Feeds

Patents and the threat to open source

Submarine attack on Linux, Apache, Tomcat et al?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

Have you heard of the media company Acacia? Probably not but actually quite a few website owners have. Many of them have received FINAL NOTICES from Acacia Media Technologies Corporation (www.acaciaresearch.com). The leading light of Acacia (Newport Beach, California) is Robert A. Berman, who claims that his company owns a handful of U.S. Patents (Patents Nos. 5,132,992; 5,235,275; 5,550,863; 6,002,720; 6,144,702) and 17 International Patents covering the transmission and receipt of audio/video content via the Internet.

If you provide access to digital audio/video content via your website without a license from Acacia, then Berman insists that you are infringing his company’s patents. So either you have to pay $1,500 per year for a license or risk being sued. It’s your choice. Some companies have paid, including porn sites. Currently Acacia is sueing (and negotiating with) the cable companies. I’m not sure whether Apple or Microsoft has received a writ yet, but if not then it’s probably coming - if Acacia continues to have success.

What does this have to do with open source? Well, simply this: Acacia is one of a number of companies that are making a good living by sitting on patents that are actually very general in their application. Individuals can register such patents, with no ability to develop associated product, wait for infringing products to appear, then get a good lawyer and go hunting. Such patents are sometimes referred to as submarine patents.

A major fear of some of the movers and shakers in the open source movement is that someone (Microsoft, perhaps, but actually anyone with a patented ax to grind) will come gunning for Linux, Apache, Tomcat et al through the courts with a fistful of patents.

Actually, there is little point in sueing the originators of open source. You have to sue someone who is using it - which means a large corporation with deep pockets rather than the average geek with empty pockets. However the effect on open source would be the same. The 'right' patent could damage an open source product badly. This is, in fact, a fear that the SCO case has brought to the surface. It is also why many large corporations like software contracts that indemnify them against such legal hunting and why the likes of HP and Novell are providing such contracts.

How big a risk is it? It’s hard to say. Nobody actually knows what patents there are that might be used against open source products and how many would stand up to a legal challenge. Patents can be challenged on the basis of prior art - i.e. someone suggested the idea in the public domain or implemented it in some way before that patent was registered. Microsoft, for example, has patented the double-click. Is there any prior art? Who knows?

© IT-Analysis.com

Related stories

Free software guru speaks on patents
European Council snubs software patent vote
No US patent for the patently obvious
Patent lawyer puts claim to entire Internet

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
PEAK APPLE: iOS 8 is least popular Cupertino mobile OS in all of HUMAN HISTORY
'Nerd release' finally staggers past 50 per cent adoption
Microsoft to bake Skype into IE, without plugins
Redmond thinks the Object Real-Time Communications API for WebRTC is ready to roll
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
Mozilla: Spidermonkey ATE Apple's JavaScriptCore, THRASHED Google V8
Moz man claims the win on rivals' own benchmarks
FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on
Next driver to battle fake chips with 'non-invasive' methods
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
Ubuntu 14.10 tries pulling a Steve Ballmer on cloudy offerings
Oi, Windows, centOS and openSUSE – behave, we're all friends here
Was ist das? Eine neue Suse Linux Enterprise? Ausgezeichnet!
Version 12 first major-number Suse release since 2009
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.