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Five Linux Companies Buy Software Patents 89

An anonymous reader writes "In order to protect themselves against patent grabbing 'trolls,' major Linux companies are buying software patents through a nonprofit company called Open Invention Network. This nonprofit company will then offer royalty-free licenses to companies and individuals that agreed not to assert their own patents."
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Five Linux Companies Buy Software Patents

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  • by RandoX ( 828285 ) on Friday November 11, 2005 @08:43AM (#14006956)
    Or can you agree not to assert future patents?
    • A Tale of Two Dudes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Friday November 11, 2005 @10:05AM (#14007443) Homepage Journal
      Dude A is a MicroSoft sales rep. He was foaming at the mouth about new workflow solutions pouring out of Redmond. I asserted that there haven't be any new ideas in computer science in decades; the real issues are organizational, not technical.
      Dude A loudly protested that there was constant innovation.
      So I asked Dude B, who is among the hardest-core propeller-heads I've ever met. Dude B thought that packet switched networks were probably the last genuinely new idea.
      Clearly, as a working stiff, I have no idea about these things. The fact that the PTO keeps puking new patents for these ideas must mean that there is some basis for them, no?
    • Sony is the patent killer!

      *Gets some chips and coffee, preparing to watch Sony committing suicide*

      But, seriously, I also wonder what the requirements for membership in this group is. This is a "if you don't sue me, then I won't sue you" club. But what if a corporation wants to join without holding any patents? They would get a lot out of joining, but not really have anything to contribute. Would they still be allowed to join?
  • principles...

    I guess what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is for DEFENSE. It's like having an agressive neighboring country that wants your land and spends a lot on weapons. If you don't defend yourself, you might get overrun (many, many examples throughout history).

      If the current business climate includes tons and tons of dubious patents which can threaten your livelihood, your best defense is to get as many of your own as you can so when they come after you, you go after them -- a kind of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). IBM has been doing this for yea

      • by Anonymous Coward
        I bet if Microsoft was the subject of discussion, you wouldn't be saying that.
      • This is for DEFENSE.

        This nonprofit company will then offer royalty-free licenses to companies and individuals that agreed not to assert their own patents.

        Actually, it seems a bit silly to me. I assume they mean, "agreed not to assert their own patents based on our patent". If so, is that not absurd, since you probably should not get a patent granted when it is based off of someone elses patent anyway?

        Isn't this almost a good idea which falls short when it comes to the final method of defence (you can't pate
    • The principle is: goose or gander, somebody gets eaten.
    • Yes, but look what happend with MAD. We now have tons of nukes that are always that still serve some threat even though the Soviet Union has fallen. What happens when the good guys win? These patent holders have nothing from denying new small companies, who may not want to join on ethical grounds, from not using the patents, but perhaps everyone will end up joining and the absurdity of software patents will be shown, but this definetly seems like a situation where a backlash to the patent buying could be
    • People seem to think that the idea of a patent goes against the idea of open source software. It doesn't have to, though.

      Compare it to having a license. Before the GPL and other open-source software licenses, traditional software licensing wouldn't have fit into the open source world. However, it was incorporated the license in a way that maintained the ideals, while protecting the best interests of the movement.

      That's what this is. They're adapting, but they're adapting in a way that maintains their id
  • Whilst frivolous patent are inherently bad and shows the system doesn't work in the real world it might be a necessary defence to avoid future legal problems. So just hope they can stay non-profit :)
    • Is this necessary? Shouldn't prior art be enough for other companies to not be able to file the patents that they're filing? I thought patents were only necessary if you wanted to leverage them.

      It sounds to me like the patent system is broken. =P
  • The five companies are :

    1) International Business Machines Corp. (IBM)
    2) Sony Corp
    3) Philips Electronics NV
    4) Novell Inc. (SUSE)
    5) Red Hat Inc

    • Sony?! I'd have never expected them to be happy to help OSS. I've never spoken to someone about putting Linux on a Sony computer, and I realise their hardware is nice and all, but Sony hardware is known for being engineered to work only with other Sony hardware. This means that if the power supply in your Sony PC goes out you may have to get a new one from Sony and nowhere else. Proprietary hardware is bad for other hareware companies, and Sony is the worst for this kind of vendor lock-in. You'll understand
      • Dudes he's kidding... And which madman modded that informative. It is (sort of) funny
        • actually it is true...RTFA and you'll see in the second or third paragraph those five companies putting money into the group...IBM and Sony have reason to join in on the fun because big companies are the target of trolls, and that is the real goal of this group is to protect corporations from patent trolls.
    • 2) Sony Corp

      Hmm... since we've already had today's Sony DRM article... lemme check my Slashdot manual...
      flip, flip, flip... ahhh here it is...
      Yes, since we've alreay had today's Sony DRM article, the newer Sony "Defender of Freedom" article means that we must express undying love for Sony until the posting of tomorrow's Sony DRM article.
    • Actually this could be very good for the 5 companies involved, it kind of a devils bargin, as anyone who signs up for it can never use patents of their own again, however the founders are not so limited aways giving them an edge on you. I would also wonder if it is acceptable under the GPL, as patents require a non conditional/royalty free grant (for the GPL) to be used. It would have been better for them to say all the patents could be used in GPL programs and if you give up your right to enforce patents a
  • by myspys ( 204685 ) on Friday November 11, 2005 @08:50AM (#14006987) Homepage
    Fresh from yesterday/a []
  • by gringer ( 252588 ) on Friday November 11, 2005 @08:51AM (#14006991)
    Okay, so the way to get modded up for comments to this post, is to pick a +5 comment from the following post, then give it a slightly different spin to account for the 23 hours passed since then: 1321238&tid=136&tid=233&tid=106 []

    I guess it's not a complete dupe... the linked article for this post is different.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Looks like you've got a choice of eight posts. To summarise:

      1. It's odd that Sony is one of the companies
      2. Sony is a big company
      3. Sony is a big company
      4. Sony is a big company
      5. It's surprising to see so many heavyweights in an anti-patent trust
      6. "Fuck you Sony" gets misspelled on occasions
      7. Sony will help with cross-platform root kits
      8. We shouldn't treat software patents as acceptable
  • The story [] the other day seemed to indicate they were just going to try to protect their customers from litigation. I read that as "providing legal backing" etc., as opposed to actually buying all the patents!
  • by Gopal.V ( 532678 ) on Friday November 11, 2005 @08:52AM (#14006997) Homepage Journal
    Mutually assured destruction with patents work when the other company you are dealing with is a technology company shipping real software which could violate one of your own. It just doesn't work when you are dealing with the modern lawyer companies which hold patents merely to sue the pants off the big/little/<whatever> guy who comes under their sights

    IBM, Sony, Phillips and Novell aren't really Linux companies - they know that Free/Open/Libre software is the only way they are going to utilize the vastly under-utilized creative urges of the hackers of the world to fight their own enemies. GNU/Linux is just a primary weapon in their arsenal and they just want to keep it sharp.

    Even more sadly, the more we use patents to fight patents, the less backing the fight against software patents is going to get. To quote:
    They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither.
    • by xigxag ( 167441 ) on Friday November 11, 2005 @09:42AM (#14007269)
      ^ True, but this may accomplish two things:

      1) Keep the alliance members in bed with one other, similar to the way that royal families throughout time have used marriage bonds to create extended relationships and maintain peace among kingdoms.

      2) Dissuade Microsoft from exercising its "nuclear option" in a desperate measure to fend off the rise of Linux.
      • It would be very costly for any corp to use their "nuclear option" against hundreds or thousands of Linux startups. Proving a patent violation is not trivial, especially when we're dealing with software patents. There's several decades of prior art to look through, for example. And not all countries have the same laws regarding software patents.
  • So are there any safeguards built in to prevent the holding company from charging for the licences in the future?

    One certainly hopes so.
  • The company will buy Linux-related patents and offer royalty-free licenses to companies and individuals that agreed not to assert their own patents, the paper said.

    I wonder what this new company's policy is relative to individuals and companies that *DO NOT* agree "not to assert" their own patents [ed note: this sentence should be taken out and shot]. Note that 2 of the "investors" are IBM and Philips - two companies with massive patent portfolios. Do they, by virtue of being investors in this group get
  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Friday November 11, 2005 @08:56AM (#14007019) Homepage
    King Aethelred of Wessex announced that he had purchased protection from the Viking raiders that have plagued our shores. "It was really easy," announced Aethelred, "all I had to do was pay money to another bunch of pirates to protect us from the first bunch. Now the problem is solved for ever, and I can't see any potential downsides." On the news, shares in PlunderCorp rose 35% in anticipation of a rich and ongoing new revenue stream.
  • anti-patent (Score:2, Interesting)

    The idea of an anti-patent patent trust is as old as the hills, but to see this much corporate clout behind it was unthinkable not five years ago. It feels like there's been a sea-change and I like it. More important than helping IBM and Sony fight Microsoft, if this idea gained momentum it could seriously roll back a lot of the current technical stagnation on account of software/algorithm patents.

    Color me cautiously hopeful.

  • ...for preventing dupe posts!
  • by Sanity ( 1431 ) on Friday November 11, 2005 @09:04AM (#14007054) Homepage Journal
    What about all the non-linux open source projects, or the small companies that create innovative closed-source software?

    Additionally, patent trolls are immune to this kind of patent pool since they tend not to create any software themselves and are therefore not vulnerable to software patents.

    The real fix here is to wrestle the patent system back from the "intellectual property maximalists" and get rid of patents on software which do not motivate innovation (just try to name one useful innovation in software we wouldn't have were it not for software patents - they are occasionally a by-product of innovation, but never a motivator for it).

    • When the only companies using software patents to litigate don't produce software themselves, we'll have come to a whole new level of absurdity.

      Congress-critters may still ignore this, but the asurdity will come into clearer focus for most non-techies. That's not a bad thing.
      • (just try to name one useful innovation in software we wouldn't have were it not for software patents - they are occasionally a by-product of innovation, but never a motivator for it).

        Wasn't OGG created specifically as an open (and free) alternative to the mpeg variants?

        Weren't Free BSD and linux created as a response to their closed, proprietary and heavily licensed competitors?

  • Fried air market (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nuffsaid ( 855987 )
    Patents aside, I wonder how much of current global economy is fueled by this kind of nonsense. $A_COMPANY gettin money from $ANOTHER_COMPANY, as long as $A_COMPANY's lawyers don't do $LEGAL_ACTION to $ANOTHER_COMPANY's lawyers while they are litigating $YET_ANOTHER_COMPANY about what they shouldn't have done to $A_COMPANY according to an agreement which wasn't to be disclosed except in front of $REGULATOR_BODY's lawyers... and so on ad nauseam. Maybe a lawyer could find a sense (wrong, of course) in the pre
  • by MECC ( 8478 ) * on Friday November 11, 2005 @09:34AM (#14007219)
    The patent office never wanted to grant patents for software. They were forced to do so by the supreme court in the 1981 Diamond v. Diehr. [][]

  • It looks like Sony is in it just for some positive PR, to cover for the DRM mess they made.
    • IANASE (I Am Not A Sony Employee), but I think Sony has many divisions, their videogames (PS2) division, their hardware (CD players, radio, etc - ever heard of Xplod?) division, and of course, their evil music division.

      These have very different goals and their methods may vary. And this is interesting - Sony Xplod plays MP3 CD's, how can you explain that, if Sony is a member of the EVIL anti-mp3 anti-sharing RIAA?

      Anyway if you want some heads to roll, blame these guys [] for the rootkit.
  • Google - here's your chance to support open-source even more.

    Or maybe they don't want to touch software patents, because these are evil.

  • It is to rewrite current Copyright Laws into a system that diferenciates between different forms of Intellectual Property, and restrict Patants to actual physical objects and not abstract things like software.

    I know this is just a pipe dream, they'd sooner be selling parkas in Hades before this happens but hear me out.

    Restructure the Copyright Laws into different sets of rules that effectively protect each different variety of IP:

    * Print Published Copyrights - These rules and laws would over only cover prin
    • * Public Domain Bylaws - These would be a set of rules that determine if and when a certain IP becomes Public Domain, and enforces that status to prevent a company from cashing in on a Public Domain item in the future. Basically, if MS stops supporting an OS like it has with Win95/98 and soon ME then by the rules in the Bylaws that software would become Public Domain and MS cannot enforce any copyright protection on those products. Adding a provision that requires all Public Domain software to become Open S
  • What concerns me about this is what happens when a company changes its mind.
    There have historically been no shortage of bad actors (ex: SCO, Rambus, MSFT, etc). I can envision a scenario where a company might join until their encumbered tech gets into the guts of Linux, then change hands/die off/spin off divisions/etc. so that the entity bound by the agreement is no longer the one holding the patent rights.
    Even IBM's affection for Linux is unlikely to be eternal - are they equipping themselves with a big 'o
    • I'm guessing that this model is actually a lot like the ATT / BSD dabacle in the early 90s:

      ATT: You're stealing our IP; We're suing you.
      Berkley: You're taking our code and removing the copyright so you can resell it.
      ATT: Oh, right. Nevermind.
      Berkely: No problem; Let's not discuss this again.

      If there is enough cross polination of patents between the various participating vendors, it will be impossible to untangle it without destroying their own products. I'm guessing it would go something like this:

      • They can always invoke the infamous playground rule of "no takebacks". There is no known way to defeat "no takebacks" unless you first utter "opposite day" or some other general protection clause ("I am rubber, you are glue" etc). But it is a matter of strict timing. Uttered too late and, well its too late. Too soon, and the enemy will withhold the "no takebacks" or worse turn it into an "all takebacks" or "1 2 3 NOT IT".

        Does anyone else get the feeling that all these guys are rats trying to grab whatever t
  • First, print out all the patents. Wrap them around all the lawyers. Then burn the patents.

    I'm fed up with this stupidity. I'm ready for the abolition of all patents. Let businesses try to compete based on their own merits for a change. Clearly, the potential to abuse the system in the name of playing stupid games with our courts has far out-weighed the benefit of securing one company's exclusive right to manufacture a given design.

    I anticipate that this will not sit well with two classes of people: Micr

  • Won't work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Flyboy Connor ( 741764 ) on Friday November 11, 2005 @10:14AM (#14007491)
    The problem is, of course, that this will not work against patent trolls. Patent trolls have no use for the patents themselves, they are only interested in sueing others. So the OIN might hold off Microsoft, but it won't hold off sleazy extortionists whose only business is patent litigation.
    • Perhaps there is a way to fight fire with fire when faced with a troll. You can't counter a troll with yet another software patent but what about a business method patent? These things are just as obvious and trite as most software patents. Surely some of these could be brought to bear against one aspect or another of the troll's firm. Just ratchet the fees such that every dime the troll squeezes from you comes right back. Make it crystal clear that this is what will happen. In addition prior art and
  • Unless they are lying and plan to change that to selling royalty-full licenses later, I'm very glad to see this. This is very nice of them and will ensure that companies such as MS who just love to snatch up every little thing won't be able to slow down the linux developers from many potential innovations. Always a nice thing to hear. Let's just hope it's completely true and that they don't decide to start selling them instead a year or two in.
  • ...Manfred Macx from Accelerando! [].
  • Don't let them fool you! Don't you find it even just a little bit freightening that it's those two companies who have been milking every cent from their IPR in the past are now "acquiring" Linux related patents?

    Google search []

    The have patents on CD, DVD, DRM, FireWire, Video coding (MPEG-4 was effectively killed by licensing fees) etc, and they have been litigating the hell out of those.

    Just something to think about.

  • Just for some non-judgmental information, here's some information about the roles of those five companies in the legislative process on the EU software patent directive:

    IBM: I was at a roundtable hosted by the German ministry of justice where IBM's Fritz Teufel was radically in favor of software patents. Toward the end of the legislative process, IBM distanced itself a little bit from Microsoft's position, at least to an extent that annoyed MSFT, but there's no indication whatsoever that they really were

  • Patents are not a shield. They are a sword. When a competitor tries to stab you with his patent, you draw out your own and, all else being more or less equal, he may agree to leave you be rather than risk you killing his business.

    Patent "trolls" are not competitors. They are file-drawer companies that don't make anything and don't sell anything. You cannot kill a troll's business with your patent sword because they have no business.

    OIN is a fine idea, but it is no defense against trolls.
  • "I hate trolls!" ~ Willow Ufgood
  • So, I get a patent and these nice folks hold all legal rights to it. Fast-forward 10 years when they run out of cash and get bought up for 1c/patent at a some judge's bankruptcy sale run by the latest/greatest SCO or lawsuit hungry company. Congratulations, you now own the innovations of open source. I think this is about as bad a move as I've seen in a long time - better to NOT have a 'repository' company that can get sued, assets siezed, etc. Remember the guy 2 days ago that got tricked into giving MS

The absent ones are always at fault.