Twenty years ago, Terry Welch's improvement on Lempel-Ziv compression appeared in IEEE Computer magazine. The authors of unix 'compress' and the GIF standard incorporated that algorithm without realizing it was patent-pending. When the submarine patent surfaced ten years later, its new owner Unisys intimidated developers and web authors into moving away from GIFs, inspiring the creation of a better standard, though sadly still a less popular one. Today, July 7, 2004, Unisys's last LZW patent (in Canada) expires, leaving GIF once again free... almost. See, there's the small matter of IBM's patent, granted on the same algorithm, which is valid for another two years. That still has a chilling effect on GIF development, though the consensus seems to be that IBM would lose any court action it tried to bring. So how about it, IBM? You've got nothing to lose! Want to make a lot of geeks happy and release that final patent into the public domain?
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