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Re: mplayer, the time has come

On Thu, Feb 24, 2005 at 08:52:12PM -0800, Sean Kellogg wrote:
> Can this list PLEASE stop the belief that ducking your head in the
> sand in regard to patent violations saves you from increased liability?

What would that achieve?

I don't think that we ignore patents because we believe that in doing so
we will encounter some liability but less than if we paid more attention
to them.  Some people might have expressed such opinions, but they really
don't make sense.

I think we largely ignore patents because as a general rule the patents
and the patent system don't make sense.  There's little to be gained by
dealing with them, as a general rule.

We have dealt with specific patent issues in the past, for high profile
patents, and I'm sure we'll do so in the future.  But, for the most part,
this is just a waste of time.

Reasons it's a waste of time:

[1] Typically, prior art exists (but is costly to locate examples of
while will hold up in court).

[2] The number of patents which may apply to any piece of software is
unknowable, and very large.

[3] Debian does not have deep pockets.

In a sense, patents are mostly a "PR" issue.  If we do something nasty and
unpleasant in the context of patents, that's bad PR for us, and we lose.
If some major corporation does something nasty and unpleasant in the
context of Debian and patents, that's bad PR for them, and they lose.
In either case, our users probably lose.

In most cases it's also likely that Debian would lose and the corporation
bringing the lawsuit would lose.  Debian would lose time and effort
defending ourselves.  The corporation would lose legal costs, perhaps
some good will, and might also lose patent coverage (assuming we can find
adequate prior art -- perhaps from some superficially unrelated field).

If you want to worry about patents, feel free.  But last time I paid
attention to this issue, our policy was to pull stuff if specifically
asked, or if we felt there's a significant chance we would be asked,
unless we had good reasons to go ahead and distribute the stuff anyways.


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