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IBM Pledges Not To Use Patents Against Linux
Wednesday, August 04 2004 @ 10:15 PM EDT

Are you sitting down? If so, get ready to leap up for joy. And if you are standing, get ready to pass out. IBM has pledged not to use its patents against Linux, and more than that, it is calling on other companies to do the same. They made the announcement at LinuxWorld:

"'IBM has no intention of asserting its patent portfolio against the Linux kernel, unless of course we are forced to defend ourselves,' said Nick Donofrio, senior vice president for technology and manufacturing, drawing applause in a speech at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo.

"The tech giant's announcement could relieve some who fear the legal threat of the computing industry's largest patent arsenal. But it doesn't address the more tangible danger that Microsoft, an avowed Linux enemy, could attack.

"Microsoft declined to comment for this story."

That's because they are trying to figure out what to do.

They've been sticking a finger in the air, testing to see what would happen if they launched a patent attack against Linux. Obviously, they wanted to know what IBM would do. I think they know now. Others may have their opinions, and that is fine. And I have mine, and what IBM did today was a fine thing. I too hope that HP and others get cleanly off the fence, and realize that they can't benefit from Linux if they don't also defend it from those who wish to destroy it by gaming the patent system, so they can create a patent monopoly. Here's what you will lose out on if you don't, in Mr. Donofrio's words:

"'Linux is incredible,' he said. 'It is owned by no one and yet everyone at the same time. Thousands of programmers around the world are contributing to it today, contributing to it in a checks-and-balances manner that is impossible with proprietary software.'"

Impossible. Yes.*Impossible* with proprietary software, the man said. And while you are at it, could you fix the patent system too? That is really all that needs to happen, and the software monopoly is over. And then you won't need to be terrified of any monopolies out there, will you? It's a win-win. Just think. No one would ever have to write craven memos like the HP memo that surfaced recently about not being able to do what you want because of fear of Microsoft. Would that not be refreshing?

If you want the Linux golden eggs, you need to keep the golden goose alive. By that I mean, if you want Linux for business purposes. You can't actually kill FOSS. You can only crush it in the US and other countries foolish or corrupt enough to give Microsoft a patent monopoly opportunity. Elsewhere, it will continue to flourish and put your software to shame, and then how will you compete in a world market? No, let's draw a line in the sand here and now. Linux gives the world an opportunity to escape from Microsoft, if you so choose, from its overbearing business practices and from its overpriced swiss-cheese software that is a drag on the economy. Take your opportunity.

Why did you think Microsoft want patents on software? To benefit you, the consumer? So you can have choices? To save you money? To innovate, for crying out loud? As Matthew Szulik of Red Hat said, does anyone believe the current patent system encourages innovation? So, think it over, and follow IBM's lead. And whatever other creative things we can think up to block a patent attack, now is the time.

Red Hat too is thinking, and it pledged today that it along with OSDL will try to get some changes in patent and copyright law, and OSDL announced it will help with any recoding that is necessary to get around patents:

"Red Hat and IBM blasted patent litigation threats hovering over the Linux industry amid reports that Microsoft is serious[ly] considering a legal offensive against the open-source operating system.

"Executives issued their statements after that recently-published report and as the city of Munich, Germany, halted its 14,000-seat Linux migration project reportedly due to concerns about software patent legislation pending before the European Union.

"During his keynote, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik got a round of applause when he said he and the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), will challenge how patents and copyrights are awarded in the U.S. and their application from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

"'We'll do our best to try to change this,' said Szulik, adding that his firm and others will push the U.S. Government to adopt a form of digital rights protection law that forces vendors to disclose intellectual property in order to receive protection. The U.S. Government, Szulik said, should 'force full disclosure, so if an organization won't disclose source code then let them file for trade secret protection."

Imagine what that would mean for copyrights on software. It simply pulls the rug out from underneath gaming the copyright system. Can you see SCO filing all its code in public? Good grief, you have to sign in blood now, and traverse several moats, wait for the drawbridge and undergo a body search before you can even look at code that turns out to be legacy BSD code. I agree. Let them rely on trade secret protection, by all means, and leave the rest of us to advance software code in peace.

And now a personal word. To all of you who attacked OSRM, and me because of OSRM, who knew about the Microsoft maneuvers and tried to creatively block them, now you know the rest of the story. I didn't write about it before, mainly because I wanted to understand the issue first personally, something I highly recommend. I didn't work on the patent project, so I needed time to study the issue before I could write about it. And then Munich happened. And then I totally got it. Think about Munich. If there were an OSRM offering patent insurance in Germany, or several such, already in place, would they have felt they needed to shut down the Linux program while their lawyers investigate the patent threat or would they have had another option? Are you so naive you don't know Microsoft already knows about any patents it can try to use as a weapon?

If you have a better plan, come forward with it now. But there is no ignoring the patent issue. It's there, not because our side wants it to be, but because the intellectual property legal system is broken. It doesn't suit software. And we believe those with an agenda are heading our way. Or they were. What IBM, OSDL, Red Hat and OSRM have done has shifted the balance. I'm also ashamed of some of you. Next time, I suggest you get all the facts before you speak. And not from Forbes and trolls. Does Forbes ever get one thing right when it comes to Linux? How do some of you forget that each time and take their poison pen seriously?

Well, all right. We are all humans. We can't be perfect. Some people live and learn. Others just live. I hope those of you so willing to leap on those trying to help Linux survive will live and learn. And I am quite serious when I say that if you have a better strategy, step forward and share it. If you don't, don't tear down those who are doing their level best to fight on your behalf. Remember how a few of you blasted us for offering indemnification? And then yesterday, McBride said that the reason SCOsource didn't thrive was because third parties offered indemnification. We didn't just fall off a turnip truck, you know.

Finally, to all of you who wrote me messages of support and showed such loyalty, by far the majority, I truly thank you and I will never forget it.

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