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Red Hat Files for Software Patents 323

Posted by michael
from the patent-applied-for dept.
Marsala writes "Apparently Red Hat has filed two patent applications for stuff related to the TUX webserver. The patents are for Embedded Protocol Objects and Method and apparatus for atomic file look-up. One has to wonder (if their patents are granted) what their licensing terms will be.... free for open source, or a tool to try and screw other Linux distros?" As reported by Linux Weekly News.
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Red Hat Files for Software Patents

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  • by I Want GNU! (556631) on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:40PM (#3582401) Homepage
    You have to think about this...are they filing for the money or will they open it? If they believe in linux as a principle of their company they won't prevent anyone else from using it, but if they simply want to make shareholders happy they might charge for it.
    • If I understand how patents work, there is no reason to take out a patent on principle--the only thing a patent is good for is to stop people from using an invention, or make them pay you... If you aren't going to charge, you don't need the patent--I don't think there's a "patentleft" sort of scheme that uses patents to protect openness (a la copyleft)

      --
      Benjamin Coates
      • Yes it is, unless I'm much mistaken all GPL software is copyrighted, just under the GPL. Otherwise if there is no copyright, anyone could take GPL software, and make it non-free. The copyright is what is needed to make the GPL enforceable. So while I can't be sure they will, it is conceivable that red hat will use this to GPL those techniques, giving free software a boost not available to non-free software.
        • by BCoates (512464)
          The difference between patents and copyrights is important here. If you want to have a program just like another copyrighted program, you can write it yourself, and you don't have to worry about the other person's copyright--This is how lots of open source programs are made, as replacements for existing closed-source ones.

          If software patents were commonplace, this couldn't be done--even if you reinvent something patented yourself, you still are in violation of the patent. Even if a few "free software patents" were held, the FS community would never be able to make another free software workalike version of a patented program.

          Software patents don't benefit anyone but pattent lawyers, and Red Hat is not doing anyone any favors by trying to legitimize it.

          --
          Benjamin Coates
          • It has been discussed on slashdot before that if Open Source advocates held software patents that other software patent holders want to use then cross licensing agreements might be set up allowing Open Sourcerers to duplicate the functionality of those programs that you say are forever off limits. Well I say we need more software patents to be held by free software friendly parties as well as a legal mechanism to pool those patents and use them as bargaining chips.
            • Well I say we need more software patents to be held by free software friendly parties as well as a legal mechanism to pool those patents and use them as bargaining chips.

              Free software groups can fight that war if they want to, but they won't win. Do you seriously think RedHat or the FSF can out-litigate Microsoft, or IBM, or Sun, or any other big patentholder?

              Besides, patent cross-licencing would be next to impossible to integrate with the GPL... The patentholder would have to not just allow Redhat or whatever to use the licenced patent, but everyone, which means that trading with a free software patent company means (effectively) surrendering your patents entirely. Not likely to get many offers on those terms...

              --
              Benjamin Coates
      • by elandal (9242) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:06PM (#3582517) Homepage
        Actually there's a very good other reason for patents: defense. Eg. if Microsoft were to charge RedHat for patent infringement (sp?), RH might be able to counter with their own patent portfolio, charging MS of infringing RH patents. That, of course, would lead to cross-licensing which is likely cheaper than going to court for patents that should never have been granted.
        • by Alan Cox (27532) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:14PM (#3582546) Homepage
          Very much so. The situation needs changing badly, but right now it forces people to play the stupid patent game either for good or for evil.

          Expect a formal clarification from the Red Hat folks about this patent and usage (we didnt think it was news). Expect more patents too. In fact I've got two applications and I need to finish writing up - which I wouldn't be doing unless I was *convinced* this was the only way to do things in the short term, and that generic GPL use would be granted

          Alan
          • by akharon (4824)
            Do you not find it ironic that with the problems you have had in the past with the US Patent Office, that you have two patent applications that you are writing up? This would seem to be like how Rosie O'Donnell is an anti-firearm advocate, yet she employs armed bodyguards.
          • by _|()|\| (159991) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:54PM (#3582655)
            I've got two [patent] applications and I need to finish writing up - which I wouldn't be doing unless I was *convinced* this was the only way to do things in the short term, and that generic GPL use would be granted

            If you're opposed to (software) patents, I hope you won't limit free licensing to GPLed software. While it may be difficult to implement, mutual defense [mit.edu] is the appropriate patent analog to the GNU GPL.

            The intersection of copyright and patent opponents is smaller than either on its own. If you are in both camps, support them separately with copyleft and mutual defense. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or something like that.

          • Isn't there some mechanism where you can pay a one-time fee of ~$1000 to register a 'public-domain patent'? Wouldn't that solve the "what if someone else patents it?" scenario?
          • In fact I've got two applications and I need to finish writing up - which I wouldn't be doing unless I was *convinced* this was the only way to do things in the short term, and that generic GPL use would be granted

            First off: I trust you, Alan, if for no other reason than you still have the bullocks to post here. Call me a lemming, but if you're down with the patent thing, then I'm fine too. I don't like patents, yet I have my name on 17 pending patent applications. I'm not sure they'll pass muster, and I'm not sure I'll care either way. They were filed a while ago, when I worked for a very pro-IP company.

            Having said that, it *is* a little weird that Red Hat is patenting stuff. The suits want CYA, the lawyers want accountability, but the guys that wrote the stuff you distribute don't like patents. I didn't either, until amazon.com decided they could patent my finger acting upon a microswitch in the mouse on my desktop, then I realized that everyone had better patent whatever they can before the unscrupulous money weasels got their act together. We're well into the 3rd act.

            IM(V)HO, patents aren't that great unless you're on the right end of the licensing agreement and I wish we didn't have to have them all. But we need to have them, if only to keep the bottom feeders of the world from reinventing the tux wheel and then patenting it out of existence. If I invent some novel "Method and Apparatus for the Extraction of Novel Nutrients from Common Playground Sand..." and then GPL/BSD/give-it-to-charity, can someone then patent a slightly reworked version and sue me for doing OSS work? Is that the precedence under which the license I pick wants to be tested? So, completely non-hypothetically, is Red Hat taking the so-called pre-emptive strike here?

            I'm hoping -- as a very long time RHAT user, and a stockholder as long as there's been stock to hold -- that you guys will use some clout and cash to take out a patent or fourteen for the "good guys", as nasty as the conept sounds. If you have a claim to something novel, than have at it, I say, as long as you give back the key bits to the world. If you don't, then someone else will just patent it and hold onto/license it. So what sort of use to regular humans will be granted with the rights given RHAT by the USPTO? Does your company have a policy for this sort of thing?

            I don't mean to grill you, but it *is* weird. Maybe I should think about patenting the process by which an OSS, for-profit company patents new ideas in order to give back to the world by protecting those ideas... :-)

            -B

          • Expect a formal clarification from the Red Hat folks about this patent and usage

            I'm intrigued about this. I hope that they'll do the right thing. I'd like to see an immediate and permanent license to anyone writing code under the GPL, as done by Raph Levien [levien.com], plus a firm statement about free licensing to code under all other OSI approved licenses on request (there can't be a blanket statement as there can with the GPL). But in addition, I'd like to see Red Hat actively working towards reform of the patent system as it stands now.

      • by King of the World (212739) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:15PM (#3582548) Journal
        Patents have nothing to do with free, open or closedness licencing. They are merely to do with a system whose intention is to prove who invented what first.

        If you don't apply for a patent and you use 'your technology' then someone else could more easily take legal action upon you for using 'their technology'.

        In this way having a patent means that you get to decide the rules under which the technology (kill me now for using that word) is used. A good patent owner will licence it under good rules, and a bad patent owner will licence under bad rules.

        So it all comes down to how we think the owners of this patent will act upon uses of their 'technology'.

        I certainly trust Redhat.

        • Uh, no, you don't have to get a patent to stop other people from patenting something. There is no such thing as a "defensive patent"--the fact that you invented and published it is all the defense you get, what you need the patent for is offensive, suing other people that use your invention. If you don't want to sue people, or milk money out of them, you can just publish your invention and not patent it.

          The fact that RedHat holds a few patents will not stop them from being sued by someone else for patent violation.

          --
          Benjamin Coates
          • No, you don't have to patent. But if someone else patents it, it will cost you a bundle to have the patent voided. A patent is thus cheap insurance.

            Frankly, I think getting a patent and promising royalty-free license (except to those who won't do the same to you) makes a stronger statement of principle than refusing to play the game. But it remains to be seen if RH will do this...

            -Ed
          • The fact that RedHat holds a few patents will not stop them from being sued by someone else for patent violation.
            Well obviously... anyone can sue anyone for anything - but a few patents under your belt makes your case stronger and clearer. It proves that your company went through a generally respected process (not respected by the public - but respected by the courts, definately)

            There is no difference between offensive patents and defensive patents - they're just patents, and it depends on how are used.

            If someone achieves a patent, but you have prior art, it's more difficult to prove that you were first because you didn't go via The System[TM]. Disproving a patent via prior art is significantly more difficult than disproving a patent via other patents.

        • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Friday May 24, 2002 @11:16PM (#3582703)
          Patents have nothing to do with free, open or closedness licencing. They are merely to do with a system whose intention is to prove who invented what first.

          You're missing the key feature of patents here. The one "proven" to invent first by virtue of a patent gets the privilege of setting arbitrary license terms for any use of the covered invention. Thus, a patent has everything to do with licensing, and it may be "closed" at the whim of the patent holder at any time.

          If it was only about proving who invented first, a system like that used for acedemic publishing would fit the bill just fine. As a matter of fact, such a system would probably do more to "promote useful arts and sciences" for software than patents will. (Remember, promoting arts and sciences was the whole motivator for patents in the first place. Patents were *not* created just to institute a new form of "ownership" so that people can bask in additional property rights.)

          Patents were originally intended to encourage people to not keep machines and manufacturing methods locked up as trade secrets, so everyone would benefit (initially from the shared knowledge, and using the invention directly after a few years). This does not match software development. Copyrights allow people to keep the actual implementation details secret for a century, so the patent disclosure doesn't do much good. Anything disclosed in the patent document can be trivially reverse engineered from the software product anyway, since all of the secrets are shipped with the product. The patent provides little if any additional knowledge to the general public. Therefore, due to the nature of software, a software patent provides essentially no value to the public in return for the monopoly granted to the patent holder.

          • You're missing the key feature of patents here. The one "proven" to invent first by virtue of a patent gets the privilege of setting arbitrary license terms for any use of the covered invention.
            You know, I could have sworn I said that - oh yes, I sez:

            "having a patent means that you get to decide the rules under which the technology [...] is used"

            Thus, a patent has everything to do with licensing, and it may be "closed" at the whim of the patent holder at any time
            I didn't say otherwise. I did say that it had nothing to do with specific types of licencing ("Patents have nothing to do with free, open or closedness licencing.") as the original post said "the only thing a patent is good for is to stop people from using an invention".

            Ok, bye now!

        • Patents have nothing to do with free, open or closedness licencing. They are merely to do with a system whose intention is to prove who invented what first.

          No. First-to-invent has no relevance to patents at all: if you invent something first but don't disclose it, it's irrelevant that you invented it first. Second, in order to establish that you invented something for the purpose of defending against other patents, a disclosure is sufficient.

          Patents are about establishing a limited monopoly on technology. You are right that that can be used for good or for bad. But the responsibility is on RedHat to explain themselves to the community clearly, at least if they want to continue to receive support from the community.

      • the only thing a patent is good for is to stop people from using an invention, or make them pay you

        Depends on whether or not you consider being allowed to use somebody else's patent a payment or not.

        Most big companies with patent portfolios don't necessarily license them out for money, they'll trade licensing rights with some other company that holds patents they want to use. I.e, if companies A and B each hold patents on some critical component of product Y, they might well mutally license them to each other to allow both to produce the product. (Or, more realistically, A needs B's patent to produce Y, and B needs A's patent to produce Z).

        Furthermore, getting the patent yourself is (these days) often the only way to easily prove "prior art" to defend yourself against some other bozo patenting your invention and charging you for it. What's known as a "defensive patent".
        • Most big companies with patent portfolios don't necessarily license them out for money, they'll trade licensing rights with some other company that holds patents they want to use.

          Not much use for open source, unless this other company RedHat's swapping patents with is willing to not just license it to RedHat, but to everybody else who gets a GPL copy...

          --
          Benjamin Coates
    • If they believe in linux as a principle of their company they won't prevent anyone else from using it, but if they simply want to make shareholders happy they might charge for it.

      Redhat is a public company. Public companies are owned by the shareholders. Shareholders are interested only in a profit. So what do you think?

  • by CatPieMan (460995) on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:43PM (#3582412)
    Won't this have the potential to hurt MS embeded OSes as well as embeded linux? Maybe Redhat is just protecting themselves from having some other company come up and steal this patent out from under them and make Redhat pay someone else to liscense something that Redhat created in the first place. Not that I am a total Redhat supporter, but, we should wait and see what happens with this one.

    -CPM

    • In a town where the mayor is handing out free guns, you'd better make sure you get some of the best guns for yourself. But the citizens would probably be better off if the mayor behaved more sensibly.

      (BTW - I don't mean to start a gun control thread, just for the sake of argument, okay? Please feel free to post a better metaphor if you can think of one.)
    • IANAL, but you don't need to take out a patent to stop someone else from patenting your invention--if you publish it before someone else patents it, their patent is invalid.

      --
      Benjamin Coates
      • True in theory, but not practice. If you hold the patent, onus is on the accused party to prove that they are using prior art. The patent office hasn't proven itself to be very devoted to spending the time to actually look for prior art on a patent tho, so someone could patent RH's tech after the fact. Red Hat may have noble intentions, only time will tell.
    • It would be much easier and cost effective to establish it as prior art. There are other ways to protect intellectual property intended for the "commons" or GPL then going to the patent office.

      As we all know current IP laws are designed for the purpose of being able to apply constraints, that is to say "no. you cannot use".

      Perhaps the greatest value of this is to preceive it as a test of weither or not a company can or will follow the FSF/GNU/GPL spirit.

      Thee is always Debian.

  • by smcavoy (114157)
    Is it not agreed in OSS community that software patents are bad?? The argument that their protecting the community is garbage. The money effort should be put into fighting software patents.
  • by BCoates (512464)
    Is it just me or do both patents end with the patch for the atomic file lookup?

    --
    Benjamin Coates
  • They don't seem to define quite what it means, but as near as I can tell, it's pretty much the same thing as the atomup updates that database systems have been doing for a few decades.

    What is there in Red Hat's patent application that is actually new?

  • by Henry V .009 (518000) on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:47PM (#3582427) Journal
    I just had an unecessarily alarmist thought. Could this be used to defeat the GNU license? Sure, you still release your source code under the GNU license, but also charge everyone for using 'your' patents.
    • by JordanH (75307) on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:54PM (#3582455) Homepage Journal
      • I just had an unecessarily alarmist thought. Could this be used to defeat the GNU license? Sure, you still release your source code under the GNU license, but also charge everyone for using 'your' patents.

      I don't think so, but maybe I don't understand what you're getting at. I think these clauses from the GPL [gnu.org] pretty much cover this potential problem (along with the GPL as a whole and the associated rights that everyone are granted who receives GPLd code):

      7. If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all. For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Program.

      If any portion of this section is held invalid or unenforceable under any particular circumstance, the balance of the section is intended to apply and the section as a whole is intended to apply in other circumstances.

      It is not the purpose of this section to induce you to infringe any patents or other property right claims or to contest validity of any such claims; this section has the sole purpose of protecting the integrity of the free software distribution system, which is implemented by public license practices. Many people have made generous contributions to the wide range of software distributed through that system in reliance on consistent application of that system; it is up to the author/donor to decide if he or she is willing to distribute software through any other system and a licensee cannot impose that choice.

      This section is intended to make thoroughly clear what is believed to be a consequence of the rest of this License.

      8. If the distribution and/or use of the Program is restricted in certain countries either by patents or by copyrighted interfaces, the original copyright holder who places the Program under this License may add an explicit geographical distribution limitation excluding those countries, so that distribution is permitted only in or among countries not thus excluded. In such case, this License incorporates the limitation as if written in the body of this License.

      ooohhhh... quoting the GPL on Slashdot... (-1:Karmawhore)

    • No, I don't think so. If we have to pay Redhat to use it, they can't distribute with violating the GPL. Oddly, if Redhat has patented Linux, I can still distribute it (but you can be sued by them for using); however I think they have to grant a royality-free license for Linux use in order to be able to distribute it themselves, (Alan Cox said something to this effect in a discussion on the real-time Linux patents, IIRC).

      I suspect this is just a defensive move to protect Linux from somebody else patenting its algorythms, and maybe to get a MAD thing going with other software vendors where RH can retaliate if they start to enforce other patents against Linux.

    • No, they cannot release under the GNU license and also protect the patent on the GPL'd software.

      However, nothing prevents them from charging proprietary software companies from using the invention described in the patent.
  • Summary (Score:3, Informative)

    by Triskaidekaphobia (580254) on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:47PM (#3582429)

    The first, "Embedded protocol objects", seems to be saying that if you have a webpage that consists of dynamic and static content then the static content can be cached for faster access. Hardly novel.

    The first, "Method and apparatus for atomic file look-up", basically says that it is a good idea if you can see if something is in a cache before requesting the operation that would put it in the cache. Again, not particularly revolutionary.

    • Great, but what about the second?
  • Pushy companies. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Decimal (154606) on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:48PM (#3582434) Homepage Journal
    Red Hat is the Microsoft of Linux... Ironically, this makes it the best weapon Linux has against Microsoft.
    • Red Hat is the Microsoft of Linux


      Let's see...let's count the similarities between RH and MS. #1, RH is the biggest Linux company. #2...oops, no number 2.


      What they heck are you talking about?

    • How is this +5 Insightful? What kind of Microsoft-like behavior has RH done in the past?
    • No. It doesn't. You can't beat Microsoft at its own game. The reason Linux scares Microsoft is because of the aspects that are NOT Microsoft's own game. Are they mounting jihad against coders of binary stuff for Linux? No, they are mounting jihad against the GPL- against mandatory cooperation and compulsory openness and the absence of things like seizing and exploiting intellectual property.

      If you are not going to trust Microsoft's threat appraisal, what gives you the idea you're better qualified to gauge threats to them? Some vague notion that to beat them you have to act like them? They like that. It's their turf, and they'll bury anyone who tries to play that way.

  • Unfortunately... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Groucho (1038)
    ...they are looking towards the future.

    If the US patent office allows you to patent knives and forks, RH is assuming that they will have to patent the spork to guarantee their future rights to use it without paying royalties.

    This just shows how sick the patent process is at the moment. I only wonder why someone hasn't patented callable functions--prior art hasn't seemed to be much of an obstacle in the past.

    G
  • Prior art. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WasterDave (20047) <davep&zedkep,com> on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:50PM (#3582443)
    There's something I do not understand about patents, like, how on earth can this be patented? Specifically the first patent:

    "Dynamic and static protocol objects are mixed together at a server and included in a dynamic reply to a communication request made by a client application."

    Ahhhhm, so a client requests something and a reply is made that is partially dynamic and partially static? So, like php then? Like perl cgi pages? Like any reporting engine ever written?

    And, check this out, step by step explainations of how the code works. This shit only exists to keep lawyers happy.

    Don't get it.
    Dave
    • by _|()|\| (159991)
      how on earth can this be patented? ... Like any reporting engine ever written?

      I'm not going to defend these patents, but keep in mind that the claims are ANDed together, not ORed. Don't read the first claim and exclaim that Red Hat patented reports. It patented a static HTTP server that uses an object cache in an O/S kernel and meets the characteristics of all twelve claims.

      The question is, as with all patents: is this a novel, non-obvious (to one skilled in the art) leap from the existing prior art? I doubt it.

  • Hard to say... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:52PM (#3582447)
    Back when RedHat was a privately owned company, I'd have had little trouble believing that any software patents they acquired would be used for White Hat purposes only.

    But RedHat is a publicly-traded company now, so it has the same "duty to the shareholders" that every other large corporation in the U.S. has. Hence, I have a lot less faith in the company regarding the use of stuff like software patents only for Good. In short, I won't be surprised at all if they use these patents to smack down other commercial Linux distributions, all for Profit at Any Cost.

    Only if a Good Guy retains a controlling share of the company would that not apply.

  • I don't even like redhat linux. At all.

    But, as much as I dislike their product, I just get the strange feeling inside, that their company isn't run by the complete and utter assholes we see everywhere else.

    To suspect them of pulling any dirty is just damn wrong. Maybe it's just me wanting at least one company out there to be ethical, some really corny wishful thinking on my part, but what have they ever done to you? They deserve an an apology.

    Besides, they might be able to stick it to M$ somehow...
    • To suspect them of pulling any dirty is just damn wrong.

      Not to mention if they were, I'm sure some of the more vocal redhat employees would say something about it.

      If Alan Cox doesn't even want to come to the USA because of ridiculous idealism (DMCA) - do we really think he wouldn't say anything about Red Hat doing unethical things?

      One of Red Hats strengths is the brain trust of talented linux hackers - even if some PHB jerk were to start closing parts of Red Hat Linux tomorrow, methinks we'd see a huge exodus of talented people leaving Red Hat.
    • But, as much as I dislike their product, I just get the strange feeling inside, that their company isn't run by the complete and utter assholes we see everywhere else.

      I suspect that you are correct. However, it's largely irrelevant whether or not the people running the company are assholes or not - the company is still required to be competitve and make a profit. Especially since it's public.

      When it comes down to it, a company will always choose profits over ethics -- else, it won't survive. This isn't to say that a company can't do good while still making a profit and doesn't mean that RedHat can't be a good member of the free-software/open source community; however, we must always be aware of where their priorities truly lie. If it comes down to it, RedHat will not hesitate to sacrifice the community in order to save itself.

      (A good read in this regard is the history of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. This is a company that has always tried to do good. Whenever it came down to it, however, they always chose profits over doing good. And for a very understandable reason -- if they hadn't, they would have been bought out by Hagen-Daas or another competitor. Nevertheless, it shows you who they really are.)
    • Well, I am a Red Hat supporter. I have bought several copies (not to say I never use CheapBytes, but I generall buy all of the x.0 releases).

      And I'm going to be watching how they handle this quite closely. I won't say that I disapprove of the move ... yet. It all depends on what they do with these patents. Totally.

      Their stock prospectus indicated that they would devote much effort to maintaining a good relationship with the Open Source community (I forget the exact wording). So they don't need to abuse this. It could be a good thing. E.g.: "Software may use this patent freely, provided it is licensed under the GPL, and the code is made available to Red Hat. Otherwise special arrangements are available. Please contact our lawyers." If they used that I would have no problem at all. But I can also imagine other scenarios. When there is so much flux, perhaps the wisest choice is to defer decision.
    • Working within the IT industry is can be frustrating. If your job is to integrate and maintain technology, you will be dependent on vendors to produce that technology. Due to economy of scale, resources, the demands of R&D, and simply "how business is done", these vendors tend to be corporations. And eventually some of them are going to screw you over.

      At this point it might be worth touching on the subject of morality. When something is labeled as "evil" it is a moral judgment. Something is opposed to one's sense of morality. One moral code often expressed within tech circles is functionality. Interoperability and functionality is a goal - anything that intentionally interferes with that goal is "evil". Business morality is often centered around profit. Anything that makes profit can be approved. Tech and business moral codes clash when technology is used to create a (often profitable) dependence on a product by limiting functionality and interoperability through technical or legal means.

      Vendors will screw over the average tech worker when the company's moral code moves from a technical one to an aggressive business one. Take a look at Silicon Valley's history. It is chock full of techies starting a business, the business growing, and then the techie is pushed out as the business-types move in. The only question is how aggressive the business types get. It is a part of how corporations work and how "business is done." A company that is "cool" now can change based on who runs it and who decides on company policy and direction.

      The double-cross might not even come from the trusted company in question. A company's assets (products, patents, and other intellectual property) often survive the company. The patent that is held "just in case" by the "cool" company of today can be sold off at pennies-on-the-dollar in tomorrow's liquidation and become a tool for its new owner's questionable, aggressive business tactics.

      Why the distrust of Redhat? Because we almost expect a double-cross. Its history, nothing personal.

      It may not be fair. But then, its not the game that we created. But the rules are well known. And Redhat should be very familiar with them by now. Knee-jerk journalism aside, Redhat should be prepared to explain their situation, their tactics, and provide a system of assurance to their customers and community they work with.

      Unless, of course, their moral code has shifted.
  • by SwellJoe (100612) on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:52PM (#3582450) Homepage
    I recall a few year back, this was discussed amongst GNU folks, and others as a mechanism to prevent proprietary vendors from locking 'us' (us being Open Source developers, users and businesses) out of important inventions.

    I have only seen one 'iffy' thing ever come out of Red Hat (the RHN server, which is an in-house secret...though they appear to be helpful with the Current developers), so I tend to believe they have no intention of using this offensively against Open Source companies or users.

    Besides, I seem to recall the GPL protects us against anyone integrating incompatibly licensed code into GPL software. TUX is part of the Linux kernel, thus it cannot be restricted or fees enforced on its use. Red Hat would have a bear of a time rewriting TUX independently of the kernel (Ingo could do it, of course), but the damage is done. Those inventions (and inventions they are...Ingo does really cool stuff, this isn't a one-click patent folks) are already in the development kernels. We (the community) already own these developments.

    So, what I'm trying to say is:

    Thank you very much, Ingo and Red Hat. I am very appreciative of the interesting inventions you have given to us. I forward to learning about them, using them, and enjoying the benefits they give us. And boy, that sure was clever of you to patent it, so that Microsoft will have a bit of trouble stepping on your toes in the future. Way to play hardball!
  • Doesn't matter (Score:5, Informative)

    by awptic (211411) <infinite.complex@com> on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:55PM (#3582464)
    The GPL requires anyone holding a patent on the software to allow others to freely use/modify it.
    From the GPL license:

    Finally, any free program is threatened constantly by software
    patents. We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free
    program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the
    program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any
    patent must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all.


    The only thing this patent prevents is from others creating proprietary versions of the technology in question; which, IMO, is a Good Thing(tm). In fact, in the thread about this on the LKML someone brought up that the FSF even encourages doing this.
    • The GPL requires anyone holding a patent on the software to allow others to freely use/modify it.
      From the GPL license:

      Yes on that piece of software, but not on the methods or technology.

    • Re:Doesn't matter (Score:2, Informative)

      by MisterBlister (539957)
      In fact, in the thread about this on the LKML someone brought up that the FSF even encourages doing this.

      Whoever brought that up is full of shit. RMS is against software patents, period, end of story.

      Yeah RMS isn't the entire FSF, but he basically sets the policy. And you won't find any official documentation or website backing up that claim that the FSF encourages patents on Free software.

      Please refrain from passing along bogus info like that in the future unless you can back it up....

    • we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all.

      Does that "everyone" cover the entire world, or only those using GPL code that incorporates the patented stuff?
  • License terms. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    One has to wonder (if their patents are granted) what their licensing terms will be.... free for open source, or a tool to try and screw other Linux distros?"

    What's the big deal? The GPL is pretty clear on this:
    So, Redhat can't use these patents in an abusive manner unless they're going to release this stuff in some kind of software that's released under a GPL-incompatible license.

    Last i checked, Redhat had a policy of releasing software they write under Free Software licenses. So unless i'm badly mistaken, or Redhat is moving away from Free Software, which i haven't heard they were doing, then this is nothing at all to worry about.

    Now, if redhat were going to announce they were going to start writing software and releasing it under non-free licenses, i would be worried indeed.

    But for now.. Haven't you people ever heard of a defensive patent? Maybe a bit unecessary, maybe a bit worrying, but this isn't the end of the world.

    - super ugly ultraman anonymous cowards filtered. if their comments aren't worth so much as a nom de plume why should i read them?
  • by tjwhaynes (114792) on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:57PM (#3582477)

    So Redhat has done some significant work on the TUX webserver and it's patentable. They should DEFINTELY file those patents.

    Now don't get me wrong. Software patents are generally bad news - they are too long (even 10 years in software is an eternity) and a lot aren't even worth the paper they are written on. But for the software industry today they are part and parcel of developing software and protecting the work that a software company has put in.

    Patents aren't like trademarks - there is no 'patent dilution' to worry about. So RedHat can be extremely selective about who is allowed to benefit from the patent (even free of charge) and who is never going to get a license. This is particularly important - MS has a vested interest in watching over a lot of the developments in the TUX webserver as TUX is the main performance competitor to IIS. If RedHat patents its best ideas, it makes a public record of the 'invention'. If MS patents something that RedHat came up with, yes, prior art may be used to fight a legal battle to have the patent nulled but that is considerably more expensive than simply patenting the good stuff first.

    Now I look forward to the day when software patents last 3 years from filing (because I dont see software patents ever going away totally). I look forward to the day when all software patents are published PRIOR to the patent being awarded so that many eyes may suggest prior art challenges. But until that day comes, Free and Open source companies had better use the weapons at hand to protect their assets. And if that means filing patents so be it.

    Cheers,

    Toby Haynes

    • But for the software industry today they are part and parcel of developing software and protecting the work that a software company has put in.

      Copyright is a protection of (intellectual) "work". If you really want to "protect" your work, don't open source it. Patents are a protection of inventions - new, original, non-obvious inventions - not just work. Just because you've done some "work", you shouldn't be able to charge people who want to do similar things.

      RedHat can be extremely selective about who is allowed to benefit from the patent (even free of charge) and who is never going to get a license.

      So now a single patent can be used to completely exclude any company, individual or group of individuals from doing something someone else did first? You really think this is a good thing?

      So open source people should beat Microsoft through patents ? Yeah, forget all this technical work, making a better, more secure and reliable product than theirs. It's too hard. Let's just hire a couple of lawyers, and keep filing patents until we get one really good one we can really screw them with. That'll really make the world a better place for 100's of millions of people, won't it.

      What if Red Hat gets sufficient patents to really hurt Microsoft financially? What happens then? If Microsoft are really hurting, they would just have to buy Red Hat. Remember that $40 billion in cash? Screw everything else in the company. Hell, it'll probably also hold up the development of Linux for a good few months. Not all the programmers will be able to find jobs elsewhere just like that, even if the Alan Cox's and similar are famous enough to do so. And then Microsoft get the patents. And then they can use them to screw over the rest of the world - especially the Linux community.

      No, using patents in this way is not good. Look on it as a necessary evil at best.

      I agree with your last paragraph, but I look forward to the day when big companies and small have all become so sick of being screwed over by patent leeches, and third-world countries with a more enlightened attitude to progress and fairness on this issue have begun overtaking the USA, that the whole concept of software patenting ideas (in the USA and everywhere else) has been thrown out.
  • Patent it before someone else does, or lose it.

  • Gotta hand it to RedHat, they may have finally found a way to make money. In a world where most every commercial distro is loosing money (or barely floating along) by playing ball the old way, RedHat has turned to a new game it would seem. Here we basically have far and away the largest commercial linux distro. They have appeared to many to be the hero of the commercial linux world. Now they are showing they're not in this business to be anyone's hero (unlike Loki). They are in it to make money.

    It reminds me of how MS came along in the very early days with dirt cheap prices and was basically the savior of the microcomputer world. before then nothing existed beyond Unix. Unix was EXPENSIVE! DOS was comparatively cheap. Microsoft seemed like everyone's buddy back then, before they started to charge exorbitant fees and put an iron-tight contract in their software in the form of a EULA.

    Since RedHat is in this world to turn a profit (and make no mistake about it, offering your products for free isn't very profitable), they are looking at an alternative way to produce. Will they be the next restrictive MS, or is this simply a neccessary "evil"?
  • If this is a counter action to be used against MS anti-GPL license then it really should be held by a well defined pro GPL party, such as the FSF.
  • by Peter Eckersley (66542) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:14PM (#3582543) Homepage
    Well, software patents are deeply flawed - they do nothing to encourage innovation, but they are used collectively to protect organisations against other software patents (sue us,and we'll sue you).

    Given that they appear to be the way of the future (even in Europe, the organised eurolinux campaign seems to be struggling to hold off the "overly enthusiastic" patent office), the Free Software community should definitely use them when they discover nifty algorithms.

    As someone above pointed out, the GPL guarantees that any GPL-dependent organisation (such as RedHat) will have to license software patents on a royalty-free basis for GPL software. It would be better to license them for all DFSG-free [debian.org] code. Note that such a license would not apply if, for example, Microsoft took some *BSD code an incorporated it in Win2k, because it's no longer DFSG-free.

    The only question then is whether you charge royalties to proprietary software firms for use of the patented techniques, or whether you exclude them completely...

  • Gilmore Patent (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geoffsmith (161376) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:17PM (#3582558) Homepage
    I think Redhat should Gilmore Patent these ideas. The Gilmore Patent was proposed by John Gilmore ( I saw him present this idea at a Foresight Conference ) Basic concept is that a Gilmore Patent is like the GPL of the patent world, once you Gilmore Patent something only companies who have Gilmore Patents (or no patents at all) may use the patent royalty-free.

    The only thing that concerns me about this idea is that it seems like it might be easily circumventable, you could do something like set up a subsidiary that doesn't have any patents, and then funnel the money back to the parent company. Any IP lawyers out there have a feasibility assessment of this idea?

    Websurfing done right! StumbleUpon [stumbleupon.com]
    • Re:Gilmore Patent (Score:2, Interesting)

      by akharon (4824)
      IBM and HP are two companies that are beginning to use linux extensively, yet they also have numerous patents, both in their posession and pending. Are you sure you want to alienate the two largest friends linux has on a religious basis?
      • Why would a Gilmore patent alienate IBM and HP? They just have to pay license fees, like with a regular patent. And since they are a commercial entity, they can afford to. The Gilmore Patent does not put any more restrictions on its use that a regular patent, and it is most definitely not "religious."
    • It sounds like a reasonable idea. Basically, it's just a fancy way of saying "cross licensing." In other words, if you license me your patents under these terms, I will license you my patents under the same terms. This is done on a daily basis by large corporations.

      The only possible problem is that you will likely never see revenue from the patent, from other sources. Most licensees will insist on a "favored nation clause" that basically says that they won't be charged more than any other licensee. Clearly in this case, that would not be possible. So, I doubt you'd find many takers for the license. Remember that getting a patent is relatively expensive. If you hire a patent attorney, it'll run between $10-15K, just for the US. If you do it on your own, expect to spend 100 hours if you're inexperienced (about 40 with experience), and approximately $2000 for a patent. If you want international protection, multiply by 10 or 20. So, if you'll never see revenue from it, you're unlikely to get funding based on it, and you can't trade it for protection against other "evil" guys, what's the point of spending the money? You'd be better of using either Statutory Invention Registrations (cheaper, no examination, simply publishes the idea & documents your date), or publishing your ideas.

      Thalia
  • Could somebody please explain to me why software should be excluded from patenting? If it's a legitimate innovation (i.e. not Microsoft "innovation") why shouldn't it be patentable?

    It is a separate matter that the vast majority of the software patents are absolute garbage (like the (in)famous one-click shopping), but so are the patents in other areas (like Rambus, and that guy who patented sideways swinging...)
    • Because patents are for inventions, and programs aren't inventions any more than books (which are not patentable) or math formulas (ditto) are.

      --
      Benjamin Coates
    • >>Could somebody please explain to me why software should be excluded from patenting? If it's a legitimate innovation (i.e. not Microsoft "innovation") why shouldn't it be patentable?

      Software is too easy.

      If you start dressing it up with fancy vocabulary you can make it seem difficult. For example method and protocol objects sounds really difficult but if you just want to build a webserver into the kernel it's under 200 lines of code. Sure that's khttp vs TUX but you could just add 100 lines of code at a time and very soon khttp would be as good as TUX. Which 100 lines of code is worth a patent?

      Bio-engineering is different because each product is just one or two ideas. Software is built from combining ideas. Any large project is 1000's of little ideas. If 100 of those ideas are patented what are you going to do?

      The truth is that part of the reason that software seems different is because I am involved in it. If I made medicine in my spare time then I'd probably think those type of patents were bad too.

    • My new patent:

      void ()
      {
      cout"Hello USA"
      }

      No prior art, the closest thing is Hello World program, but it's not the same thing. It's a new invention, so should I be able to patent it and collect royalties everytime the code is used? Software patents are just mushy things that don't really help much. You don't want people using your code, close the source.
  • The patents will never be granted because they don't represent original work. We can prove this by the fact that open source development consists entirely of chasing tail lights, and never involves doing anything original. We know that's true because Microsoft says so. Q.E.D.
  • Legitimate Reason? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PRickard (16563) <prNO@SPAMms-bc.com> on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:59PM (#3582668) Homepage

    Maybe someone at Red Hat thought they should get a patent on it before some asshole from another company did. If Red Hat patents the technology they can let anybody or nobody use it - at least they have control. Some outside group might have gotten a patent on the concept and held it hostage, forcing all users to pay.

    I'm not a fan of silly IP actions, but Red Hat filing for a patent is NOT the same as Red Hat preventing others from using the technology. There are occasionally good reasons for this stuff and you should wait and see what the company does before you jump on them.

    • by Steffen (84872)
      I think you are sort of missing the point:

      The idea of "patenting it before some other asshole does" is unreasonable. Once I invent something, the patent cannot be granted to someone else who patents it post that invention because it is not an original work. If I can prove prior art (ie that I made the invention before that time), the patent will not be granted/invalidated.
  • Ok, Red Hat's going to be the next microsoft at this rate.. right? I mean.. patents.. didn't they have odd licensing and odd software in there somewhere? A big company for the whole desktop thing and such.. least, I could see it going there. That's right. Competitive upgrades from other linux distros. That was bashed a bit on the register, I believe..

    But now all are complaining about how it's patenting things.. Well, that may be, but going by the title of the patents, they look like they could be actual legitimate patents. Nothing like the whole wheel thing that went on.

    So.. they might be on the way to proprietary code, closed source, and all that.. Well, GNU will keep it open. and we all like open because, unlike how Micro$oft does it, it allows people to fix bugs and work with the code they're given. So.. it's not bad there, either, imo. Or at least it can't be.

    So.. give Redhat a break. They have to make money some way, and this may be what works on their end. Even doing what it's doing, it seems to be being nice.

    Just my few pennies. But what do I know.

    -DrkShadow
  • What would the ramafications be of requiring the use of technology described by a patent to be open source? Microsoft would have no way to incorporate a kernel-based web server into their IIS product without opening significant amounts of source code to the public.
  • Paranoia Runs Deep (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GroundBounce (20126) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @01:48AM (#3583070)
    "Screw" other Linux distributions? Wow.

    Of course, RedHat has to *compete* with other Linux distributions, but "screw" them? I seriously doubt it.

    Red Hat is not my favorite distro (although it is one of several that I use), but It's a pisser to see all the irrational, unfounded RedHat bashing that goes on.

    Red Hat is one of the biggest Linux distributors (probably *the* biggest here in the US), and many people seem to feel that just because they are big, they are also evil.

    First of all, TUX (and most everything else that Red Hat has added to its Linux distro) is licensed under the GPL, and others have pointed out that the GPL provides that a free license effectively be granted for any patented part of the code. (The method and apparatus are still protected, which gives them the protections they are trying to get against MS and others using the technology in a proprietary product). On this point alone, any fears of Red Hat screwing other Linux distributions seems little more than paranoia.

    Red Hat is by no means a perfect company (is there such a thing in the real world?), but they have gone out of their way many times to help and assist the goals of Linux and open source in general. Of course doing something for Linux as a whole also benefits Red Hat, but because of the nature of open source it also benefits everyone as well.

    Many people don't seem to realize that because they are bigger than most Linux distributors, they have some extra reasources that others don't have to apply to general causes. For example, pushing Linux in education, lobbying to fight really bad laws like the DMCA and the Hollings Disney protection act, providing the credibility and support to get Linux into large corporations, and many other things that in the end will benefit everyone in the OSS world.

    Moreover, Microsoft has shown the ability to steal ideas from others. Software patents may be bad in general, but Red Hat is actually acting responsibly to protect IP that they've licensed under the GPL. Assuming the patents are valid, which I'm admittedly not in a position to evaluate, this will give them the ability to further protect the ideas in the GPL'd code from abuses by MS and others while still making the technology transparently and freely available to the open source community. Because the code is GPL's, the patents are actually a benefit rather than a liability.
  • It seems to me like the "method and apparatus for atomic file look-up" is an old technique. See, for example, Stanford's Cache Kernel [stanford.edu], which is entirely built around the idea of the kernel keeping caches (address space translation, file name translation, etc.) and faulting to user mode processes.
  • Ok, first off, I don't see this as a big deal. I had a small lecture on patent law from my dad (IANAL, but he is!). Basically, if anyone should make us feel safe patenting things its Red Hat (or Mandrake, or Suse, or any other linux distro).

    The more patents that the Open Source community can secure, the more software that can be developed open source without fear of MS, Adobe, and other proprietary software vendors saying "Hey you can't do that without paying us royalties we have the patent".

    All of you with your conspiracy theories about Red Hat trying to make linux proprietary are nuts. They know very well that if they did that, it would mean +90% of their customers would instantly abandon ship in the name of Free Software.

    In talking with my father, the best thing Open Source software can do is apply for patents, while this causes the "inventions" to be owned by someone instead of "the community", there is no law that says if you have a patent you have to charge royalties. Therefore, the more "free patents" we can get, the more software/ideas/code is protected from proprietary companies who, if they had the patent would charge royalties.
  • by Veteran (203989) on Saturday May 25, 2002 @07:40AM (#3583586)
    The problem is not that Red Hat filed for the patents - the problem is that they could file for the patents.

    Software patents are ridiculous - they are the work of ONE MAN who both pushed the idea as a practice and later became a judge and ruled on the legality of his own creation! . Can you say "conflict of interest"? Historically software was properly ruled out as being unpatenable.

  • RedHat is a tinv company compared to Microsoft, so I think the screaming, "RedHat goes to Redmond" is a bit premature. They are of course trying to compete with other distros or else they would not have offered those competitive upgrades for Mandrake and SuSE users. I don't think they are either as bad as some claim (rpm's etc) or as user friendly as SuSE or Mandrake. It's a company trying to make some money in fairly difficult times.

    I really would wait and see what happens. If they start throwing cease and desists and legal suites around, that would be a better time to start an outcry.
  • And so it begins, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    I can't blame RedHat, they are in this for the business, you can't give away everything if you are going to make a profit.

    But I can't say that I like these kinds of patents, the are not good for a free market, for healthy competition, nor for non-profit software or the users.

    Something needs to be done.
  • There has been no official statement on this yet, and probably the final wording of the license isn't done yet, but in short, this will not be used against any open source projects or companies.

    Software patents are evil, yes. But if you can't get rid of them, you unfortunately have to play the dirty game if you don't want to be sued for infringing on patents like "text in a window".

    There are several things I totally dislike about Red Hat (such as their ultimately stupid choice of default desktops), but there are plenty of other things that keep me here, like the strong commitment to Open Source.
    If that were to change, I'd be out of here the same day.

    As long as you see my posting from a *@*redhat* address, don't worry about things like this.

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