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Red Hat patent app sparks open source lockdown fears

'Defensive' patent or IP minefield?

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A recently uncovered Red Hat patent application for dynamic message routing on XML has some open-source advocates theorizing the company has quietly forsaken its promise to claim Linux IP only for defensive purposes.

Conspiracies are bubbling out of Slashdot and other sites over a 2007 Red Hat patent application for a "method and apparatus to deliver messages between applications."

Free software watchdogs are concocting sinister designs for why Red Hat didn't simply publish prior art for the technology rather than file a claim with the US patent office. After all, the company's stated ideals claim it wants to avoid litigious patent warfare and will use its IP portfolio only as a means to defend itself against patent trolls.

Some claim the XML routing described in the patent is an "obvious" extension of AMQP (Advanced Message Queuing Protocol) — an open and standard implementation of messaging technology that Red Hat is helping to make. Holding one piece of the puzzle could theoretically either produce a chilling effect on the standard or let Red Hat hold it for ransom.

The open source doomsday scenarios certainly contrast to Red Hat's stated policy that while it will in fact file for software patents, it vows not to pursue legal action against infringing companies that make free or open source software. And Red Hat has stuck by those ideals for all these years.

Somehow, the tin foil hat doesn't fit yet — until you add Microsoft into the equation.

Microsoft, the ever-present bugbear of the Linux community, has folks a bit more on edge than usual with its recent prosecution of GPS maker TomTom. Redmond dropped its legal briefs on TomTom in February, claiming infringement on eight of its patents, including three that relate to TomTom's implementation of the Linux kernel.

Microsoft has long-claimed there are 235 cases of its patents being violated by free and open source software. The case against TomTom has some wringing their hands over whether Microsoft's "war on Linux" has begun.

Touchiness about Linux patents aside, there's also a direct connection between Red Hat and Microsoft. Some are pointing to the two companies' recent interoperability deal as proof Red Hat is willing to make a pact with the devil. Apparently litigiousness is catching nowadays. But Red Hat has emphasized (in bold no less) the arrangement contains no patent or open source licensing components.

Still, Red Hat would hold the patent for 17 years and a lot can happen in that time. Plenty of time for the company to turn evil if the alarmists are missing the mark.

Red Hat hasn't gotten back to us about the patent filing as of publication — so to you conspiracy theorists out there, we leave you with this: dun dun DUNNNN!! ®

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