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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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  • Its about time! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xzvf ( 924443 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:33AM (#20952551)
    Lawsuits are a part of business now. Hopefully all the companies that have a vested interest in Linux and Open Source will step up and clear up this issue and all patent problems. I can't imagine IBM, Oracle, HP and all the F-500 companies that use Linux allowing it to disappear or be damaged.
  • by javilon ( 99157 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:37AM (#20952623) Homepage
    After this attack, it is clear that changing the EU law and allowing software patents becomes much more difficult.

    There are lots of people in EU using linux distributions without any legal concerns that would be very damaged the very day that EU suddenly recognizes this troll patent.
  • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by faloi ( 738831 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:39AM (#20952669)
    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?

    You mean like investigating Dell because they sell hard drives that might infringe on a patent [slashdot.org]?
  • by Pfhortytwo ( 1024837 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:41AM (#20952689)
    Wasn't http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/ [openinventionnetwork.com] created to combat this sort of event? What happens if the linux camp responds with suites of their own? Looking at OIN's portfolio, some of those patents look rather weighty. Not to mention that Novell, IBM, Redhat, and Sony all support linux and all have extremely large portfolios of their own. Did the principle of M.A.D. that the industry has relied on to keep from imploding just fly out the window? [IANAL, Rampant Speculation, etc, etc]
  • by Trevin ( 570491 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:45AM (#20952755) Homepage
    This patent is old, but not yet past the patent expiration date (that's 21 years, isn't it?), so it seems to pre-date any prior art I can think of. That seems to make it plausible.

    But this patent was granted to Xerox, NOT "IP Innovation LLC". So why the hell is this 3rd party suing over a patent it wasn't granted?

    The content of this patent is given in a language that is so obtuse that I can't tell whether it's describing something that was obvious, or if it's describing a single large virtual desktop, or if it's talking about something completely different than the "workspaces" we're used to seeing today. And I really don't have the time this morning to try deciphering it.
  • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Constantine XVI ( 880691 ) <trash.eighty+slashdot @ g m a i l . c om> on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:46AM (#20952775)
    It so happens that even Microsoft is violating this patent directly (EXE link warning) http://download.microsoft.com/download/whistler/Install/2/WXP/EN-US/DeskmanPowertoySetup.exe [microsoft.com]
  • But wait... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:47AM (#20952787) Homepage Journal

    So you mean that making a patent deal with Microsoft doesn't really protect Novell from patent infringment suits? Well, isn't that the strangest thing...

    I think Novell is about to figure out that no matter how you look at it, they got the short end of the stick in the Microsoft deal. They paid a lot of money so that firms other than Microsoft could sue them for patent infringement. Wonder if they'll just pay off this company like they did Microsoft. Wonder if they can afford to pay off all of the companies that will bring patent infringement suits against them.

    What a way to paint a big, red, sue-me-for-patent-infringement-target on their company.

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

    by TechForensics ( 944258 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @09:57AM (#20952949) Homepage Journal
    You're modded funny, but you're right on the money. This is a new attack from Microsoft as the Groklaw article makes plain. The interesting question is why MS is doing this by proxy, i.e., using straw men they encourage and abet. I seem to recall one provision of the GPL is that if you sue, you lose all rights to GPL code (and surely MS infringes that in places more than OSS tramples on MS patents, if at all). Microsoft is therefore avoiding losing those rights by doing indirectly what it cannot do directly.

    However, there is a principle in law (or Equity) that one cannot do indirectly what he cannot do directly. An interesting question for practicing lawyers (I am a retired one and not up on all of this) would be, is there a way to attribute the Plaintiff's actions to Microsoft, canceling their GPL rights? Would it in fact be too late to do this based on their provable support of SCO (the massive loans arranged by MS to keep SCO afloat)? I'd sure like to hear what Eben Moglen has to say about this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:01AM (#20953029)
    For patents filed/granted (not sure which) 1978-1995, which this one is, the date of expiry is the later of 20 years from filing or 17 years from when it was granted. The latter gives them until December next year.
  • by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:01AM (#20953031)
    ...they better have deep pockets.
  • Re:Follow the money (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Burz ( 138833 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:22AM (#20953395) Homepage Journal
    This comes right on the heels of Steve Ballmer just suggesting that patent trolls go after RedHat. It was in the same speech he made about their intent to threaten RedHat and get FOSS application developers to write for Windows 'instead'.
  • by smilindog2000 ( 907665 ) <bill@billrocks.org> on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:30AM (#20953513) Homepage
    Yes, it just covers multiple workspaces. So, if Gnome and KDE just drop the very-cool workspace switcher, the problem goes away. Also, this patent seems to expire this year (it was filed in 1987, and granted in 1991), so we would only be without our cool workspace switcher for a few months. Not much here, really.
  • by cyborch ( 524661 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:36AM (#20953623) Homepage Journal
    Indeed the EU patent law as it is now could (and should) encourage businesses to move from the US to the EU for protection from software patent claims.

    This way EU benefits from the extra tax from companies moving to EU and US might be forced to change their law or face loosing lots of tax dollars.

    But then again, I might be dreaming...
  • Re:Its about time! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:36AM (#20953625)
    "I can't imagine IBM, Oracle, HP and all the F-500 companies that use Linux allowing it to disappear or be damaged."

    But (from what I've read others here say) this patent involves GUI that Red Hat is using, not Linux itself. So Linux won't "disappear" regardless. Given that, why would IBM or Oracle care to spend money to protect Red Hat on a patent violation that has nothing to do with Linux? Oracle is a Red Hat *competitor*, BTW. If Red Hat is violating patents, why should Oracle care? Red Hat has announced that they think that they are above the law and have the right to violate patents because they are a member of a patent constortium that will counter sue any patent claims against them. Why would the consortium spend its political capital on Red Hat? The "F-500" ycompanies you speak of can choose a distro that honors patents rather than choosing Red Hat, a company that says that the very idea of honoring patents is beneath them.
  • Re:Smalltalk (Score:3, Interesting)

    by I'm Don Giovanni ( 598558 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:48AM (#20953851)
    First, the patent doesn't refer to "prior art", it lists previous tech that is similar, and then describes how the new tech differs. This is required for all patent applications.

    Second, citing anything by Xerox PARC as "prior art" isn't going to fly, becuase this patent was originally awarded to the very same Xerox. Somehow this new company obtained the rights to the patent, but you'll have a hard time convincing a judge that Xerox filed for a patent that isn't valid because of their own "prior art".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @10:59AM (#20954057)
    Let's collect all prior art at this site, just as we successfully did the last time when redhat faced a patent infringement lawsuit.

    http://helpredhat.dyndns.org/ [dyndns.org]


  • Not to worry, much (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:06AM (#20954181) Homepage

    Reasons not to worry:

    • It doesn't affect servers. X-Windows, maybe.
    • There's probably prior art.
    • The patent expires in 2008 anyway. (For patents issued in that period, it's 20 years after filing or 17 years after issue, whichever is later. For this patent, it's 17 years after issue.)

    I doubt that Microsoft is behind this. It's not one of their patents, and it's a weak claim. If Microsoft does something with patents, it's likely to involve something that has to be Microsoft-compatible, like Samba or Wine.

  • Re:Follow the money (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BerntB ( 584621 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:13AM (#20954299)

    It seems to be time for IBM to sell a few hundred patents to a bunch of Patent troll companies, which then sue Microsoft...?

    The start of the patent wars seems to be similar to the cold war, when the super powers fought by proxy.

  • by littlewink ( 996298 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:18AM (#20954393)
    I developed graphics workstation software in the period 1970-1990. There is an abundance of prior art for these claimed patents. Windowing and the idea of multiple views of a single workspace on a single display was commonplace during that period.

    There were many academic papers and conferences; ACM SIGGRAPH publications [acm.org] go back to 1967 at least. By the time SIGGRAPH organized, the field of computer graphics was already well-established: many proprietary graphics systems were already in use in private industry and government. Newman and Sproull published their landmark text Principles of Interactive Computer Graphics [amazon.com] in 1973.

    Other especially good veins to mine for prior art are satellite imaging software for both government use (spy satellites) and for oil prospecting. Another active area was geophysical processing workstation software. The major oil companies were the non-military non-spy pioneers in these areas.
  • Re:Interesting. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SpammersAreScum ( 697628 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:19AM (#20954409)
    Interesting. Microsoft includes a "Virtual Desktop Manager" in their PowerToys. Surely they (and the myriad other providers of multiple/virtual desktop tools for Windows) are equally guilty here?
  • Re:Interesting. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mce ( 509 ) * on Friday October 12, 2007 @11:37AM (#20954723) Homepage Journal

    Vtwm has had this since at least February 1992. Admittedly that's later than the 1991 patent date, but with some further digging into history, vtwm might stil become prior art. I have memories of using it earlier than that, at least.

    In any case, the fact that nobody filed suit against the vtwm developers/distributors for over 15 years shows that the owners for a very long time didn't exploit their patent the way they should have.

  • by KWTm ( 808824 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:08PM (#20955335) Journal
    Don't feel bad that you didn't know about Links the web browser. It is generally a good browser, but the unfortunate choice of name has made this piece of software invisible to Google searches --can you imagine searching for "links" on the web? Every single existing web page on the web will turn up. It doesn't help to add the keywords "web" or "browser".

    It was because of this that I finally gave up trying to use, get docs for, or otherwise find out more about "links" and switched to elinks [elinks.cz], which is a forked project that's probably just as good, but is a lot easier to find on the web.

    If you still want to work with "links", the correct keyword to Google for is "Twibright labs" --but of course, if I had no way of knowing that back when I was searching. And nowadays there's the Wikipedia, too.
  • Re:Its about time! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trolltalk.com ( 1108067 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:19PM (#20955571) Homepage Journal

    There is another alternative, which could happen ... all development moves off-shore. Heck, RedHat could just move almost everything to Europe and trade there. (Alan Cox refuses to visit the US because of the stupid software patent issues).

    Sell the core system in the US with from RedHat US with no Window Managers, and a link to repositories to download all the Window Managers you want, from software-patent-is-bad countries. Sell the full system everywhere else.

    This is just one more step for the US in its continual technological decline. Whole industries are already gone - ram, most hard drives, lcd screens. Why not almost all FLOSS development?

  • by ncryptd ( 1172815 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:23PM (#20955657)

    I mean, I can understand royalties, but damages?

    IANAL, but I'm betting their logic goes something like this:

    1. Company A gets $PATENT, but before it can implement $PATENT...
    2. Companies B and C implement $PATENT in their products.
    3. The products from companies B and C become commercially successful.
    4. Company A cannot effectively enter the marketplace with a product offering $PATENT due to the success of B and C
    5. Company A sues for damages, claiming that B and C's illicit implementation of $PATENT has made it impossible to make any money from $PATENT.

    Of course the time periods involved weaken the argument considerably... but Microsoft's got the resources that such an argument might work.

  • Re:Follow the money (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mhall119 ( 1035984 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @12:23PM (#20955661) Homepage Journal
    Hmm, an interesting twist on the Microsoft conspiracy. If we assume that Microsoft is not licensing this patent at the moment, and also assume that Windows would infringe on this patent, then either outcome helps Microsoft:

    1.) Redhat loses the case, pays big money, Microsoft loses a competitor
    2.) Redhat wins the case, patent is invalidated, one less Eolas type threat to Microsoft's bottom line.
  • by Vexorian ( 959249 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:12PM (#20956551)

    It all appears MS is making up a new SCO.

    A rational question is to ask "why also Novell"? Yes, we all know Novell and MS are buddies and all so this is a reason to think MS is not behind this lawsuit.

    Imho what's going to happen is that Novell will be VERY collaborative and willing to accept to pay royalties for this BS patent, the game will be make Red Hat play alone. The expected aftermath (for MS-Novell) would be to make Red Hat look like a rogue company that does not respect IP. And yes, thanks to Novell the case will be much harder to solve for Red Hat than before, probably Novell will rush in making a deal so there's precedent...

    Laugh at the ridiculous theory all you want, I just hope Novell does not prove me right on this one. But if they do, then I hope nobody will argue to me whose side Novell is playing for.

  • by random coward ( 527722 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @01:28PM (#20956809)
    Novell could buy a patent license but then they either violate the software license or everyone else gets to use their patent license without having to buy their own.

    GPL prevents the distrubution without a license that would be passed right along to Redhat and its customers for free. Besided the patent is more about XWindows/KDE/Gnome than it is about Linux. Sun is the one going to be hurting on this; They use Gnome for Solaris and that is GPL'd. They wont be able to ship Solaris without a license that can then be used by everyone for free, even those who are not Sun customers. The Linux kernel doesn't have a workspace interface; thats a userspace program.

  • by domatic ( 1128127 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:01PM (#20957411)
    If this looks as though it is about to do serious damage to Linux then why should OIN not give MS both barrels? This happening just after some former MS execs join the trolls and Ballmer running his pie hole can't be a coincidence. If MS can't do this directly, they need to be informed that they aren't doing it by proxy either.
  • by Sudheer_BV ( 1049540 ) <sudheer.zzz@NOspAM.sudheer.net> on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:34PM (#20957935) Homepage

    None here either.

    An attempt to fix your quote

    Some companies have ex-Microsofties on the payroll, with some recent hires. Microsoft is the largest software company in the world. Go ahead, ask around. I'll speculate you have a former Microsoft employee on your team! :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:52PM (#20958179)
    The Patent Reform Act of 2007 [wikipedia.org] should make the lives of patent trolls harder.

    If you're angry about this, write your senators and tell them to support S.1145 [loc.gov]. It's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.
  • by SQLz ( 564901 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @02:55PM (#20958237) Homepage Journal
    This is why the Microsoft patent deals with Linux vendors are so important and why Novell F-ed everything. They are playing on both sides. Basically, by signing these deals with Linux vendors they herd a lot of companies toward those vendors. That gives them a target, but they can't directly attack it. At the same time, they secretly help patent trolls to attack those Linux vendors, leaving the customer with a bad taste in their mouth. The customer had switched to Novell for "protection", and then Novell gets slapped with an injunction. "Linux isn't safe" they read in the press and hey go running back to Microsoft.
  • A little late (Score:2, Interesting)

    by frankenheinz ( 976104 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @06:23PM (#20961003)
    "it's a 1991 Xerox PARC patent" If so, shouldn't it expire in 2008 (a long-long time before the subect suit concludes) ? I don't think the community at large has much to be concerned about here.

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