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Linux Patent Infringement Lawsuit Filed Against Red Hat/Novell 473

walterbyrd writes "Just months after the last nail in SCO's case, and on the same day as Red Hat's brave words about patent intimidation, a company filed the first patent suit against the Linux operating system. IP Innovation LLC filed the claim against Red Hat and Novell over U.S. Patent No. 5,072,412. PJ points out there is prior art here: 'You might recall the patent was used in litigation against Apple in April 2007, and Beta News reported at the time that it's a 1991 Xerox PARC patent. But Ars Technica provided the detail that it references earlier patents going back to 1984.'"
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Linux Patent Infringement Lawsuit Filed Against Red Hat/Novell

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  • by tronicum ( 617382 ) * on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:29AM (#20952505)
    Those patents cover GUI patents, they apply to window managers that provide virtual desktops. It has nothing to do with the Linux Kernel itself.
  • Saved me some effort (Score:3, Informative)

    by faloi ( 738831 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:32AM (#20952547)
    The linked article actually already has the guy coming on board from Microsoft to the patent troll company. I thought I might have to look for it myself. Teh Intraweb, is there anything it can't do?
  • Re:Its about time! (Score:5, Informative)

    by ais523 ( 1172701 ) <ais523(524\)(525)x)> on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:40AM (#20952671)
    It could be more difficult than usual; IANAL, but one thing that often happens after a patent infringement claim is a counter-claim with another patent, and then a cross-licensing agreement is often reached to settle the situation. However, this may be a case of patent trolling [], where this means of protection doesn't work because the company who owns the original patent doesn't actually make anything related, and therefore cannot have any related patents. Of course, attacking the patent itself or showing that it's inapplicable still work, I think (and hope). Besides, software patents can't be enforced or don't exist in many countries (particularly in Europe), so a patent attack would be unlikely to get rid of Linux altogether.
  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:41AM (#20952699) Homepage
    All patents have to (or at least are supposed to) list similar but distinct prior art, in order to distinguish their own unique invention. You can't point to the disclosed prior inventions on the patent application itself and go "Ah hah, gotcha!". I mean, unless you like to pretend that you're a lawyer on Slashdot.
  • An Acacia subsidiary (Score:5, Informative)

    by BiggerIsBetter ( 682164 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:45AM (#20952759)
    Apparently IP Innovations LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia, one of the largest patent troll groups around according to Troll Tracker []. IP Innovations has only been around since 2002 with 5 employees and revenues less than $1 million, according to their listing on Fedvendor [], so it's quite perverse to be trying to sue over a patent issued to somebody else in 1991...
  • Re:Follow the money (Score:5, Informative)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <aussie_bob@[ ] ['hot' in gap]> on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:49AM (#20952815) Journal
    they'll start another attack vector.


    IP Innovation LLC is a subsidiary of Acacia, and Acacia recently appointed Brad Brunell, who worked for 16 years at Microsoft as general manager, intellectual property licensing. He's now a senior vice president. Other ex-Microsoft executives have also recently migrated to Acacia.

    Acacia are known as patent trolls.

  • by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:52AM (#20952869)
    Make sure that you distinguish between "IP Innovations LLC" and "IP Innovation LLC". (Note the missing 's'). According to the Groklaw article these are two separate organizations. The one involved in this lawsuit is the one without the 's'. Sounds like we could have another round of "Is it SCO or Santa Cruz or The SCO Group or Caldera or..." thanks to the similarity in these names...
  • by EzInKy ( 115248 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:53AM (#20952883)
    From a link [] provided in the Groklaw article:

    What I have found, though, is astounding. Acacia has sued hundreds of defendants in 213 different patent lawsuits brought by 36 different Acacia subsidiaries. That's right - they have sued in 36 different names! By doing so, Acacia, a publicly traded company, has increased its market cap by tenfold, going from a 35M company in early 2003 to a 350M company today.

    This company doesn't make anything, it is a patent troll pure and simple.

  • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Informative)

    by dhj ( 110274 ) * on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:53AM (#20952901)
    It's actually not as vague as "multiple windows visible for application" which Clippy would violate. The patent is on the ability of share windows/views between multiple workspaces. So the fact that your application toolbar / "start menu" shows up in multiple workspaces would be a violation of this patent. FYI, ctl-alt-left,right arrow to switch between workspaces in gnome. Also right click the window-title "always on visible workspace" option is a violation of this patent. It's disgusting that companies can buy these patents for the sole purpose of suing people. If Redhat disabled this feature I doubt it would impact a significant portion of the users. Most window managers implement it in some form.
  • by phoenixwade ( 997892 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:01AM (#20953025)

    I guess Microsoft got Kernel mixed up with GUI. 1 Patent down, 234 more to go?
    Is it flame bait to point out that this isn't a Microsoft lawsuit?

    (All the more so, because one of the companies Microsoft cut a deal with for patent lawsuit protection, Novel, is also named in this lawsuit)

  • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:06AM (#20953131)
    The company filing the lawsuit has ex-MicroSofties on its payroll, and some were recent hires.

  • Re:Interesting. (Score:4, Informative)

    by niiler ( 716140 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:13AM (#20953261) Journal
    I, for one, would think that the ideas inherent in the X-server (which had its predecessors []) would automatically count as prior art as together they imply a multiple desktop functionality existent in the early 1980s if not late 1970s.
  • Re:But wait... (Score:3, Informative)

    by AvitarX ( 172628 ) <me AT brandywinehundred DOT org> on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:16AM (#20953293) Journal
    Actually they got paid a lot of money.

    They only pay money if MS generates them new revenue.
  • by laing ( 303349 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:32AM (#20953561)
    I'm probably a bit older than your average /.'er so I remember lots of applications that 'violate' this patent. There was a great task switcher called Desqview (Quarterdeck software) too. Toward the end they made a product called "Desqview X" which actually supported the X-window protocol directly under DOS.

    Of course Sun had stuff that predates this too. Their Open Look Window Manager (olwm) was around for quite a while before this. Olwm was the first window manager that I used under Linux too. That would have been in 1991 or so which may or may not pre-date the patent.

    This space for rent
  • Re:Its about time! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:51AM (#20953913)

    Oracle is a Red Hat *competitor*, BTW. If Red Hat is violating patents, why should Oracle care?

    Because Oracle distributes an exact clone of Red Hat linux. If it the court finds that Red Hat infringes on the patent, then Oracle is in the exact same boat. And that boat is: paying big bucks to the patent troll.

  • by Nevynxxx ( 932175 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:05AM (#20954167)
    No, he probably meant what he said

    sol ~ # eix links

    * www-client/links
              Available versions: 2.1_pre26:2 2.1_pre28-r1:2
              Installed: none
              Homepage: []
              Description: links is a fast lightweight text and graphic web-browser

    Found 5 matches.
    sol ~ # eix lynx
    * www-client/lynx
              Available versions: 2.8.6-r1 2.8.6-r2
              Installed: 2.8.6-r1
              Homepage: []
              Description: An excellent console-based web browser with ssl support

    sol ~ #
  • by allthingscode ( 642676 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:09AM (#20954231)
    Read this as far as you wish, but one of M$ patent people when to IP Innovation on October 1st, the suit was filed October 9.
  • Re:Interesting. (Score:3, Informative)

    by dilute ( 74234 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:29AM (#20954581)
    Well, just referring to the first claim, I think you also have to account for the language at the end: "the display object means generating the first and second display objects so that the second display object is perceptible as the same tool as the first display object when the second workspace is presented after the first workspace."

    In other words (quoting again, this time from the description): "A display system object can be linked to more than one workspace, to provide a respective tool in each of those workspaces. If the user provides signals causing a switch from one of those workspaces to another, the respective tools share features so that the user perceives them as the same tool, and the state of the display system object maintains continuity."

    Simply speaking, it is illustrated (I think) by the multiple workspaces in Gnome, coupled with the ability to right click on a running window on the task panel and designate the window as "Always on Top". So, it appears to be (indeed, IS) the "same tool" as you switch from one workspace to the next.

    Looks like this is not specific to Red Hat and Novell, although it might be an easy workaround to disable this feature if necessary.

  • by niiler ( 716140 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:30AM (#20954591) Journal
    I also remember Open Look. See here [] for history. It was around in the 1980s and predates the patent.
  • by Tired and Emotional ( 750842 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:36AM (#20954717)
    According to Wikipedia, X first appeared in 1984 and X11, which certainly had the features claimed in the Patent (I have not used anything earlier), appeared in 1987.

    There was also a company called 3 Rivers Systems (I think) that was selling windows based machines somewhat before the Lisa was demonstrated. I just googled it - it was called the PERQ and appears to have come out in 1979, so looks like they had been around a while when I saw one. They were way ahead of what the Lisa could do, BTW. This may not be prior art because it seems the designer came out of Xerox Parc but it could also mean that it produces a timeliness of filing defense.

    BTW, isn't there law or case law about defending patents in a timely manner? Can someone comment on how that applies here?

  • by js_sebastian ( 946118 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:49AM (#20954989)
    If before filing for a patent, you release prior art for it in any pubic way (such as a scientific publication, or a product) you shoot yourself in the foot. It still counts as prior art even though you yourself are the author.
  • by gambino21 ( 809810 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:15PM (#20955457)
    According to wikipedia CDE [] didn't come out until 1993.
  • Obvious Prior Art? (Score:2, Informative)

    by earthforce_1 ( 454968 ) <earthforce_1@[ ] ['yah' in gap]> on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:19PM (#20955589) Journal []

    Solaris CDE was announced in 1983 and is much older than this patent.
    The 1980's vintage 512K Macs had something called a desktop switcher, which allowed flipping between multiple workspaces. (I used this as well) []

  • Re:Follow the money (Score:5, Informative)

    by snapp_action ( 864336 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:39PM (#20955923)

    Wow, after hearing that Acacia has anything to do with this, I am not surprised at all. I worked in the distance education department for a University a few years back. At that time, they were making rounds among the education industry, and sending letters asking for several hundred thousand dollars, or 5% of all profits made from a series of patents.

    The patents? "A system of distributing video and/or audio information employs digital signal processing to achieve high rates of data compression" over cable, tv, telephone, and as they were implying, the internet. Their claim was that anyone streaming video or sound needed to pay up. I mean, honestly, transferring compressed data over a medium!? And of course they didn't go after larger University's that flat out told them they wouldn't pay...

    Acacia is one of those companies at the bottom of the barrel. Even worse than SCO, because their whole business is suing over patents, like NTP.

    Here is the link if anyone's interested: []

  • by stevew ( 4845 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:12PM (#20956549) Journal
    Virtual consoles have been around since System V - which is mid-eighties.

    Heck - Linux version 0.12 had virtual consoles circa 1992 ( around the time this thing was filed.)

    It was old technology then.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:13PM (#20956563)
    IBM's PROFS had an option for splitting the terminal into "windows" and you could define your "desktop" to have a (text) calendar / clock / notebook or some combination thereof. It ran on old iron so I'd say it beats the pants off this patent.
  • This is a non-issue (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @03:30PM (#20958747)
    This is a non-issue, today I did some exploratory research on this, and here is what I found out from their SEC filing: []

    * According to the SEC filings, Acacia had in the quarter ending in June 36 pending lawsuits against a number of companies (in each case they sue a number of companies, not only one).

    * On that same filing they report revenues for the quarter of 5.8 million dollars.

    * I counted the number of settlements for a 3-month period from their main web page, they settled with 47 defendants for July, August and September (not the same covered by the SEC, but I went just by what was reported).

    * In the June 30th period they had Novell listed as a company they were suing over some portable device patent together with 23 other defendants (H&R Block Digital Tax Solutions, LLC, F/K/A H&R Block Digital Tax Solutions, Inc., Block Financial Corporation, Riverdeep, Inc., Oracle Corporation, SAP America, Inc. d/b/a SAP Americas, SAP AG, Bentley Systems, Inc., SPSS, Inc., Solidworks Corporation, Sonic Solutions, Corel Corporation, Corel, Inc., MISYS PLC, Adtran, Inc., Eastman Kodak Company, CA, Inc., UGS Corp., Business Objects Americas, Business Objects SA, Trend Micro Incorporated (California Corporation), EMC Corporation, Borland Software Corporation, Novell, Inc., Compuware Corporation and Avid Technology, Inc).

    * There is a press release on their site that states that they settled with Novell on August 30th for this claim.

    This means that Acacia is extracting on average 100,000 dollars per company they sue (5 millions divided by the number of settlements). Give or take depending on the fees from their lawyers (which are a million dollars). They spend more money keeping their patents alive than that and are operating at a loss right now (see the SEC filing).

    To put things in perspective, getting a legal team in place and sending them to the courthouse would likely have a cost of 20,000 dollars just by showing up at the trial. This is with zero to no research on the case done. If you do some research, get external council and a little bit more, a defendant will probably be spending much more than 100,000 dollars by the time they show up in court.

    This is probably why they pretty much settle with everyone, they are minor nuisance; They are a pest, and they have found a niche market where they can extort money from companies without going to court.

    The patent is likely bogus, the patent would probably be thrown out of court, it would have no impact on Linux, but my bet is that Novell and Red Hat will settle out of court just because of the economics of it.

  • Re:Interesting. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @03:44PM (#20959007)
    Acacia has sued Microsoft numerous times (currently they have two open cases according to their SEC filings) and googling shows that Acacia has settled with Microsoft in the past numerous times, recently: March 2007: []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @03:52PM (#20959109)
    FYI, "suite" is pronounced as "sweet". "suit" is the word you're looking for.
  • by SL Baur ( 19540 ) <> on Friday October 12, 2007 @04:53PM (#20960033) Homepage Journal

    This was filed in 1987
    Virtual consoles predate that. The System V-oid O/S on the Unix PCs had virtual console support. End of life for the Unix PC was around that time, so virtual consoles absolutely came first.

    This patent seems to involve multiple desktops in a GUI environment and the first implementation of that that I recall was olvwm from Sun Micro. I don't think olwm, the single desktop predecessor of olvwm came that early. HP's Vu (spelling?) might have had multiple desktops by 1989ish, but I don't remember. CDE (which merged HP, DEC, and Sun's X11 environments) has the same feature.

    Regardless, this is not a "Linux" Patent Infringement. Sun, DEC and HP were doing it on their proprietary versions of Unix first, so it's a GUI thing. Sun and HP still survive. Perhaps they should have started suing there.

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