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The Linux Kernel and Software Patents

CmdrTaco posted more than 11 years ago | from the sumthin-to-think-about dept.

Linux 629

batsman writes "The Linux VM system programmers are discussing the software patents that could block further development of important features. Alan Cox brings up several SGI patents covering the techniques they were considering, and Daniel Phillips has found some patents that affect features already present in Linux. Linus Torvalds thinks they should ignore these patents and pretend they don't exist until they cause troubles. How long before kernel developers are sued for patent infringement?"

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629 comments

FP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128140)

FP?

SK's Frist P0st! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128141)

Hopefully soon.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128147)

... Linux sucks anyway.

Bring back OS/2 !

Oh yeah, FP!

SGI (0, Troll)

leviramsey (248057) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128149)

For a company which has been very Linux friendly (contributing XFS and so forth), SGI could certainly do a lot better.

Re:SGI (2, Insightful)

masonbrown (208074) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128182)

I don't think this is about SGI holding patents over their heads, but the kernel developers diligently checking existing patents before violating them.

Re:SGI (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128242)

Yeah, I'm sure they filed those patents with the explicit intent of screwing over Linux developers. They HAVE been good. They have not sued.

How is that good? It's the world we live in. If SGI hadn't patented the technology, someone else would have, and they would have extorted SGI for millions. It's defensive patenting. You patent everything no matter how obvious for fear that lawyers will fail to see its obviousness.

In summary: SGI didn't do shit. Lay off.

Not time to condemn yet (5, Interesting)

xant (99438) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128266)

Just because a company holds a patent doesn't mean they have to enforce it, or plan to. If they wish they can grant Linux or the world an unlimited license to use the patented technology (which would be the friendliest approach) or they can simply ignore patent violations, which is at least neutral. (Ignoring, rather than granting license to use, is worse because it means they may change their minds at some point when the technology's already running enterprise servers throughout the world, at which point they pull a Rambus. In some ways it's worse than enforcing right away; at least if they enforce right away there's less damage to existing codebases.)

Re:Not time to condemn yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128419)

Lovely options. Go and try to spend a lot of time try to see if you can use patented tech, or hope the 6 year civil liability of patent infringement does not come out to bite you. (Not sure what the limits of them suing you are, e.g. alleged damages, punitive, damages due to drop in marketshare, any or all of them....).

US patent law states that they can sue for "use" of a patent, so disagree with Linus's comments.

The last two products I wanted to take into the market both ran into possible patent violations. The first I just dropped because the marketplace needs assessment I did showed that, while viable, would have only grossed about $10,000 profit a year for around 2 years, at which point I would have to reassess. Not really worth the licensing from another private individual; the legal costs would cost that much.

The other product runs into a patent Goddard/NASA apparantly has a hold on. I came up with it independently but 6 some years after someone applied for the relevant patent. Been trying to contact the folks at NASA, and haven't gotten through. They appear to change email addresses and contact info regularly, as well as have a decent changeover rate (people moving to different positions). Incredibly frustrating, in terms of not knowing and a waste of time. I really don't want to be sued by the US government.

Re:SGI (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128306)

Not if M$ buys the rights. Its not like like they have not done this before !

first post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128158)

hee hee

Keeping things equal (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128163)

If Linus has no problem violating patents, I would have no problem violating the GPL. Intellectual property is intellectual property, whether it's covered by a copyright or a patent or a trademark or whatever. If Linus intends to willfully violate someone else's IP, he should have no problem with me violating his IP.

Re:Keeping things equal (4, Insightful)

cduffy (652) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128191)

If Linus has no problem violating patents, I would have no problem violating the GPL. Intellectual property is intellectual property, whether it's covered by a copyright or a patent or a trademark or whatever. If Linus intends to willfully violate someone else's IP, he should have no problem with me violating his IP.

"IP is IP"? Not quite. Software patents in particular are very legally questionable. It's only recently that they've been recognized inside the United States, and they aren't recognized at all in many other places; ditto for business algorithms.

Patent law was made to protect inventions -- physical pieces of hardware. I see no need to respect any extensions thereof, particularly when they have such unreasonable results.

oh your so silly US (2, Insightful)

johnjones (14274) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128344)

frankly patents is going to bite the U.S. in the arse

why because simply put you dont think that there are people out their violating the GPL now ?
(e.g. Microsoft may have changed parts of linux kernel and I dont see those changes published )

people clone hardware all the time
(company did some Set top Box work did well until it sent a few to east and low and behold clones apear)

frankly all the real development will be done in china and to hell with the WIPO

(and you would think biotech is differant 150 grand and synth any protein you like sod the patents )

regards

John Jones

Re:Keeping things equal (5, Insightful)

capologist (310783) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128427)

I think that much of the problem stems from the "non-obvious" bar being set too low.

When a company invests a lot of time and money to come up with an idea that the world would otherwise not have had, I think that the company should have a right to protect that investment through patents. Without such protection, they won't make the investment in the first place, so the idea won't be conceived, and society will be all the poorer for that.

The problem occurs when an inevitable idea becomes the property of whoever gets to the patent office first. When that happens, the law is taking an idea that would otherwise have belonged to society and general, and barring everybody except the owner from using it.

Re:Keeping things equal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128197)

Linus did not say "rip of patents". He just said you shouldn't spend all your time looking for any patent for an idea that someone may of thought of independently of the original patent holder. Next time, try to understand what the hell your talking about

Re:Keeping things equal (1)

hankwang (413283) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128281)

>He just said you shouldn't spend all your time looking for any patent for an idea that someone may of thought of independently

Does anyone have an idea how much effort it would take to find out whether an algorithm is already implemented by someone else? It's often quite hard to find an algorithm in a book (at least in many books) that is known to contain the algorithm if you don't know in which chapter to look.

Re:Keeping things equal (3, Insightful)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128241)

There is the old problem of referring to IP. Be more specific. A patent != license.

Re:Keeping things equal (0)

Lazar Dobrescu (601397) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128251)

Although the way I understand, what Linus meant is that you should not waste time studying patents or doing research to see if a patent exist for everything u plan to implement. The reason for this is that even though there is millions and millions of patents, not that many are actually enforced by the company holding them(they merely took em to ensure no one would enforce the patents on them), and you can thus use the technology without having to pay anything or whatnot. On the other end, if you know of the patent and then without asking permission start using it, you can be held liable of willingly infringing it, which could get you sued. If you didn't know about the patent, all the holder can do is ask you to stop using the technology. That's what Linus is saying, just ignore the patents, and if someone asks us to remove a technology from our software, we'll remove it. So he does not intend to violate any IP, since he plans to stop using the technology as soon as he is asked for. And before someone tells me it's the same and this is a "if you don't get caught, it's right" way of thinking, well I'd like to see anybody trying to see if a technology is patented every time they want to use it... You'll get totally mad within 2 days, as there are so many patents, and most unclearly described, that you just can't sort it out. And asking a lawyer to do it for you would cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.

Re:Keeping things equal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128279)

Copyright and patent law are very different beasts. Patent law creates a situation where you can create something completely original, without any external influence, and still be forbidden to use it. Copyright law at least has the exception of clean-room implementations for this kind of problem. Patents create monopolies by giving all implementations to one entity, copyright protects individual implementations. Your comparison is like saying man is the same as a flower because both are made of cells.

Re:Keeping things equal (2)

evilpenguin (18720) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128287)

Patents and copyrights serve different purposes. Defense of a patent is the responsbility of the patent holder. Copyright is a presumed protection. Patent infringment is a basis (IANAL, so please correct me if I am arong) for civil action, not criminal sanction. Violation of copyright (which is what underpins the GPL) has criminal consequences.

If you violate a patent, you must either cease or pay a royalty. That's different from facing a criminal sanction. The comparison you make is unfair.

That's not say that I think ignoring patents until they are a problem is the right approach...

Re:Keeping things equal (2)

i_am_nitrogen (524475) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128330)


If Linus intends to willfully violate someone else's IP, he should have no problem with me violating his IP

Read his list post again -- he said he would willfully remain ignorant, and deal with any patent issues as they are brought to the kernel by the patent holders (as opposed to actively seeking patents on things that might one day be implemented in the kernel, slowing development significantly). Usually, as was the case with the free SVQ1 Sorenson codec, if patents are discovered which would impede development, a new algorithm that does the same thing can be created or implemented.

Re:Keeping things equal (5, Insightful)

JoeBuck (7947) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128342)

This is whythe term "intellectual property": it causes people to be confused into thinking that copyrights are the same thing as patents, when they are very different.

Did you know, for example, that many patents are invalid? That is, most patents are known by their owners to be so flawed that they carefully ask for just enough royalty so it's cheaper to pay than to go to court, but even so, about half the time a patent makes it to court get tossed out?

Re:Keeping things equal (2)

JoeBuck (7947) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128363)

Whoops, I hit the wrong button and posted this one before proofreading. I meant to say "This is why the term 'intellectual property' should be avoided". Sorry about that.

Re:Keeping things equal (2)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128414)

RMS makes a better counter-argument [gnu.org] than I could make.

Also see the last quote on this page [berkeley.edu] .

Patents cover ideas, whereas copyright covers (written) "works".

-Peter

Ignore them? (1)

LinuxInDallas (73952) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128167)

Sure you can ignore them, then pay the enormous lawyers fees required when the patent owners sue you out of house and home. It's not going to look good that the developers knew the patents existed then just ignored them. It's much better to be safe than sorry in this case.

Yes, Ignore them (3, Funny)

donutz (195717) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128255)

Linus thinks we should work on other problems until the patents become a problem:

"If somebody sues you, you change the algorithm or you just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git."

I guess hit men are cheaper than IP lawyers?

Re:Yes, Ignore them (1)

The_Guv'na (180187) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128397)


I guess hit men are cheaper than IP lawyers?

Uhhh... *looks at latest bank statement* Yeah, pretty much. About £1200 + expenses.

Ali

Re:Yes, Ignore them (3, Funny)

ejdmoo (193585) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128432)

"I guess hit men are cheaper than IP lawyers?"

Not nessisarily...just less evil.

Re:Ignore them? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128304)

Naw, they can just give in. Linus could agree to give them 50% of everything he earned from selling Linux. These would be very good terms for settling any patent-infringement case. Then they just add up all those zeroes and ask Linus to hand it over. Simple.

This is... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128169)

all hollow bullshit and should be forgotten. ChrisD loves niggers

Not long .... (1)

mfago (514801) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128172)

Uh ... purposly ignoring patents "utill they cause problems later" seems to be unwise. OTOH, who exactly would get sued?

Well, I'm sure no one will notice.. (2)

gregfortune (313889) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128184)

Sued for patent infringment? Let's think about this for a sec...

It's posted on Slashdot.
Lot's of people read Slashdot including lots of scummy people...
Um.... Now?

Ridiculous (2, Interesting)

jimmy_dean (463322) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128185)

This is absolutely ridiculous and I agree with Linus. This is where patents are extremely stupid. As long as someone is not copying the code verbatim, then I don't think it should infringe on the patent.

Re:Ridiculous (2, Insightful)

LinuxGeek (6139) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128256)

Linus said "The fact is, technical people are better off not looking at patents. If
you don't know what they cover and where they are, you won't be knowingly
infringing on them."


It can be very important to a legal proceeding if someone didn't knowingly infringe upon a patented mechanism. If you did know and someone can prove you willfully infringed on patent protected work, then prepare to pay your lawyers.

Re:Ridiculous (5, Insightful)

kisrael (134664) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128418)

It can be very important to a legal proceeding if someone didn't knowingly infringe upon a patented mechanism. If you did know and someone can prove you willfully infringed on patent protected work, then prepare to pay your lawyers

Yeah...sometimes I wonder about the whole issue of The Nonobviousness Requirement [lawnotes.com] in Patent Law. I mean, jeez, thinking about problems and coming up with solutions is all programmers do...if someone reinvents the process described in a non-publicized patent, it seems to my non-lawerly self that there's some case to be made for the "obviousness" of the patent.

Re:Ridiculous (1)

aronc (258501) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128269)

In other words algorithms should not be covered under patent law. I agree. The code should be covered by copyright, not the idea.

Re:Ridiculous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128313)

Mosts software patents are pretty bogus. It's not like they all created the binary code from scratch--it was all already there, provided by the processor architecture. So with all the code possibilities provided by the processor, how is it right to say, hey I claimed it first? hey I invented it?

I'd say the only inventor in this area would be intel, amd, ibm, etc. I think nobody should be able to patent code like they do these days as their own idea.

Re:Ridiculous (2)

nuggz (69912) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128388)

As long as someone is not copying the code verbatim, then I don't think it should infringe on the patent

That would be a copyright violation.

Patents are ideas. ie lightbulb, diamonds from human remains.
Copyright is the fixed form. ie compuer code, or a book.

Not too long... (2)

coryboehne (244614) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128186)

If I had to guess, considering the current market trend in the US to sue first, ask questions later, I would say that they most likely don't have much time at all, unfortunately they really don't have a legal leg to stand on either, and I'm not sure if the best policy is really to just wait until it causes problems, or to perhaps negotiate a fair use price with the patent holder(s). But I assume they do know what they're doing, and most likely have already sought legal counsel, so hopefully they won't have any problems...

Re:Not too long... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128222)

How do you "negotiate a fair use price" when you are writing free software?

Re:Not too long... (2)

coryboehne (244614) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128318)

You see, if you tell them that you will gladly give them 25% of all profits, or part ownership of the company then they will most likely shut up and not bother you again, of course the 25% of nothing equals exactly nothing, so it's not like they'll really lose anything. I really hope the company's that hold patents that could affect this software realize that if they should decide to do anything to try and recover "damages" that they will really be suing an entity whose net worth is most likely in the negative....

Re:Not too long... (2)

i_am_nitrogen (524475) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128387)

There is the minor problem of commercial linux businesses. As with the TrueType hinting patent held by Apple (or was it Adobe?), it's not the developers who have to worry, it's the people who actually make money on the product, the distributors, such as RedHat, Mandrake, SuSE, Debian, and so on.

If they're publicizing the patents on Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128189)

Then it's already too late to ignore them until they cause problems. It'll be extremely easy for these patent holders to see what they've got now. Why not contact them and see if they'd be willing to grant a free license to use their patents? They may say yes.

In other news. (1)

Kenja (541830) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128198)

Programmers the world over decide to ignore the GPL and pretend it doesn't exist until it causes trouble.

Way to go Linus.

Re:In other news. (1)

aronc (258501) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128338)

Programmers the world over decide to ignore the GPL and pretend it doesn't exist until it causes trouble.

Way to go Linus.


If they have fundamental issues with code being copyrightable, sure. If they chose to challenge the system that way that's their business.

Linus, and most of the rest of the coding community (and most informed users as well) have basic issues with the idea of algorithms/methods being covered under patent law. It's not a disregard for all IP laws, just a particularly bad one.

Re:In other news. (1)

Zack (44) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128343)

Good idea. Ignore the GPL. Then you don't have any rights to use the source code. Remember, the GPL grants you more rights than you normally have with a peice of copyrighted code. So ignore the GPL and you're back to copyrighted code.

Ignore a patent and you have an idea.

See?

Re:In other news. (1)

Dexter77 (442723) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128411)

GPL exists to protect invidual coder's IPs.
Software patents exist to protect massive companies to become even bigger.

If you can't see the difference..

I'm sure that'll look real good. (2, Flamebait)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128205)

"look everyone, them there linux varmints are pirates and theives!! patent infringers!! patent infringers!!" And of course, Linux is the "respectible" free UNIX w/out the Devil on their shoulders, so obviously the BSD people must be worse then. It'll adversely affect all of the free software community and make Microsoft look "right" -- free/open software is for pirates and h4x0rZ and shouldn't be trusted w/ your business.

Global Underground (-1)

Guns n' Roses Troll (207208) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128208)

Boxed produces a very nice CD series called Global Underground. I'm listening to the Nick Warren Live In Prague set now and it's superb. I highly suggest persuing any of the 2 CD sets in the Global Underground series. You won't be disappointed.

Re:Global Underground (-1)

trollercoaster (250101) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128341)

As the second release in the vast catalog of Global Underground DJ-mix albums, Nick Warren's Live in Prague ends up sounding a bit dated and inferior to the later volumes, which benefit from the late '90s explosion of trance records. A respectable DJ with a knack for mixing together tracks perfect for the dancefloor, Warren contributes a noble effort on this release, but it just doesn't reach the potential evident on his later Global Underground: Brazil album. First of all, his tracks just aren't that exciting here; a few standout as definite trance anthems ("Life on Mars") while most lack any noteworthy elements -- vocals, samples, melodies, snare-rolls, synth riffs, stomping rhythms -- suffering from a sort of bland homogeneity that relies on momentum to carry the listener from one similar progressive house track to the next. When the salient songs do enter the mix, it always seems like an awkward moment. Rather than slowly building his set from deep, dark progressive house through some surreal epic trance until finally peaking with two or three hands-in-the-air anthems as most DJs do, Warren instead scrambles this template, placing songs such as Energy 52's "Cafe del Mar" in the middle of the second set, which makes the rest of the album relatively anti-climatic. This isn't necessarily a terrible set by Warren, but it clearly pales in comparison to the many other excellent DJ-mixes on the many excellent succeeding Global Underground releases.

Patents... (1)

viper21 (16860) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128210)

I thought that you could only violate a patent if you sold the resulting product for a profit. (IE the guy with that one hand typing machine a few weeks ago).

Isn't the Kernel Free?

As in Beer?

Maybe I'm completely off base here. Please let me know if I am.

Re:Patents... (2)

gclef (96311) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128334)

I thought that you could only violate a patent if you sold the resulting product for a profit.

You mean, like RedHat?

Re:Patents... (2)

nuggz (69912) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128428)

I thought that you could only violate a patent if you sold the resulting product for a profit.

No the damages can also be the reduced market price.

Lets say you sold viagra for $0.02/pill, this would make the market think it is only worth 2 cents. Whoever owns viagra would then have to sell it for pennies a pill, not dollars, they are now making many dollars per pill less because you decreased the perceived value of their product.

You lowered the value of their asset, you owe them for damages. The money they won't make for you.

That being said, it would be hard to argue that the improved VM code of linux lowered the selling price or sold volume of Irix.

Linus... (3, Insightful)

danheskett (178529) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128212)

Well, the whole thread is kinda of interesting, if it ever goes to trial, it will be slam dunk for the side for "willful violation". I mean, they are actively talking about ignoring the patents, as if they don't exisit.

Chances are that like most patents recently filed the ones in question are junk. The best move is probably to form the Linux Expeditionary Legal Team - LELT? - to proactively get these patents derecognized.

Ignorning legal problems will only cause pain when the piper comes. Ignorning problems and telling everyone how you wilfully and with clear knowledge of relevant law disregard the patents is a good way to set yourself up for a big directed verdict.

You can't kill Linux, but if the kernel team got fined (individually) a few million apiece, well, that would probably not help things.

Some laws should be broken (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128332)

Its morally wrong to respect an immoral law.

Re:Linus... (2)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128373)

Well, the whole thread is kinda of interesting, if it ever goes to trial, it will be slam dunk for the side for "willful violation". I mean, they are actively talking about ignoring the patents, as if they don't exisit.

Well, IANAL, but I think Linus's whole point was that by being plum ignorant about whether or not any patents exist in a given area, then no one has a leg to stand on to say that you willfully violated their patent, whereas if you knew it existed then they could claim that you did.

Kernel developers don't have to worry (3, Informative)

owlmeat (197799) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128215)

Any patent can be legally used for home or hobby use. The problem will lie with commercial exploitation of the patent. The developers are off the hook. Not so easy for Redhat et al.

Developers are not off the hook (4, Interesting)

nuggz (69912) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128325)

No, the developer may be sued by the patent holder.
His freely available illegal implementation decreased the market value of the legal version, and can be held responsible from the patent publication date, not from the date he is notified of infringement.
This also assumes that the patented algorithms were released publicly before the patent was filed. Also you can't ignore a known patent infringement for many years. Like trademark infringement, you must act when you gain knowledge of infringement.

IANAL, this is my understanding of patent law in the US.

Re:Kernel developers don't have to worry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128339)

And as such (for the Distros), why would any distro maker willingly sell their products knowing full well that a patent infringement lawsuit could be around the corner?

happy to sue you world (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128216)

In this happy to sue you world, its not long before some trouble comes up. If I remember correctly redhat engineers took verbatum a bsd driver, and someone from I think frebsd pointed out. I would be afraid of adding various code until its approve or checked by the lawyers these days, you never know if someone has alread licensed it.

Obvious Strategy (4, Funny)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128224)

1. Ignore patents.
2. If you get sued:
a. Replace the infringing code with code that does not infringe on that particular patent.
b. Sit back and watch patches back to the infringing code appear.
3. Laugh as the corps realize that they are completely ineffective.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled revolution.

-Peter

Re:Obvious Strategy (2)

Gaccm (80209) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128295)

except that companies can sue for loss of income because of it, and tht isn't something you can just patch away. The thing is, who would have to pay is the real question, the maintainer or Linus, or some anonymous person that sent in the actual infringing code?

Re:Obvious Strategy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128317)

2.a.: Impossible.

What can you do with half that much? Fail. When can you start? I think I just did.

Not a big deal. Don't worry. (4, Interesting)

swagr (244747) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128229)

The patented parts of the kernel were deveopled in Malta, Egypt and Madagascar where no one holds said patents.

Also, kernel.org releases the SOURCE code. And it's more of a "reference implementation" or "proof of concept" than anything else. If someone actually COMPILES the kernel without first removing patented techniques, well, that's their own problem.

Re:Not a big deal. Don't worry. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128398)

Two things:

The kernel is distributed from (among other places) US servers; one specific case is kernel.org. This gives the patent-holders the ability to sue the kernel copyright-holders in the US.

Not being able to distribute a compiled kernel means that Red Hat and every other distributor of Linux is legally fucked. They could be sued into the ground by their shareholders for negligence if they continue to distribute software that knowingly infringes on patents.

why (2)

Syre (234917) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128234)

Why post this on slashdot?

If anyone at SGI knew about this and wanted ignore it, now they can't because it's too widely publicised.

Who is sued? (5, Interesting)

jmv (93421) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128237)

How long before kernel developers are sued for patent infringement?

This brings up an interesting question. Who gets sued in this kind of situation? The one who writes the code, the one who compiles it, the one who distributes it or the user? Technically, there shouldn't be anything wrong with the source code itself, since it is not a product or a device. An example is that the ISO source code is freely distributable, even though there are many patent problems. Now it's it's not the developers, who is it? Unisys seems to have tried going after GIF users (web sites), while some others seem to try differt approaches. This is one really bad thing about software patents.

Re:Who is sued? (1)

bass_miologics (593392) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128346)

if it's not the people who distribute the source code as many people are saying, then it's gonna be the linux distros like redhat for actually selling the infringing product.

Isn't this the whole point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128413)


Isn't this the whole point of developing software for hobby purposes, without charge? This is the principle upside of giving your time away -- you don't have to stress, right?

Who will be sued? The developers are not making money, RedHat is not manufacturing a product, they are redistributing it. RedHat can get stop ordered, but can they get sued?

This hurts those who want to squeeze the maximum dollar out of the "open source" model, but now the people who think open source is a "business model" start tripping over their own feet. Maybe you should just write and sell old fashioned shrink wrapped software when you want to make money. You know, that "you can't have two masters" thing.

Oh, this is good press.... (2)

jhines0042 (184217) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128238)

"...or you just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git."

Is it just me, or is this very immature speach? It certainly doesn't do anything to make me respect Linus.

Re:Oh, this is good press.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128290)

http://www.geocities.com/Joe_Hines/

Your webpage certainly doesn't do anything to make me respect Joe Hines.

Re:Oh, this is good press.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128433)

With his name and birthday it shouldn't be too hard for Heavy Lou to track him down and do some work on his kneecaps. -Linus

Re:Oh, this is good press.... (2)

swagr (244747) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128350)

Is it just me, or is this very immature speach?
The one sure rule of existence is "do whatever you want and live by the consequences".

If Linus wants to hire a hitman or talk about hiring a hitman. Let him do it and see what happens. People have done worse.

It certainly doesn't do anything to make me respect Linus.
You should watch yourself, or you might be on that hitman's list.

Re:Oh, this is good press.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128380)

well duh! Maybe it was a joke. Surely Linus is allowed to be smart AND witty.

Re:Oh, this is good press.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128401)

no, that is forbidden. Nothing to see... move along.

Not long now... (1)

Alizarin Erythrosin (457981) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128248)

How long before kernel developers are sued for patent infringement?

Now that this has been posted, probably not long

ignoring patents (1)

Raiford (599622) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128253)

Linus's philosophy would be good I guess if you can afford paying the other guy's legal fees everytime someone has to bring a suit against you.

Whoa, hold on. (2)

smoondog (85133) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128254)

If you are developing software, and are picking methods, many of which have *registered* patents, you are asking for trouble. The fact that you want to use them only makes the patents seem more useful. It is one thing to write software and find a ridiculous patent that broadly covers obvious things. It is quite another to want to use a novel, patented method and use it without licensing. If you do that you get what you ask for.

-Sean

I patented the ``0'' and the ``1'' long ago PAYME! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128259)

The best way to fight patents is to make irrelevant, the best way to make them irrelevante is to know that they are irrelevant.

What's a patente, BTW?

What Linus is saying (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128264)

As usual, the average IQ of a slashdot poster is 50 right after an article gets posted. I think the people at Slashdot who reward based on who posts first to an article are idiots who greatly lower the quality of discussions of postings here.

Linus is saying that people should ignore patents, in the sense that people should come up with their own ideas independent of what other people may come up with at the same time. This way, if the patent goes to court, they can say "I invented the same thing with no knowledge of their patent"; obvious things can not hold up in court.

As the recent BT case shows, the patent courts are more reasonable than the average Slashdot loonet thinks they are.

I am not logging in; the Slashdot editors like bitchslapping people who don't hold their party line.

I agree with Linus in principle (2)

cOdEgUru (181536) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128274)

Though..

If somebody sues you, you change the algorithm or you just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git.


There should be a better way in putting the thought across. Being someone who is listened to whenever he opens his mouth, there should have been better words to put his idea across. After all, isnt this the same attitude that got Open Source / Linux advocates isolated from the rest of the world ? Do we need to do this again ?

Yes, Patents are stupid. Yes, the world deserves better. No, this was not his best words.

I guess he was just pissed.

Hmmm (1, Redundant)

Delphix (571159) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128276)

Actually, we can, and I will.

I do not look up any patents on _principle_, because (a) it's a horrible
waste of time and (b) I don't want to know.

The fact is, technical people are better off not looking at patents. If
you don't know what they cover and where they are, you won't be knowingly
infringing on them. If somebody sues you, you change the algorithm or you
just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git.

Linus


I tend to agree that you probably shouldn't go looking for trouble. But "just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git." ? I had no idea Linus was so violent.

Software should be sold based on its merits (1)

TurboDog99 (442475) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128277)

Software patents and closed file formats make it too easy for companies to reduce their competition. Some ideas are just plain obvious, and just because someone was the first to write to the patent office shouldn't mean that anyone else who wants to implement an obvious idea should require their permission. The guy who was sueing everybody for the windowing technique for solving the y2k issue comes to mind. I had thought up that idea long before I ever heard about his patent. It seemed pretty obvious to me. It's too bad more companies don't have the guts to let their software sell itself based on its quality. If Microsoft, for example, opened the Word format, they'd most likely still hold most of the office software market, and nobody could accuse them of using the formats to unfairly stifle competition. Patents are even worse, because at least file formats can possibly be reverse engineered. Removing software patents may hurt a few companies in the short run, but it would be good for consumers because the industry itself would mature at a faster rate, and companies couldn't fix prices just because nobody else has a right to sell a similar product.

There is no reason to hand our enemes weapons (1)

eburrows (543942) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128296)

Linux is a super bright guy, but ignoring patents is just handing M$, SGI, Sun, etc. very effective weapons. Where will we be when M$ files an injunction against Allan Cox keeping him from releasing any code until he can prove that he's not infringing on anyone. Corporations are VERY good at keeping people tied up in the courts.

Re:There is no reason to hand our enemes weapons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128389)

The shit needs to hit the fan soon before it becomes to big to clean up afterwards.

Sue where? (2)

bluestar (17362) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128301)

Each country has its own patents and patent laws. Do you sue Linus in the US or Finland? Do you sue Alan in England? The actual developer who wrote the code wherever they happen to be? Do you sue all the mirrors for contributing to the infringement?

I love OSS :-)

Software Patents only restrict US people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128308)

Whats to stop some programmer who lives in a Free country (where software patents are recognised by law as being stupid) violating said patent.

subtle (2)

bigpat (158134) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128322)

"The fact is, technical people are better off not looking at patents. If
you don't know what they cover and where they are, you won't be knowingly
infringing on them. If somebody sues you, you change the algorithm or you
just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git.
"

very subtle, Linus. I'm not sure what you are trying to say.

Seriously though, this makes sense. People have a finite amount of time, why waste it figuring out what not to do. Sure it might cost you some time later, but probably not.

It is a much better use of time to just do your best work and then if you happen to use an algorithm or something that you find out later is patented, then just figure out what makes sense to do then.

And just because you might be using a patented algorithm doesn't mean that you have to stop or even that it will cost money and eventually the patent will expire.

Dear Linus... (0, Flamebait)

Kid Zero (4866) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128323)

Bad Idea. Very Bad Idea. Play nice or go sit in a corner.

now that it's been posted on /. (1)

wwest4 (183559) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128327)

...SGI is bound to become aware of it. You think that the company that is now charging for their barely-tweaked recompile of Samba is going to ignore the chance to get a few more dollars? Er, wait. On second thought, they probably couldn't afford the lawyers at this point.

Absolutely right to ignore them (2)

Baki (72515) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128351)

As a matter of principle. First, many Linux developers are not from the US, and software patents don't apply there (in many places). Second, ignoring them on a high-profile and highly respected project as the Linux kernel is an excellent way to show lawmakers how damaging and morally wrong these patents are. It is much clearer than whining and avoiding them, which has already been proven to be ineffective.

It would be great if, maybe in a year, with many businesses already depending on Linux (including many jobs), suddenly it turns out that Linux is heavily infringing on a number of software patents. What do you think would happen: would the US ban Linux from the US (it would remain legal in lots of other countries). That would really look good and be a huge catalyst for a public debate on this issue (it has failed to get the public's attention up to now).

And no matter what they try, noone can stop the volunteer developers all over the world. Only US businesses would be hit.

why bother? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128354)

Why bother developing a new VM when BSD already has a perfectly fine stable VM? Does the term Not Invented Here mean anything to these people? They're setting back the state of computing by 10 years!

Thought patents... (2)

SkyLeach (188871) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128357)

Help me to understand this for a second...

Let's say someone gets a patent on a method of doing something in an OS, for instance thread scheduling. I don't know anything about this "someone", their method of schedulting threads or their patent. They get a patent on say... any genetic algorithm for discovering optimal thread schedules.

In the course of trying to make my OS better, I decide to rewrite my thread scheduling to get better performance. Let's pretend that I build a genetic tester to optimize my thread scheduling.

Now I have, through the natural evolution of thought, come accross a logical proof: I can get the best scheduling algorithm from a genetic sequence. Would I be in violation of a patent just for building on my past expierences to formulate a solution to a problem? Can people patent logical conclusions?

Well, they cannot ignore patents discovered (2)

GauteL (29207) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128359)

.. the specific ones in question will probably have to replaced, or they are _knowingly_ infringing.

Then they can take this stand:
"We don't include code that infringes upon patents we know about, but we do not have time to check up on patents so obvious that we implemented it without knowing about the patent."

how are these patents enforced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4128365)

(sorry if you get this twice, I keep hitting "formkey" errors when submitting)

This topic is interesting to me. I'm a Unix kernel developer, and engineers at
my company occasionally take out patents on similar things (kernel data structures, algorithms, etc).

What I've always wondered is, how on earth are these enforced? Linux might be the easiest to spot, since its source is open and people post on slashdot whenever they violate a patent :), but how could somebody tell for a closed source kernel?

Do large companies have engineers sitting with their attorneys, constantly analyzing the behavior of other's kernels? Seems like it would take a bit of work to undeniably prove that a given algorithm is being used, and someone with the talent to do that might be more useful in other assignments.

Linus is right (5, Interesting)

russotto (537200) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128374)

The problem with software patents is that the more you look for, the more you will find; lots of basic techniques have been patented (often two or three times). If you look for and find these things, you either have to work around (very difficult or impossible in some cases), sue to invalidate the patent (expensive), or be subject to penalties for willful infringement. If you don't look, the patentholders have to slog through YOUR code looking for reasons to sue (and no willful infringement penalties). Why do their work for them?

(OK, maybe Linus wasn't right about the hit man thing. A hit man might be cheaper than an IP lawyer, but murder really IS unethical, and besides, you'd have to wipe out the whole corporation, and that gets almost as expensive as a lawsuit. But I assume Linus was speaking tongue-in-cheek there)

this is the freetye packagers attitude (1)

neowintermute (81982) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128391)

Both redhat and debian ship freetype packages with the bytecode intrepreter enabled.

Apparently apple doesn't think it's worth the money the court case would cost to prevent a bunch of open source hackers fron having good fonts. Although, even with the bytecode interpreter enabled, I never have fonts that look as good as the redhat 8 beta. Using the b&h or the urw TT fonts, they just look great in their beta.

Linus gives better explanation in a follow up. (5, Interesting)

jchandra (15040) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128403)

On Sun, 11 Aug 2002, Larry McVoy wrote:
>
> This issue is more complicated than you might think.

No, it's not. You miss the point.

> Big companies with
> big pockets are very nervous about being too closely associated with
> Linux because of this problem.

The point being that that is _their_ problem, and at a level that has
nothing to do with technology.

I'm saying that technical people shouldn't care. I certainly don't. The
people who _should_ care are patent attourneys etc, since they actually
get paid for it, and can better judge the matter anyway.

Everybody in the whole software industry knows that any non-trivial
program (and probably most trivial programs too, for that matter) will
infringe on _some_ patent. Ask anybody. It's apparently an accepted fact,
or at least a saying that I've heard too many times.

I just don't care. Clearly, if all significant programs infringe on
something, the issue is no longer "do we infringe", but "is it an issue"?

And that's _exactly_ why technical people shouldn't care. The "is it an
issue" is not something a technical guy can answer, since the answer
depends on totally non-technical things.

Ask your legal counsel, and I strongly suspect that if he is any good, he
will tell you the same thing. Namely that it's _his_ problem, and that
your engineers should not waste their time trying to find existing
patents.

Linus

Bunch of hypocrites (1)

jhampson (580482) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128407)

"Sigma's stealing XVID's IP!" Those sons 'a bitches!
"Linus(x) is stealing SGI's IP!" shh... I'll pretend I didn't hear you.

Quoting Linus (2)

unformed (225214) | more than 11 years ago | (#4128415)

Actually, we can, and I will.

I do not look up any patents on _principle_, because (a) it's a horrible
waste of time and (b) I don't want to know.

The fact is, technical people are better off not looking at patents. If
you don't know what they cover and where they are, you won't be knowingly
infringing on them. If somebody sues you, you change the algorithm or you
just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git.
(emphasis mine)

Quality choice of words; now not only are we evil copyright violaters, we're murderous villains as well.

Although, I must admit, my already tremendous amount of respect for Linus just went up a notch. ;)
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