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Patents Open Source Software

Open Source — the Last Patent Defense? 52

dp619 writes "A developer might fly under the patent troll radar until she makes it big, and then it's usually open season. Apple just shared that it has faced off 92 lawsuits over just 3 years. Even Google's ad business is at risk. FOSS attorney Heather Meeker has blogged at the Outercurve Foundation on what to consider and what to learn if you're ever sued for patent infringement. 'There have been at least two cases where defendants have successfully used open source license enforcement as a defensive tactic in a patent lawsuit. ... In both these cases, the patent plaintiff was using open source software of the defendant, and the patent defendant discovered a violation of the applicable open source license that it used to turn the tables on the plaintiff. In this way, open source license enforcement can be a substitute for a more traditional retaliatory patent claim.' Meeker also examines how provisions of open source licenses can deflate a patent troll's litigation and shift the balance in favor of the defense."
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Open Source — the Last Patent Defense?

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  • by LF11 ( 18760 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @09:23AM (#46227707) Homepage
    I am enjoying seeing this drama play out. I didn't see this coming, but it is fun to watch.
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      Open Source and patents are entirely different subjects.
      • by LF11 ( 18760 )
        True, but they are both being utilized in these legal wars. Open source is being used as a tool to end patent disputes. I like it.
      • by leuk_he ( 194174 )

        RTFA please. If the attacker illegally uses the open source that has a patent clause, or the attacker contributed to software the license can have a considerable impact.

  • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @09:34AM (#46227781)

    In these cases, the patent holder sues an OSS developer and it turns out that the patented produce contained source from the defending code.

    Defence then either says "ha, but the licence you accepted when you took our code contains a patent licence grant" (eg Apache licence) and therefore the defence is legitimately licenced to use the patent, or says "ha, you used our code illegally, cease and desist selling your product".

    Trolls don't tend to actually have products, so this really doesn't apply here.

    • by reebmmm ( 939463 )

      Spot on. The linked article is ridiculous. The facts of the cases (both Jacobsen v. Katzer and Twin Peaks v. Red Hat) referenced as a use of a OSS license in defense of a patent infringement claim did not involve trolls and did not involve a defense to patent infringement. They had an independent copyright claim.

      That's not a "tactic" and it's not reproducible defense. You might as well say, "if you want to defend against patent trolls, you should get a contract with the trolls that they'll breach." Or,

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      It's sufficient that you can prove that the troll somewhere uses your open source software. E.g. if their website runs on Apache, they aren't allowed to sue anyone ever contributing to the Apache project, as they agreed in the license not to sue the contributors.
      • by reebmmm ( 939463 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @11:49AM (#46228955)

        Not true. Not true at all. The Apache 2.0 license doesn't prevent a user of Apache-licensed software from suing. It's a defensive patent clause: it deprives the contributor of patent enforcement rights as it relates to a contribution, but allows them to sue a user for patent infringement if they're sued first. If a troll sues a "Contributor" for patent infringement, then the Contributor can sue the troll. So, a troll could use Apache all day long and sue Contributors all day long without a license violation.

        3. Grant of Patent License. Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, each Contributor hereby grants to You a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable (except as stated in this section) patent license to make, have made, use, offer to sell, sell, import, and otherwise transfer the Work, where such license applies only to those patent claims licensable by such Contributor that are necessarily infringed by their Contribution(s) alone or by combination of their Contribution(s) with the Work to which such Contribution(s) was submitted. If You institute patent litigation against any entity (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that the Work or a Contribution incorporated within the Work constitutes direct or contributory patent infringement, then any patent licenses granted to You under this License for that Work shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed.

        Similarly, GPLv3 has a patent license. It affects contributors and distributors, not "users."

        11. Patents.
        A “contributor” is a copyright holder who authorizes use under this License of the Program or a work on which the Program is based. The work thus licensed is called the contributor's “contributor version”.

        A contributor's “essential patent claims” are all patent claims owned or controlled by the contributor, whether already acquired or hereafter acquired, that would be infringed by some manner, permitted by this License, of making, using, or selling its contributor version, but do not include claims that would be infringed only as a consequence of further modification of the contributor version. For purposes of this definition, “control” includes the right to grant patent sublicenses in a manner consistent with the requirements of this License.

        Each contributor grants you a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free patent license under the contributor's essential patent claims, to make, use, sell, offer for sale, import and otherwise run, modify and propagate the contents of its contributor version.

        In the following three paragraphs, a “patent license” is any express agreement or commitment, however denominated, not to enforce a patent (such as an express permission to practice a patent or covenant not to sue for patent infringement). To “grant” such a patent license to a party means to make such an agreement or commitment not to enforce a patent against the party.

        If you convey a covered work, knowingly relying on a patent license, and the Corresponding Source of the work is not available for anyone to copy, free of charge and under the terms of this License, through a publicly available network server or other readily accessible means, then you must either (1) cause the Corresponding Source to be so available, or (2) arrange to deprive yourself of the benefit of the patent license for this particular work, or (3) arrange, in a manner consistent with the requirements of this License, to extend the patent license to downstream recipients. “Knowingly relying” means you have actual knowledge that, but for the patent license, your conveying the covered work in a country, or your recipient's use of the covered work in a country, would infringe one or more identifiable patents in that country that you have reason to believe are valid.

        If, pursuant to or in connection with a single transaction or arr

  • Use GPL and AGPL, not that damn BSD
    • by Lennie ( 16154 )

      And don't forget you have the option to use LGPL for libraries which, to me, always seems like a better idea than straight GPL or AGPL.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Groklaw.net was the *best* place to get data about software patent and lawsuit weirdness. PJ's soft, sensible voice explained in calm terms the nature of hte problems, and cheered on people doing their very best for their clients and for quality software. I can just hear PJ's description of this in the few audio recordings of her voice, or in her gentle written style.

    Too bad Groklaw was cut off becuase email cannot be considered secure with NSA monitoring. It's still a great historical archive of analysis o

  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @10:14AM (#46228075)

    Few of the open source patents do not address patents. GPLv3, which is a genuinely "free as in speech" license, and the recent Apache icenses, do deal with patents.

    The MIT license and most of the BSD licenses *do not* handle patents well. The FreeBSD license, funded now by Apple, now very specifically does *)not* grant patent protection, to protect Apple's patents from encroachment.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      I thought they addressed copyright, not patent protection? Can you explain how a GPLv3 license protects me from a patent troll.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Both Apache2 and GPL have a patent grant, and a patent retaliation clause in them.

        2 and 3 clause BSD were created in a time before people thought software patents were a major thing to worry about. One can contribute patented code to a BSD project, wait for it to ship to users and sue everyone, all perfectly legal. Apache2 and GPL address this by requiring patent grants as part of the license.

        • by dkf ( 304284 ) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @12:13PM (#46229203) Homepage

          Both Apache2 and GPL have a patent grant, and a patent retaliation clause in them.

          But neither really protects against the trolls; trolls work on the principle of shaking you down with the threat of very expensive court action, and there's the risk of having the court decide against you anyway. If the court decides that the troll's patent is valid and applies, the license doesn't get you out of trouble except in the case that it's the troll's own code or that a transferrable license has actually been granted to whoever donated the code and the troll was trying to brush that little fact under the carpet.

          There aren't any magical short cuts round legal problems. Just areas that are known to be thorny.

          • Clear language and being able to refer people to the Apache Foundation or the FSF for clarification on the license has certainly helped _me_, and my clients, deal with patent trolls. It also helps deal with patent fear mongering and corporate lawyers who have not been well educated on these licenses.

  • Legal powers are like invisible guns to peoples' heads, and enforcement is like pulling the trigger. The solution to the problem of guns is not no guns, nor more guns, but possibly fewer guns and an absolute requirement on a lack of egotistical greedy selfish intent in anybody before they're allowed to go near a gun. Human greed and selfishness is the problem, and if we don't fix that, we're fuxked whether or not patent lawsuits are involved.

    • In the case of patents and copyrights, no guns does seem like not just a good solution, but ultimately the only solution. Drop the monopoly protection enforced by government fiat through artificial scarcity, and the trolls won't have those weapons. If there aren't any monopolies, there won't be any fights over them. And there won't be any chilling effects from good people bending over backwards to avoid being in one of those fights.

      I agree about greed and selfishness. For nearly all of history, we hav

    • In other words, to quote Douglas Adams:

      To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

    • Human greed and selfishness is the problem, and if we don't fix that, we're fuxked

      Strongly disagree. Greed & selfishness are constants throughout history. However, while no legal system is perfect, not all of them are systemically biased to the point of illegitimacy like the current American system.

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.