licenses for different purposes, and I'm of the opinion that GPLv3 is one of them.

          There's *always* a non-zero probabi
  • I now that Red Hat is shooting for GPL high fives... but normally when a company settles, there's money involved. Did this Red Hat settlement result in money being paid to GET the community off the hook? Isn't that patent blood money as well? Just curious.

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