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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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  • Follow the money (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:30AM (#20952513)
    Now that Microsoft have taken all they can from SCO FUD, they'll start another attack vector.
  • Too Late (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Aethereal ( 1160051 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:32AM (#20952545)
  • Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:34AM (#20952583)
    I'm going to enjoy watching this play out. It should be noted that this isn't against 'Linux' but appears to be against X... Or maybe KDE... Or Gnome... Or Trolltech's Qt... Or... I'm not really sure because the patent is so vague that it covers just about anything I can think of that does more than 1 thing on the screen at the same time. Even Clippy would violate this patent because it has an input box (workspace) in its dialog while Office is still on the screen.

    So they are Suing RedHat and Novell for using whatever it is that violates the patent. Isn't that a bit like suing Dell because Microsoft's OS infringes on a patent and Dell distributes it?
  • Whether we like it or not, "linux" has almost from the start meant more than just a kernel.
  • The more companies and people they sue successfully, the better their chances are.. right?
    So, perhaps they are going after what they perceive as the 'weaker targets' in order to solidify this?

    So, they go after red hat and novell, hoping they will pay...
    IBM, etc have far more cash and they are not going after them because they would get pummeled into the ground.

    Smells like a pump and dump, or a pump and sell deal with this patent troll, especially with the M$ goon with them.
  • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:51AM (#20952849) Journal

    It's good to see that the original inventors and holders of this patent will finally be compensated for their innovation.

    Oh wait... the company that holds the patent now (IP Innovation) has nothing to do with the original inventors? Well, I hope any damages they are awarded will encourage them to innovate.

    Our patent system is broken.

  • by BiggerIsBetter ( 682164 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:51AM (#20952851)
    More info here [].

    So let's sum up: a California inventor moves his California shell company to Nevada, and then joins up with another California company, using an Illinois shell, to buy patents from Xerox and then assert them against a California company, a North Carolina company and a Massachusetts company. In Marshall, Texas.
  • Re:Its about time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CmdrGravy ( 645153 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:56AM (#20952925) Homepage
    Yes, exactly. This particular company seems to be the very model of a patent troll company which doesn't do anything that defensive patent portfolios could be used against.

    This is exactly what Mr Ballmer said would happen and is the best weapon Microsoft can use in pushing their "Linux infringes patents" attack. Obviously if they were to bring any cases themselves they would be swamped under a wave of counterclaims from Linux friendly companies such as IBM and Novell so this way they have a proxy which cannot be stopped in such fashion and which on the face of it has nothing to do with Microsoft should there be any negative repercussions from the action. I'd expect to see a lot more of this sort thing from now on.

    Even if Red Hat go to court, win and have the patent thrown out ( which we hope they will ) it's still going to cost them a lot of money and quite likely drag on for a good long time sapping money and resources which Red Hat would otherwise be using to expand its business. This obviously is to Microsofts benefit and gives them a hook to hang their "Linux is tainted by illegal patents" hat on.

    In the worst case scenario Red Hat go to court, lose and the patent is validated costing Red Hat lots of money for damages and an on-going outlay if they're allowed to licence the patent. Even worse than that since Red Hat no doubt use a very similar version of whatever component of the Linux system that everyone else does it's going to be a lot easier for this company to get money from them too. Even worse than that is the situation for freely distributed Linux, obviously there's no one to pay licence fees to use the patent so it's possible that restrictions would somehow be placed on such free distributions ( not sure of the legal situation with one ). Clearly this would be a huge win for Microsoft.

    If this patent is thrown out then you can bet there will be hundreds more coming out of the woodwork each one carrying the risks outlined above if they're not thrown out and each one costing Linux companies money to defend against.

    As PJ says the real solution is for the US to harmonise it's patent rules with the rest of the world and cut support for all software patents because if what we're seeing now continues the US is going to lose out to other countries where such patent laws are not in effect and Linux can flourish.
  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:59AM (#20952979)
    a workaround wont be necessary, there is prior art...

    maybe you can write a letter to the editor...
  • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russ1337 ( 938915 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:01AM (#20953033)
    All this suing shenanigans scares the crap out of me ever starting a business. Become semi-successful and you end up with all the patent trolls banging at your door.

  • Re:Interesting. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Andrewkov ( 140579 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:04AM (#20953103)
    Well, presumably IP Innovation had to buy the patent from somebody, so the original inventory should have been paid already.

    But still, I agree that companies like IP Innovation shouldn't be able to extort money from companies after waiting so many years for a technology to become ubiquitous.
  • by ls -la ( 937805 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:05AM (#20953119) Journal

    Whether we like it or not, "linux" has almost from the start meant more than just a kernel.
    QFT, and people would do well to remember that without a GUI, Linux will get *nowhere* in the desktop market.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:10AM (#20953201)
    How you got modded +5 Informative for providing a link to the Groklaw article that is already linked in the fscking summary is beyond me.

    Or maybe it just means that neither you nor the 4 people who modded you up actually clicked on any links in the summary.

  • by CmdrGravy ( 645153 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:10AM (#20953207) Homepage
    The reason they're not doing this themselves because if they were to even think about trying they would be dropped down a bottomless pit of IBM et al counter patents.

    Since these Acacia people don't actually do anything other than patent troll defensive patent portfolios are useless against it.
  • by TheSciBoy ( 1050166 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:13AM (#20953253)

    Wrong. They're not attacking GNU/Linux. They are attacking companies that make money selling Linux. They're not after the people who won't pay for an operating system, they're after the people who will. This suit is against Redhat and Novell, who provide a system with a GUI, that GUI infringes on the patent.

    My question is, what product does this company sell that they can claim to have lost revenue on? Or is IP law so crap that there is no need to even have made an attempt at creating a product to be able to sue someone for damages? I mean, I can understand royalties, but damages?

    Also, it will be interesting to see when they informed Redhat and Novell of the infringement since they are suing for willful infringement.

  • by I'm Don Giovanni ( 598558 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:24AM (#20953421)
    I'm of the opinion that patents should only be enforced if the patent holder makes a good faith effort to sell products/services that use the patented technology OR the patent holder makes good faith effort to license the technology to others at a reasonable price or through cross-licensing deals, etc.

    I don't know what happened in this case. It could be that the patent holder asked Red Hat to license the patent for a fee and Red Hat refused. Given Red Hat's recent statements that suggest that they feel no obligation to honor patents (at least patents held by companies they don't like), it wouldn't surpsise me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:31AM (#20953551)
    I hope the action goes faster this time. That last one was like a several year chess game.
  • IP Innovation LLC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:45AM (#20953789) Homepage
    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

    That's the great thing about companies with names like "IP Innovation LLC"....they don't have any products so they can't possibly be infringing on anybody else's junk patents.

  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:03AM (#20954125) Homepage Journal
    Let us assume for a moment that Microsoft-- er, I mean IP Innovation LLC wins this case. And let us assume that Red Hat and other Linux distributors are then forced to pay a patent royalty for every copy of the operating system that they sell.

    Read that again. Every copy that they sell.

    Could this potentially be a really good precedent? It could end up setting the stage for an industry in which open source operating systems can freely include patented technologies, because the only parties who need be concerned about patents are the ones who are selling it. This could end up making the whole patent problem much less of a concern. Go ahead and put that MP3 decoder in, for example. Fedora distributes it for free. CentOS distributes it for free. Red Hat Enterprise charges for it, and pays the royalty to Frauhofer.

    Yes, software patents are bullshit, including this one. But imagine how cool it would be if this precedent were established, and free operating systems like Ubuntu could bundle all those codecs by default, because the royalty requirement only applies when money changes hands for an operating system license.
  • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by burnin1965 ( 535071 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:04AM (#20954157) Homepage

    Our patent system is broken.

    I've come to realize that this is a misconception. The patent system isn't broken, corrupt, or overwhelmed. Unfortunately, it is working exactly as it was designed.

    From an early age we are taught idealist interpretations of patent law and how it is a wonderful tool to spur innovation, research, business, etc. and provide a level playing field for the little entrepreneur. However, when confronted with the reality of what patent law is, a forced impedement on human nature to invent and create which turns out to be contradictory to the idealistic intent, it is assumed it must be because it is broken. []

    In order of time, I should have mentioned before, that having, in 1742, invented an open stove for the better warming of rooms, and at the same time saving fuel, as the fresh air admitted was warmed in entering, I made a present of the model to Mr. Robert Grace, one of my early friends, who, having an iron-furnace, found the casting of the plates for these stoves a profitable thing, as they were growing in demand. To promote that demand, I wrote and published a pamphlet, entitled "An Account of the new-invented Pennsylvania Fireplaces; wherein their Construction and Manner of Operation is particularly explained; their Advantages above every other Method of warming Rooms demonstrated; and all Objections that have been raised against the Use of them answered and obviated," etc. This pamphlet had a good effect. Gov'r. Thomas was so pleas'd with the construction of this stove, as described in it, that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declin'd it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.

    An ironmonger in London however, assuming a good deal of my pamphlet, and working it up into his own, and making some small changes in the machine, which rather hurt its operation, got a patent for it there, and made, as I was told, a little fortune by it. And this is not the only instance of patents taken out for my inventions by others, tho' not always with the same success, which I never contested, as having no desire of profiting by patents myself, and hating disputes. The use of these fireplaces in very many houses, both of this and the neighbouring colonies, has been, and is, a great saving of wood to the inhabitants.

    - Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
    Ben knew from the beginning that the patent system was a farce and would have unintended consequences and from its inception there are accounts of its use to enrich those who do not create or to impede a competitive free market.

    If Ben was around today I'm sure he would approve of the open source movement and he would likely be called a smelly long haired communist and have chairs thrown at him.
  • by Drgnkght ( 449916 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:08AM (#20954217)
    No, the GP meant links []. The name as spelled was correct. It is also a text-based web browser. Though it can also do graphics on the console as well.
  • ...Or Timely (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Burz ( 138833 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:24AM (#20954483) Homepage Journal
    Consider that this lawsuit comes just as Vista is floundering and RedHat is set to release their desktop OS.
  • by Steve Hamlin ( 29353 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:35AM (#20954677) Homepage

    I agree with your point that the patent system has gotten a bit absurd.

    However, it is not true to say that any subsequent damages don't go, at least indirectly, to "the original inventors and holders of this patent." Quite the contrary - it is these very (potential) enforced royalties that caused the first purchaser to buy the patent rights from the original inventor.

    What supposedly encourages the innovation is the ability to monetize the patent rights. An inventor can do this by (a) manufacturing the product themselves for the next 20+ years, or (b) licensing the patent to someone else for the next 20+ years and collecting royalties, or (c) selling the patent to someone else.

    The poster seems to think that only (a) is acceptable. But what the financial difference to the inventor between (a), (b) and (c)? And wouldn't (c) also stimulate R&D? If you know there's a market for your research (in the form of a patent), wouldn't that encourage you to develop patentable ideas? In economic theory, there would be an increase in R&D at the margins, as the value of patent rights in the market increased.

    Now, I agree that 'patentable ideas' has gotten out of control. But the theory behind a market for selling & buying patent rights isn't, in and of itself, a corrupt idea. It's just that the current implementation of that idea isn't optimum.

  • by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <spydermann.slash ... minus cat> on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:40AM (#20954797) Homepage Journal
    It's not one of their patents, and it's a weak claim.

    It's called a smoke screen. Anything to give Linux/Redhat bad publicity.
  • by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2@earthsho[ ] ['d.c' in gap]> on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:51AM (#20955053)
    I'd go one further and say that patent licencing should be compulsory -- and licencing fees should be the same for every user. In fact, maybe it should be the patent office that sets the amount of the fees.

    Anyway, this particular patent will be struck down on examination -- it fails both the novelty and obviety tests (to say nothing of being invalid in most countries in the world). Red Hat should submit a motion that the case is entirely without merit and IP Innovation LLC are being vexatious litigants.
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:53AM (#20955081) Homepage Journal
    I am very happy something like this happens before a lot of countries enact laws allowing the patenting of software. This lawsuit will help demonstrate the threat IP-only companies pose to genuine innovators and the chilling effect their existence can have on the IT industry as a whole.

    It's sad it will be the US IT industry that gets the most pain, but, in other countries, this "sacrifice" will allow life to go on and a case will be provided to show such stupid laws need to be completely avoided.

    the US will, eventually, recover, _after_ a patent law reform. I hope this lawsuit helps with that.
  • by khelek ( 560004 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:55AM (#20955139)
    Do you mind sharing which statements Red Hat made that "suggest that they feel no obligation to honor patents (at least patents held by companies they don't like)"? Because, if I'm not mistaken, Red Hat is the same company that pissed off a bunch of people because they took patents so seriously as to remove software that would cause potential patent problems (mp3 ring a bell?). Please don't confuse Red Hat's refusal to cave to empty saber rattling by Microsoft as a suggestion that they feel no obligation to honor patents. I think history will show differently.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:17PM (#20955525)
    Sure this company (or group of companies, whatever) *use* computers and other physical devices to do their business, though. In that case, could a company counter sue them for patent infringement by their use of products that infringe?
  • by gambino21 ( 809810 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:19PM (#20955587)
    It seems like shortening the length of these types of patents would be such a simple solution to our current litigation problem. I would prefer no patents on software at all, but as an easy alternative, why not just make the life of a software patent something like 3 years. That would be plenty of time for a company with a good idea to get a competitive advantage, and it would prevent a lot of these wasteful lawsuits. After the 3 years the idea should go to the public domain, so that anyone can use it without fear of retribution.
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:06PM (#20956449) Homepage
    Both Novell and Redhat make GNU/Linux distributions, which they sell with hardware.

    Excuse me? Where can I buy a RedHat or Novell branded computer? They sell software[*].

    Ironically, in the recent Supreme Court AT&T vs Microsoft decision, the Supremes found in favor of Microsoft that software per se is not a component of an infringing device, but infringement only happens when the software is run on a computer. (There are detail differences in the cases, of course, part of it including what was being shipped overseas.)

    [*] Technically, they don't even sell software, but software support.
  • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:07PM (#20956463) Journal

    I think the problem is that patents are being (c) sold to people who have no intention of (a) manufacturing the product themselves, nor (b) of licensing the patent to someone else. In which case, the patent doesn't promote innovation in any way. Sure, the original inventor is monetarily compensated, but if the invention isn't being used at all, what's the point? If the sale of the patent is to someone who is actually going to do something with it, instead of just sitting on it for a decade and then suing people, I wouldn't have a problem with that.

  • by ( 1108067 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @04:42PM (#20959889) Homepage Journal

    There's also another problem - Microsoft has never been the largest software company in the world - that's IBM.

    And then if you want to go further, with RIAA-style arithmetic (those CD burners count dobule because they're faster!), 1 IBM programmer has got to be worth at least a dozen MCSEs.

  • by slumberer ( 859696 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @05:49PM (#20960657)
    When searching for "links" on google [] the fourth result is: Links is a text-based browser with support for HTML tables and frames. For Unix, OS/2, BeOS, MacOSX, Win32 (Beta).

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