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IP Innovation v. Red Hat/Novell - The Prior Art They Used at Trial - Updated
Thursday, May 13 2010 @ 12:58 PM EDT

I know the first thing you wanted to know after you heard that Red Hat and Novell had prevailed and the jury had found that IP Innovation's patents were worthless was this: did we at Groklaw help when we did prior art searching?

The answer is, Yes. It turns out that you did. I have the transcripts from the trial, and I've been reading them for days now, because even though I can't share the transcripts with you yet, until the court says it's OK, I know you are dying of curiosity, so I'm reading them to let you know what happened. So, let me tell you what I have learned, part one.

First, I know you want to know what prior art was used first thing, and here is the answer, from the judge's instructions to the jury just before closing arguments: the Chan Room system, the Macintosh Switcher, and the Amiga workbench. There is a story about the Amiga in particular, and that's where you come in.

First, a call went out on Groklaw for prior art. When news of this litigation first broke in 2007, and I asked if any of you knew of any prior art, one of the first comments mentioned the Amiga. I kid you not. Another almost immediately mentioned still owning an Amiga or two. In 2009, Red Hat officially asked the world for prior art, and again someone here mentioned the Amiga. So you guys knew before the lawyers did, which of course you would. It's your area of expertise. That's what I get from it. And that I should have made sure they were reading Groklaw in 2007. Next time.

Better still, you want to help. When Novell put out a statement about the jury's ruling, it said that the open source community will always fight for its software. And that is true. It did, it still does, and it always will.

Let's get back to our Amiga story, though. Many of you responded to the call for prior art. Some of you posted the need locally too, in your LUG or ALE lists, so the word spread. One such posting resulted in someone coming forward with a *working* Amiga, believe it or not, which he had carefully restored and gotten it going again. That Amiga went to court, and it was used to demonstrate to the jury that the Amiga represented prior art.

Now, one can never say for sure what it was that turned the tide with a jury, unless they tell us, which they haven't. But it surely helped to have three examples of prior art, one of which was used in a live demo. And from reading the transcripts of the trial, I can surely say it ought to be what did it, or at least had to be a major piece. So when the owner of the Amiga heard the news, guess what he had to say?

Apparently my habits of being an eclectic collector of historic computer gadgetry** and my work in restoring a 1986 Amiga 1000 system to its multi-screen, muti-tasking glory as prior art evidence for a Red Hat Linux patent fight paid off:

My Amiga Killed a Troll!

He gets his Amiga back now, and I'll bet it will be kept working forever and ever by one very happy geeky guy.

Of course, non-practicing entities usually appeal, and I expect that to happen. They don't have much to lose, after all. So time will tell what finally happens, but we know now what *should* happen.

And I wish I had been in the courtroom when they carried that Amiga in and turned it on. I'll bet the lawyers on the other side never in a million years thought they'd have to deal with a working Amiga from 1986.

See, that is why, despite others who talk prior-art searching down, I am firmly committed to it. I know you guys, and I have real confidence in you, that at least one of you will have restored whatever type of computer is needed. Or you can do it to order, if it's ever needed.

Better, you guys knew that an Amiga was what was needed, because you have lived computer history, and you know where all the bodies are buried. You did, in fact, know all three examples of prior art that were eventually used at trial.

Exhibit B. The Chan Room model, the next piece of prior art they used, was mentioned in 2009 by a member here in this comment in 2009. It is a master's thesis. He left the link to the PDF, so you can read it yourself. And here's a comment from 2007 listing the Amiga and the Macintosh. Here's another Macintosh mention.

I'd say you guys nailed it.

Update: If you'd like to see an Amiga 1000, you can visit OldComputers.net and choose it from the long menu on the left.

Update 2: A statement from Red Hat's Rob Tiller quoted in OSNews:

"The jury's decision shows that the open source community can stand up to coercion based on bad software patents, and that juries can see through arguments based on FUD," Tiller said

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