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Patent shark‘s copyright claim could bite all Unix

Cook Islands entity claims rights to code present in *nix, MacOS, Windows

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April Fool A company registered in minor league tax haven the Cook Islands, but with a subsidiary in Delaware, lawyers in the patent-troll heaven of East Texas and an office in Sydney, Australia, has asserted intellectual property rights over all versions of Unix and “Unix-like derivatives” and plans to seek royalties from every company that has ever used the operating system.

The company, FourOne IP, is a non-practising entity whose registered address is a Sydney accountant, a not unusual arrangement for companies seeking to take advantage of the Cook Islands’ tax laws. Despite its humble appearance, it nonetheless appears to have sufficient backing to engage high-powered attorneys to launch their World+Dog lawsuit.

An attorney identifying himself as Ernest K Malley, who spoke to The Register on condition of anonymity, said forensic analysis of all known Unix derivatives had taken nearly three decades, but that the company recently is confident today's copyright filing will succeed.

Malley explained that a “hundreds” of lines of code the company owns appear to be copied across all *nix variants, but had only come into widespread use in recent years, as the emergence of social media sites YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr and GrovelR has led to a change in loads on servers. Analysis of the resulting logs has revealed that a long-neglected piece of code called the ‘nsfw daemon’ present in every *nix variant going back to Bell Labs is now pressed into use with great regularity. The daemon is especially important to the online adult entertainment industry.

Malley said FourOne IP has acquired companies that can prove ownership of the daemon and that it will now exercise its rights.

“It's clear that some far-sighted Unix pioneer created this daemon even though it has only become useful in the last few years,” he said, “That the insight is significant is obvious from the fact the code has been copied not only throughout Unix but into the Windows code stream via NT, and Apple's world via BSD. It appears to us that NSFW is also present throughout the code base of every significant Linux distribution,” he added.

Pressed on FourOne IP’s intentions, Malley offered the following warning: “If I were Cisco, I’d increase my patent litigation budget to rather more than $50m a year. We’re a well-funded outfit with a righteous cause, because the code we own is crucial to so many operations.”

Malley said even Linux companies need to watch out. “Linus Torvalds needs to start looking down the back of the sofa for some coins,” he said. “By the time we’re done, he’ll need them to buy food.” ®

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