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We solicited your views on Microsoft throwing its patents up for trade at an OpenGL meeting this year. Scare or dare?

Key KDE developer Hetz Ben Hamo wrote to us - speaking for himself, he stresses, not the KDE Organization:-

It's amazing how SGI was short-sighted when they sold lots of their patents regarding 3D to Microsoft.

I have read the forums back when you posted the news about MS buying some patents from SGI and many people pointed that MS needed it for their XBox - and that made me wonder: why wouldn't NVidia bought those patents back then? They made the XBox graphics chip, so any lawsuits against MS would have simply forwarded to NVidia - the author of the NV chip.

Few people wrote back then in the forums that MS cannot do much with their new patents - and if there will be problems with those patents, that will be the graphics manufacturers (Nvidia, Matrox, ATI, you know - the usual suspects)..

With Apple, it's not much problematic - Apple can make some deal with MS regarding those patents and license them, so Apple case is pretty clear - so Apple can have OpenGL without any problem...

Now - enter Linux (and *BSD - depends where/how you look). Inside XFree there's something called MESA which is an OpenGL "clone" without the OpenGL logo. MS can quickly kill Mesa with a simple cease-and-desist letter unless Mesa author will pay the license. MS can also ask money per copy of Mesa - who'll pay that?

Hetz Ben Hamo

Paul Shirley thinks this has the same capacity for mischief as the Farenheit project. And Matthew Skala writes:-

I think the key sentence in that document is this one: "Microsoft suggests that other bodies have licensing terms that are more effective in a corporate sense, and we should look at adopting some of those terms."

We know from their other publications that "more effective in a corporate sense" means "proprietary", and especially "not GPL", in Microsoftese. The subtext is that they're offering a Devil's bargain - OpenGL can have this technology without fear of Microsoft's claims on it, provided OpenGL makes it and all the rest of OpenGL's own technology
unavailable to those Godless commie open source loons.

Zach Smith adds:-

Regarding OpenGL, I'm an open source coder and although I don't use OpenGL, someday I might. MS's behavior with regard to its supposed IP just goes to show the evil of patenting software. It will prevent me from using that functionality in free programs, thus harming the public by depriving them of better software while forcing the public to use expensive crap programs written by MS's lackeys and allies.

In addition, it will restrict my commercial use of patented ideas, should I decide to go commercial, unless I pay to use it. No doubt their patents will be protected via their Orwellian solution, Palladium. Getting my programs OK'd would involve a fee, probable discrimination, and there would be a royalty *if* it were OK'd. Probably I would not be able to afford the fees, just as internet radio stations cannot afford to pay fees for the songs they play.

Thus another multinational is finding a way to force out small competitors and increase its own profits, while finding allies in other big companies and the government (which it owns).

I wonder why (or whether) no organization seems to exist to challenge bad patents (the US PTO surely doesn't). Lack of an allied, *active* resistance to this clear danger is a problem that needs to be solved without delay.

Zach Smith

The postbag is divided between people who think OpenGL is already tainted - alarmist, we think - and those who think we say the sky is falling. The latter group are quite correct in pointing out that what Microsoft offered is standard OpenGL bargaining procedure. But we'd think you would rather know than not. ®

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