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Round 2 in the EU Patent Fight, a Pure Software Act Proposal, and CoLinux
Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 06:12 PM EDT

Did you imagine that the fight over patents in Europe had been settled when Parliament voted those amendments?

I have just heard from James Heald, of FFII the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, who tells me it's back to square one. FFII is a non-profit association "dedicated to the spread of data processing literacy" and which "supports the development of public information goods based on copyright, free competition, and open standards".

Nokia in particular didn't like the amendments and neither did the Irish Presidency of the European Union, it seems, because its draft text now completely ignores all the amendments:

"After months of closed back room discussions, the Irish Presidency of the European Union has referred the proposed EU Directive on software patents back up to 'political' level. The Irish want members of the Council of Ministers of the member states to agree to drop all objections by May. The Presidency proposed draft text rejects all clarifying amendments made by the European Parliament in September 2003 and instead pushes for direct patentability of computer programs, data structures and process descriptions.

"A last ditch attempt by the Luxembourg delegation to ensure interoperability with patented standards was rejected. The Patent Department at Nokia is collecting signatures from top company executives for a 'Call for Action' in favour of the Presidency text. In the other corner, supporters of the European Parliament's position have arranged conferences to explain the dangers of software patents, and are mobilising for a 'net strike' and a rally in Brussels on April 14th under the slogan 'No Software Patents -- Power to the Parliament. They are hoping for a repeat of the impact of similar actions in the run-up to September 2003, which helped convince the European Parliament to vote clearly against software patents."

So round two begins.

I find it comical that a protest sign says, Power to the Parliament. FFII's press release tells the full story, which is reproduced on LWN. While you are there, you might like to read an article I wrote on Utah's new antispyware law.

Simson Garfinkle is proposing federal legislation on spyware. He would like labeling, a kind of Pure Software Act:

"But there is another way to fight spyware—an approach that would work because the authors are legitimate organizations. Congress could pass legislation requiring that software distributed in the United States come with product labels that would reveal to consumers specific functions built into the programs. Such legislation would likely have the same kind of pro-consumer results as the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906—the legislation that is responsible for today’s labels on food and drugs. . . .

"Uniform standards for labeling software wouldn’t replace the need for license agreements, but they would make it harder for companies to bury a program’s functions. Such legislation—call it the Pure Software Act of 2006—would call for the Federal Trade Commission to establish standards for the mandatory labeling of all computer programs that are distributed within the United States. A labeling requirement would force makers of spyware to reveal their program’s hidden features."

He suggests icons that tell you that a program runs at boot, calls home, alters your operating system, displays popups, lets other programs take over your computer, keeps track of what you are doing, self-updates, or can't be uninstalled. I believe that would effectively put Microsoft and RealPlayer out of business. I guess we can expect, therefore, that it is unlikely to become law. Judging from the EU story, maybe it's better if legislators stay out of software, anyway.

Speaking of monopolies, a computer science student in Israel is reported to have developed something called CoLinux, together with some Japanese programmers, which they say is "the first working free and open source method for optimally running Linux on Microsoft Windows natively":

"Shahar Shemesh, a member of the Israeli open source forum, explains said [sic] the advantage of the application for large organizations is that it allows them to make large savings by running systems on the same machine, which until now required separate computers.

"Aloni's project, called CoLinux, was released on the Web a month ago, but is only at a trial stage. Pini Cohen a senior informations systems analyst at computer research company Meta Group Israel has called the development 'an important stage in breaking Microsoft's monopoly.'"

CoLinux stands for Cooperative Linux, and here's how it is described on the CoLinux website:

"Cooperative Linux is the first working free and open source method for optimally running Linux on Microsoft Windows natively. More generally, Cooperative Linux (short-named coLinux) is a port of the Linux kernel that allows it to run cooperatively alongside another operating system on a single machine. For instance, it allows one to freely run Linux on Windows 2000/XP, without using a commercial PC virtualization software such as VMware, in a way which is much more optimal than using any general purpose PC virtualization software. In its current condition, it allows us to run the KNOPPIX Japanese Edition on Windows (see Screenshots)."

Here is the CoLinux Wiki, where you can find the FAQ. No comment yet from Microsoft. O'Reilly has more.

Heald also explains something about the Microsoft patent application on Word files in XML. It doesn't relate directly to Open Office and current Word files, he says, because Open Office uses a bundle of XML files, whereas MS's patent is for storing the full information content of the file in a single XML doc. However, if the patent goes through, it may make it impossible for Open Office to interoperate with *future* versions of MSWord. He compares it to something from the European commission FAQ on their MS antitrust ruling, which (if software patents are confirmed in Europe) could effectively prevent Samba and any other free software from inter-operating:

Q.: Does Microsoft have intellectual property over the interface information to be disclosed?

A.: The Commission is not seeking disclosure of Microsoft's source code. The Commission does not exclude that the information that the Decision obliges Microsoft to disclose might be protected by intellectual property rights in the EU. To the extent that it is, the Decision finds that in line with the relevant jurisprudence, the exceptional circumstances of the case (Microsoft's overwhelming dominance, indispensability of the interface information, risk of elimination of competition in the market) would mandate such disclosure.

Q.: How will the Commission ensure that Microsoft does not exclude competitors from the market by setting very high royalties for the information in question?

A.: To the extent that any of the information in question is protected by intellectual property rights in the EEA, Microsoft is entitled to reasonable remuneration. It will be the role of the Monitoring Trustee, under the authority of the Commission, to ensure that Microsoft does not charge too high a price for the information.

Groklaw published an article back in November, "Microsoft's Customer Lock-in and Competition Lock-out" by Paul Rouleau, and it seems worth it to republish one pertinent section in the current context.


Microsoft's Customer Lock-in and Competition Lock-out
~ by Paul Rouleau

. . . . A recurring theme in customer lock-in attempts is to place obstacles to developers of interoperability products, or at least to put some form of burden that increase the costs and risks of implementing interoperability solutions. If there is no reasonable mean to implement interoperability, then Microsoft customers have no practical migration path to alternative solutions, even if such alternatives exist in the marketplace.

Proprietary and confidential file formats and APIs are examples of obstacles impairing interoperability. Developers need to perform reverse engineering to overcome these obstacles. Anything that delays or impose a burden on developers performing reverse engineering contributes to increased Microsoft customer lock-in. One must pay particular attention to various forms of burdens specifically applicable to FOSS development. This type of burden escapes the attention of regulators and business analysts because practices that are intolerable to FOSS are often acceptable in the commercial world. However the current weakness of Microsoft customer lock-in is primarily attributable to the vitality of the FOSS alternatives. This kind of selective burden impacts Microsoft's primary competition while retaining a varnish of legitimacy.

Without discussing the legalities, the question here is simply whether Microsoft customers have or do not have a usable migration path and if developers can or cannot develop interoperable software.

File format lock-in : Office 2003

After a period of relative stability in the Office file formats, Microsoft again began playing the incompatible file format game. Although the file formats were based on the XML standard, they used an undisclosed and proprietary schema (as opposed to, for example, the format which is a published schema.) Files using this format could only be manipulated using the Microsoft Office API. The EULA for this API contains interesting clauses:

you must not permit further redistribution of the Redistributable Components by your end-user customers; ...

4. LIMITATIONS ON REVERSE ENGINEERING, DECOMPILATION, AND DISASSEMBLY. You may not reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the Software, except and only to the extent that such activity is expressly permitted by applicable law notwithstanding this limitation.

The restriction on redistribution effectively prevents distributing any software that uses this API under any form of FOSS license. The limitations on reverse engineering need not be discussed again. Together, the two clauses help enforce a file format lock-in.

Its appears that Microsoft have now changed their mind. They seem to no longer want to keep the schema secret. On Monday November 17th 2003, Microsoft has allowed the publication of their schema, thereby effectively opening the Office file formats. However, this publication has strings attached. For instance, the schema may be patented:

'Microsoft may have patents and/or patent applications that are necessary for you to license in order to make, sell, or distribute software programs that read or write files that comply with the Microsoft specifications for the Office Schemas.'

Does Microsoft own patents on the schematas or not? Are schematas patentable? A schema is a data format, not an algorithm or process, so the question deserves to be raised. There is more. If a developer makes use of the schema, Microsoft requires the resulting software to be licensed from them:

'If you distribute, license or sell a Licensed Implementation, this license is conditioned upon you requiring that the following notice be prominently displayed in all copies and derivative works of your source code and in copies of the documentation and licenses associated with your Licensed Implementation:

'This product may incorporate intellectual property owned by Microsoft Corporation. The terms and conditions upon which Microsoft is licensing such intellectual property may be found at

'By including the above notice in a Licensed Implementation, you will be deemed to have accepted the terms and conditions of this license. You are not licensed to distribute a Licensed Implementation under license terms and conditions that prohibit the terms and conditions of this license. You are not licensed to sublicense or transfer your rights.'

"The BSD-style advertising clause is well-known to be incompatible with the GPL but that is the least of the problems.

  • The developer is required to acknowledge some undisclosed 'intellectual property' that may or may not be present in his own code.

  • The developer is not licensed to transfer or sublicense his rights. The recipient of the software must obtain a license directly from Microsoft under terms and conditions that may be found though an hyperlink. Microsoft has complete control on the page referred to by the link. Might they change it? Can they stop offering the license, thereby halting the licensees from further distributing their products? What guarantees are there?
  • Note also that the developer is not licensed to distribute software that prohibits Microsoft's own terms and conditions. Would Microsoft choose license terms and conditions to invalidate any distribution license they dislike? Combined with the hyperlink, does that mean Microsoft has some kind of after-the-fact veto power on the developer's preferred license?
  • Now that the specifications are public, how could developers code applications without requiring Microsoft's license? Does this publication impose on developers some burden to prove clean-room reverse engineering? Is Microsoft positioning itself for future litigation?

A patent available under a royalty-free license is better than a patent that requires a royalty. But there is more than a patent involved in this license. Under the guise of promoting openness, they seem to have created a legal quagmire that may put in jeopardy any software using the schema. The file format may no longer be secret, but using it will scare your lawyer. These terms are most damaging to FOSS developers. I don't see a way to write open source code under these conditions.The Open Source Definition clause 3 states:

'The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.'

How could that be, if Microsoft can change the terms and conditions at will? Read also Clause 7:

'The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.'

This is clear. Microsoft is attempting to force the execution of an additional license on top of the base, open source license. A true open source license can't allow that. For those of you that prefer the concept of Free Software, the FSF puts it this way:

'In order for these freedoms to be real, they must be irrevocable as long as you do nothing wrong; if the developer of the software has the power to revoke the license, without your doing anything to give cause, the software is not free.'


Round 2 in the EU Patent Fight, a Pure Software Act Proposal, and CoLinux | 189 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Authored by: grouch on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 09:01 PM EDT
Corrections here, please.

Can you trust your computer?

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Typos - Authored by: grouch on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 09:08 PM EDT
  • Typos - Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 09:23 PM EDT
  • Typos - Authored by: JeR on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 07:25 PM EDT
  • Typos - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, April 12 2004 @ 03:33 PM EDT
  • Typos - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, April 12 2004 @ 03:50 PM EDT
    • Typos - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, April 12 2004 @ 04:00 PM EDT
arms race and tragedy of commons
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 09:31 PM EDT
Problem is, countries gain by allowing software
patents for themselves. There is a tragedy of the
commons here, since worldwide humanity suffers.
The USA allows software patents, and Europe has
no power to change this. So it is only natural
that Europe will perform the same selfish action
of allowing software patents.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Can a license or contract change terms after agreement?
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 09:53 PM EDT
I thought that was a dirty trick that companies like WalMart are using, but that
it wasn't really valid. I've seen more and more contracts include something
like "and you agree to abide by the terms and conditions outlined at
http://somwhere/blah/tos.html". A lawyer friend once explained to me that
a contract had to be fixed at the time it was agreed to and could only be
ammended with agreement from both parties. How does this all work?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Round 2 in the EU Patent Fight, a Pure Software Act Proposal, and CoLinux
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 10:04 PM EDT
Some nasty FUD

[ Reply to This | # ]

Open XML
Authored by: Scott Dunn on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 10:07 PM EDT
One of the reasons for MS's monopoly is that their software became so prevalent
through retail purchases and piracy, that it became a standard for governments
to adopt. History shows us that all levels of American government have
specified MS software at one point or another in their IT contracts.

They did this to provide interoperability between agencies, so all agencies had
to use the same programs. What if all agencies had to create documents adhering
to the same standards, but they could use any program they wanted to do this?

This is where the Open Office standard comes in. Setting document standards
through government agencies can be accomplished in the rule making processes.
For example, under the Federal Administrative Procedures Act, agencies propose
regulations, seek public comment on the proposed rule and the head of the agency
approves the rule, with modifications and amendments based on public comments.
California has their own version of this act, and I think that just about every
state and municipal government has their own version, too.

We could be involved in this process, starting at any level. A set of
intergovernmental document standards based on Open Office or a generic XML
schema would make sense. Not only that, such a standard could force any vendor
to comply if it wanted the government software sales. Of course, a necessary
condition for a government contract, is to require the vendor (including MS) to
make this format a function of their software and available to the public if
they want government business. So anyone using MS (or any other vendor’s)
software could produce documents in the open format if they wanted to.

There is nothing wrong with governments all over the world wanting documents
they could all read with software of their choice. Therefore, there would be no
legal remedy for MS – or any other “looking for lock-in” vendor. Didn’t MS
purchase a SCO license to make their products work better with UNIX? Then they
won’t mind this little document standard, either.

Also, PJ kindly noted recently that the four biggest countries of Asia have
signed an agreement to work together on their own version of Linux. They could
easily adopt an open XML schema and release it under the GPL. If MS wants to
play games with licenses, the Linux world can do the same back to them.


Scott Dunn
Student, Writer and comedian

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft's schemas
Authored by: lithium on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 10:32 PM EDT
This article appeared in the Register a few months ago, which contains a small amount of vaguely relavent information.

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT: Canadian copyright
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 10:33 PM EDT
After the Canadian music industry lost its case against downloading, the prime
minister reacted by saying that the copyright act needed to be fixed.

Is there any organized 'resistance' to this?

I want to write a letter to my mp. I'd like it to be convincing and not sound
like a rant. I think that the general form of the letter would be to advise
against a knee-jerk reaction and to suggest a careful review of all ip related
laws. The proper legal framework could make Canada a hotbed of innovation with
its economic benefits. The wrong framework could make us a nation of
techno-serfs paying license fees to Walt Disney and Microsoft forever.

----Must resist urge to rant. Must resist urge to rant. Must res...

[ Reply to This | # ]

Round 2 in the Patent WAR
Authored by: bbaston on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 10:41 PM EDT
Repost from 2 days ago is pertinent here?

Microsoft Has Started the PATENT WAR

Authored by: bbaston on Thursday, April 08 2004 @ 02:45 PM EDT

Many, including myself, have predicted patents as the way Microsoft (and now
with partner Sun) will attack in any way possible to protect its user
base,thereby forcing use of its products, proprietary data formats and other
access methods.

The subject patent clearly is intended to exclude non-licensees from converting
Microsoft Office files to AND from competing office suites such as AbiWord*,, etc.

IMHO, we should object to this patent with the highest priority and urgency, and
establish a fund to pursue this approach to creating USER LOCK IN around the
world and in every media.

A convicted monopolist should NOT be allowed to hold patents anywhere after
their conviction. Using patents as a means to continue the monopoly has now been
exercised by Microsoft. They have done so in a way that allows them to say that
this is not their intent, and they will so state.

Microsoft will claim that the GPL should be altered so that interface licenses
can be purchased. They will raise havock in every way they can, to control the
documents created by the public, so that the creator cannot escape paying
Microsoft a fee to access their own intellectual creations!

This violates the intent of monopoly convictions accessed against Microsoft so
far. As much as I expected this to happen, I am still incredulous at the gaul of
Bill Gates.

Gaul as in captured territories of the Roman Empire, then France and Italy,
today meaning Microsoft is determined to conquer the world.
*AbiWord 'taint a complete office suite, but 'tis a valid example of GPL
GNU/Linux products under attack.

imaybewrong, iamnotalawyertoo, inmyhumbleopinion, iamveryold, hairysmileyface,

[ Reply to This | # ]

CoLinux -> cygwin
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 10:42 PM EDT
If CoLinux caught your attention, you might be interested in cygwin:

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft Patenting Document Formats...
Authored by: jkondis on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 11:24 PM EDT
I would expect nothing less from a company that sues children's charities!

Hint: do not let M$FT anywhere near your grandmother...

[ Reply to This | # ]

About Power to the Parliament
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 11:25 PM EDT
This is an interesting phrase, and gets to the very heart
of EU government as being the most undemocratic and
retrograde institution on the European continent today.
Unlike EVERY modern European nation, which has at least a
popularly elected lower house who has the power to create
legislation and oversea other branches of government
through select committees, the European Parliament, while
popularly elected, it's only principle power is merely to
either rubber stamp (accept) or veto (reject) legislation
that is otherwise drawn up by it's "betters" (the council
of ministers), which is an unelected "senate" by
appointment of national governments. While the EU
Parliament can also suggest amendments, they have no power
to enforce them without their "betters" approval.

This is so backward and wrong that a better name for the
European Parliament as it stands today would be the
Riechstag, and it is a great shame to the very idea of
democracy in Europe that this sad state of affairs has
been permitted to go on for so long. Of course the phrase
"Power to the Parliament" invokes for me the notion of old
Iron Sides vs the crown, but quite honestly, the
European's could use a EU Parliament with some
revolutionary backbone.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Experimental Use for Linux?
Authored by: jkondis on Saturday, April 10 2004 @ 11:50 PM EDT
My apologies if this has come up many times before...

It occured to me that any patents Linux happens to infringe might be protected
under experimental use in patent law. From what I understand, an organization
such as a university is not subject to license fees, etc. for the use of
patented technology, because it's purpose is for learning and for the greater

Linux is in much the same boat. It's supported largely by volunteers, and the
philosophy behind GNU GPL is mostly for the "greater good" (unless
your Linux, in which case it's pure self-interest :). In addition, it is well
known that companies who sell Linux, aren't really selling the software, they
are selling the unique fringe benefits that the company can offer *around*

In other words, Linux can be thought of as a research project. What's more,
even universities, colleges, government agencies and the like have all
contributed to Linux. Thus, if the worst possible scenario erupts, that is that
bodies such as the EU determine that even the trivial software patents are
enforceable, could experimental use shield Linux?

[ Reply to This | # ]

License Restrictions.
Authored by: red floyd on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 02:07 AM EDT
4. LIMITATIONS ON REVERSE ENGINEERING, DECOMPILATION, AND DISASSEMBLY. You may not reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the Software, except and only to the extent that such activity is expressly permitted by applicable law notwithstanding this limitation.

That's fairly stock boilerplate. I've seen it on almost every closed source EULA I've read.

The only reason we retain the rights we have is because people *JUST LIKE US* died to preserve those rights.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Natural agains Arbitrary rules
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 02:33 AM EDT

I submit this post as anonymous because though I'm a reader for month I never
felt the need to make an account so far.

Now about the topic of patents there is something that really strikes me.
To my understanding patents shall be granted to reward people for a discovery of
something new in the field of science. Something that comes not from arbitrary
choices but from the laws of natures in proven science (be it biology, physic,
As a matter of fact patenting ideas, programs and so on as EU may be planning to
do will open the way for patenting arbitrary things. That is, it will be
possible to patent things that are not hard earned discoveries of how nature
works, but rather arbitrary choice on how to achieve certain goal (like use a
single suite of bit instead of many concatenated ones).
If that kind of thing is allowed it will do great arm, because we will lose the
philosophy or rewarding real discoveries for the one of rewarding arbitrary
choices. And rewarding arbitrary choices against the rewarding discoveries in
how the laws of nature work is a bit like rewarding dictatorship against
I do not write that lightly because we think that it is precisely the hope of
great companies (as we already tried to prove it) to use those extension in
patents to enforce arbitrary decision that serve only their anti-competion
practices (and thus form of dictatorship) upon people.
So I hope some sanity will come to the mind of people writing laws when they
realize that gap in things, and the damages arbitrary patents could bring versus
the current state of patents relating only to real discoveries in the field of
sciences of nature.

I really hope they understand the difference.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Office Patent Stuff
Authored by: tomd on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 03:53 AM EDT

Several points:

  1. The advertising clause is probably GPL incompatible, but you can always publish under a GPL+exception which says something like This is GPL but for the purposes of conforming to the mysterious unknown Microsoft patents, you are required to keep the following notice <insert advertising clause here>. You may distribute this under the GPL without the above restriction if you do not wish the subsequent work to be covered by the royalty free license. This is why it's important, as the FSF point out, to have a single entity owning the copyright for a piece of work, in this case so you can relicense it if appropriate.
  2. FOSS developers aren't going to use the Microsoft API, they'll write their own, so the EULA on it is irrelevant (it's pretty standard for proprietary software anyway).
  3. Note that Eben Moglen himself has stated that it's not too bad: FSF eases Microsoft schema patent fears.
  4. It's questionable whether XML schemas are patentable anyway. It'd be nice if that OSDL legal fund went towards getting a Declaratory Judgement on such an issue when the SCO stuff goes away, or perhaps one of the communitiy's sugar daddies (Redhat, IBM, Sun, etc) could ask for it.

In short, I don't think there's anything here to stop a well managed project from using the published Office schemas. Such a project will want to be fairly sure of their position, though.

Cheers, Tom

[ Reply to This | # ]

Round 2 in the EU Patent Fight, a Pure Software Act Proposal, and CoLinux
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 04:45 AM EDT
There is a general strike of web pages on-going from April 5'th to April 15'th.
I put my web pages (, and
under that notice, as did E.g. TheGimp(, KDE
(, and over 1500 other sites

Now this is really the scary part if you look at it.

I urge every one to do the same in solidarity with Europe.


[ Reply to This | # ]

I do not understand the patent worry completely
Authored by: NemesisNL on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 05:15 AM EDT
I can see the danger for future development. I'm just having trouble seeing the
problems for the linux we have today. I thought that if you could show prior
art no patent would be given. That surely means that anything in Linux now can
not come under threat of a future patent aplication.

The future looks less promissing if you think that Linux programmers are not
inventive themselves. Surely they can come up with their own original work,
enough so that future patents might just become obsolete anyway. For every way
to do things there have to be a hundred different ways if doing things, maybe
even better ones.

Let's create a GPL version of patents. Register idea's not at the patent office
but at a non-profit organisation, complying with the standards set by the patent
office for describing a patent. If some company tries to patent something you
would have a great pool of prior art registration. Information is the great
weapon against patents.

If this GPL patent used the same condition as the GPL itself it would prevent
companies from doing what MS tries to do now....using an open standard to create
a patent. If XML would have been a GPL patent MS could not have tried this at
all. So register your idea's for free now just to make sure no predatory
monopoly will take hold of it in the future.

[ Reply to This | # ]

** ABIWORD ** (important, I feel)
Authored by: TwinDX on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 06:18 AM EDT
Heald also explains something about the Microsoft patent application on Word files in XML. It doesn't relate directly to Open Office and current Word files, he says, because Open Office uses a bundle of XML files, whereas MS's patent is for storing the full information content of the file in a single XML doc.

This is precisely what Abiword has been doing for the length of its existence - about 6 years since development started, I think. Please see this page for full details.

Prior art, anybody?


[ Reply to This | # ]

Pure Software Act
Authored by: Brad R on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 09:08 AM EDT

This "Pure Software Act" is such an abysmally bad idea that I felt impelled to blog on the subject. At the risk of some redundancy, I'll repost my entire text here for discussion. Sorry if it's impolite.

In the lamebrained naiveté department: as a solution to the spyware problem, Simson Garfinkel, in a column for Technology Review, is proposing a "Pure Software Act" modeled after the Pure Food and Drug Act. Garfinkel suggests:

Congress could pass legislation requiring that software distributed in the United States come with product labels that would reveal to consumers specific functions built into the programs.

Open source adovcates who haven't thought this through believe that this will deal a blow to Microsoft. Wake up and smell the music, guys: this proposal would be the death of open-source software.

Two words: compliance costs.

Read that quote again: all software distributed in the United States must comply with these labelling requirements. Do open source advocates have any idea how much work it is to comply with such laws? Microsoft can designate a small team for each of its software products, and laugh off the expense. "Big" open source projects like Apache and MySql will be able to comply, at the cost of talent that could otherwise improve the product. But "small" open source projects would be swamped with the required government paperwork. (It's not enough to stick some labels on your product, guys: you have to certify compliance. Repeatedly. Ask anyone in the health care industry what that's like.)

This would be the legal tool that Microsoft needs to block open source software from the U.S. market.

Look at what Microsoft is doing to Lindows, harassing them with lawsuits in a dozen countries. You can bet that Microsoft would have lawyers swarming over every project on SourceForge, launching lawsuits to demand the government regulate these insufficiently-compliant products. In most cases, it would be illegal for independent programmers to offer their works to the public.

History teaches us: federal involvment brings paperwork, taxes, and often monopoly. Since when has government meddling in any industrial enterprise made things better for the little guy?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Round 2 in the EU Patent Fight, a Pure Software Act Proposal, and CoLinux
Authored by: Mike Calder on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 09:26 AM EDT
"So it is only natural that Europe will perform the same selfish action of
allowing software patents."

Only if our European legislators are happy to destroy the lower, dynamic,
two-thirds of the European software industry. The MEPs seem clued-up; the
danger is the national governments listening to their local lobbyists and
overriding the Parliament. Nokia, Microsoft, and their friends have power with
national governments, who increasingly ignore their electorates in anything
which impacts their friends' profits. The electorate in general doesn't
understand or care about software patents anyway. There has to be a significant
danger that the European Parliament will again throw software patenting out, but
the Presidency and Council, along with national governments, pressured by our
old "friends" and the EPO, will succeed in getting it through over
their objections.

I don't know which way it will go, but I have a sinking feeling.

If it does go the way of monopoly, the West as a whole will suffer from IT
mediocrity for a generation or more, and the only ones to benefit will be
countries with an intelligent population, developing economies, and who don't
implement software patents.

I recommend that anyone in the business strengthen their ties with countries
like India; I spoke at a conference in Pune near Mumbai last December; the
number of frighteningly bright and fearsomely enthusiastic young people at the
Universities there make it obvious they're going to be much more of a force to
be reckoned with in the industry in any case. In case you hadn't noticed, they
already started.

Anyone else going to Bangalore Bio this July? Anyone else junking their Nokia

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Repeal IP treaties with U.S.
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 11:05 AM EDT
All this seems to be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

The U.S. reneged on its ABM and Kyoto treaty obligations because Bush decided
they were no longer in American interests. This is a two-way street.

The rest of the world's nations need to ask themselves how, and if, they benefit
from IP treaties with the U.S. -- and perhaps extend that inquiry to other
economic ties. They need to wean themselves off the U.S. economy.

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The Toll Road Ahead
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 01:47 PM EDT
Here is one Linux consultant's take on what Microsoft may really be planning. The EU patent issue is key. This article discusses MCPP and the potential impact on Free and Open Source software. MCPP is what Sun just cross-licensed with MS. What is MCPP? Here's a quote from the article (link below)

"Microsoft's Communications Protocol Program makes available for license by others more than 100 proprietary protocols that were not previously available. These protocols can be used, in accordance with the terms of the program’s license agreements, to develop a broad range of server software products that use the protocols solely to provide services to Windows desktop client operating systems or other compatible server or client software."

If you care about the future viability of FOSS for business use, you might want to read this:

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Can we kick this around, FUD Fighting!
Authored by: jlp on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 02:53 PM EDT
Under FCC rules and Regulations non-profit orginizations are required to be
given free air time. Why not put together some very concise ads and get them
aired on radio and television.

I am sure we (the open source community) could come up with volunteers to get
said ads to the stations or possibly even upload them directly.

Can we make some of these laws work for, instead of against us.

Just a thought!

John Pierce

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is lock-in patent abuse?
Authored by: gdeinsta on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 03:01 PM EDT

Suppose there was an Office 2005 user who wanted to switch from MS to Linux but couldn't because of patent lock-in. Assuming they had deep pockets or a class action, could they successfully sue Microsoft for extortion and/or patent abuse? If so that would put an end to their whole business model.

The argument for extortion would be that they are holding one's own data hostage. The argument for patent abuse would be that they are trying to extend the patent on a particular format to prevent one converting to particular other formats (i.e. open-source formats).

Any chance? Would the plaintiff have to prove that the choice of Linux and open source is not arbitrary but a necessity for their business?

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May be moot?
Authored by: rand on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 04:54 PM EDT
Does Microsoft own patents on the schemas or not?
MS may have shot themselves in the foot already, at least over this one alleged patent:
'Microsoft may have patents and/or patent applications that are necessary for you to license in order to make, sell, or distribute software programs that read or write files that comply with the Microsoft specifications for the Office Schemas.'
Offering a license for a patent without disclosing the patent number may preclude damages for infringement:
35 U.S.C. 287 Limitation on damages and other remedies; marking and notice.

(a) Patentees... may give notice to the public that the same is patented, ... together with the number of the patent...In the event of failure so to mark, no damages shall be recovered by the patentee in any action for infringement, except on proof that the infringer was notified of the infringement and continued to infringe thereafter...
(3)(A) In making a determination with respect to the remedy in an action brought for infringement under section 271(g), the court shall consider—
(i) the good faith demonstrated by the defendant with respect to a request for disclosure;
(ii) the good faith demonstrated by the plaintiff with respect to a request for disclosure, and
(iii) the need to restore the exclusive rights secured by the patent.
We already know some of MS's "good faith" -- they are, after all, a monopolist convicted of abuse. So if the license is offered freely and at no cost except the requirement of a possibly onerous license, is there really any need to restore exclusive rights?

And do you suppose MS is picking up some of SCOG's tricks: offering IP licenses without disclosing what IP may -- or may not -- be involved??

carpe ductum -- "Grab the tape" (IANAL and so forth and so on)

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  • May be moot? - Authored by: PolR on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 06:44 PM EDT
  • May be moot? - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, April 12 2004 @ 06:12 PM EDT
Green Hills calls Linux 'insecure' for defense
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 07:23 PM EDT

Interesting Read

My favourite bit..

"If Linux is compromised, our defenses could be disabled, spied upon or
commandeered," O'Dowd continued. "Everyday new code is added to Linux
in Russia, China and elsewhere throughout the world. Everyday that code is
incorporated into our command, control, communications and weapons systems. This
must stop."

Check out the full article on EETimes.

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Nokia and software patents
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 07:31 PM EDT
This saddens and shames me enormously. I have worked most of my professional life (over a decade) at Nokia, and own shares in the company. I love Linux, and know that there is a lot of open-source development at Nokia: Several Nokia products are develped mostly with open-source software tools (like the compiler in the Symbian OS SDK for smartphones is actually a version of GCC), and some networking products run a Linux or a FreeBSD-derived OS. Many Nokia develpers are "F/OSS" fans, and Nokia has undoubtedly greatly benefited from free software. It has also contribyted some (eg. the Affix bluetooth stack although probably not as much as it morally should have.

But now the company's patent department works hard at killing this "golden goose". I can only excuse this by the usual information disconnect present in large companies. The developers understand F/OSS and also how patents threaten it. Most engineers I have talked to about them hate patents anyway, because they are a huge hassle both to apply for and to avoid or to license.

If some now intend to start boycotting Nokia products, I have right now not much inclination to try to dissuade you, even though it may actually hit my wallet. But if you do so, please make it count by letting Nokia representatives know that you chose some other vendor precisly because of Nokia's misguided patent lobbying.

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  • Bravo, well said. - Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 07:54 PM EDT
  • Contact details? - Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 10:10 PM EDT
    • Contact details? - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, April 12 2004 @ 05:34 PM EDT
Round 2 in the EU Patent Fight, a Pure Software Act Proposal, and CoLinux
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 11 2004 @ 10:02 PM EDT
If I haven't agreed to any Microsoft EULA (by using MS software), then I can't
be bound by it, yes?

If this is the case, then what's to stop me from reverse engineering the new
.doc formats in a clean-room similar to the whole Intel/AMD chipset engineering

I was under the impression that reverse engineering was protected under US law
anyway. (I'm in the UK, so a lot of this wouldn't apply to me any way).


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Why such a move from the Irish delegation ?
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, April 13 2004 @ 04:52 AM EDT
Probably because Ireland is the main beachhead of the biggest american software corporations in Europe. Microsoft, Apple, Sun, Adobe all have advanced bases in Ireland. Lots of jobs in IT in Ireland depend on localizing software and providing adapted versions for the various countries of the EU.

So I guess that these corporations have lobbied the Irish delegation into taking such positions, with (possibly) a nice little blackmailing on employment...

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Patents a computationally hard problem
Authored by: globularity on Wednesday, April 14 2004 @ 06:50 AM EDT
Patents are like any database cross reference search, the computational
resources to check all the new applications against prior art grows at some
power >1 of the number of of new applications. The patent offices don't have
a good track record of checking prior art, probably because of lack of
computational resources (employees etc) and a have a poor data structure yet the
EPO wants more patent applications. If they double the number of applications
they will more than double thier work and it will compound as the software
patents pile up, leading to even more dubious ones being issued with no
liability on thier part. The patent offices motive is quite clear, like any
government department their primary goal is to grow in power and size, this is
due to the public service rewarding employees for having more people under them
and better connections. With this goal in mind the issue of software patents
makes perfect sense. The cost to the community is irrelevant to them, because
they don't bear it. This is simple positive feedback, a course of action which
provides benefit with no cost will be promoted. What gets me is why the EPO was
consulted on policy, they are not a stakeholder, the only stakeholders I can
identify are inventors and users and these are the ones who seem to argue the
strongest against software patents. The people who make the most noise in favour
of software patents are the parasitic interests, patent farms patent attournys
the patent office. People invent despite them not because of them, this can be
proven by playing the simple mind game What do you need to invent something?
Yourself and some knowlege and the desire no more. People were inventing long
before these people came along. For an inventor to divert computational
resources away from inventing to communicating with things irrelevant to the
process of invention is reducing their capacity to invent. Based on the fact
that an inventor doesn't have infinite computing resources or time this can only
reduce the amount of inventing they can do. This is contrary to the twaddle the
parasitic interests emit. Inventors and innovators do not owe patent farms,
patent offices and patent attourneys a living.

My A$0.02

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