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Re: libdts patent issue?

On Sat, Jul 16, 2005 at 03:41:03AM -0700, Michael K. Edwards wrote:
> On 7/16/05, Diego Biurrun <diego@biurrun.de> wrote:
> > Software patents are not legal in Europe.  Period.  The European patent
> > convention from 1972 explicitly excludes software from patentability.
> > Attempts to pass legislation that would have allowed software to become
> > patentable have failed.  The worst thing we could do now is give in to
> > the patent scare tactic and stop developing and distributing software
> > that might infringe patents that might have some validity.
> Is there no "presumptively valid" standard in any country in Europe --
> or does it not apply to patents that actually issue under that
> country's laws, unless and until they are demonstrated to be invalid
> in court?  Otherwise, if Debian collectively wants to keep
> distributing libdts in Europe, I think it would be prudent to obtain
> the advice of competent counsel, which I emphatically am not (and
> neither AFAIK are you).

Neither of us is.

> And for that matter, do you think Debian is
> magically insulated from US law?

DTS Inc. used a European patent to go after VideoLAN.

> Put aside the knee-jerk hostility to
> the phrase "software patent" for a moment, and ask yourself:  what
> would you do if your assets were on the line?

Defend them (in court if necessary).

> > If DTS Inc. would have prevailed in court is very very questionable.
> > Regretfully the university hosting libdts and the VideoLAN developers
> > did not have the motivation, energy and money to fight this out.
> I've read that thread, including your contributions to it, and it does
> not surprise me in the least that you are the first to advocate
> fingers in ears.

I'm not advocating "fingers in ears".  I'm fully aware of the problem I
just believe that running away from it is exactly the wrong reaction and
does a disservice to the free software community.

Let me add that when I speak about fighting software patents I do more
than just talk about the subject.  I spent four days on the FFII booth
at CeBIT, I've talked to my representatives in person and on the phone,
I've been in Brussels, etc.

> Which may be the right answer, or may not, depending
> on factors like whether CD vendors get the C&D letters before Debian
> does -- making it a little bit socially awkward for Debian to piss
> away any possible goodwill that might obtain, from the entity which
> AFAICS has the upper hand under real-world law, some forbearance with
> respect to copies of Sarge already pressed.

As far as you can see, but you are not are not a lawyer and the only
lawyer in the MP3 thread did not agree with your position at all...

And which of our two pieces of advice is better for free software in the
long run?

> > Why stop at libdts anyway?  During the course of the discussion we came
> > up with a lot of MPEG-related patents, so why not remove all multimedia
> > packages same as Red Hat did?
> Not a very successful reductio ad absurdum.  The scope of patents
> differs, the declared enforcement intentions differ, the grounds for a
> laches (unreasonable delay of prosecution) defense are a lot stronger
> WRT projects that the patent holder has known about for many years,
> etc., etc.

Debian has been distributing libdts for quite some time now without

> > This is a very slippery slope, if a few software patents get accepted as
> > valid soon all of main will have to be removed.
> Yeah, right.  The sky is falling.  Read a software patent that has
> withstood close scrutiny sometime; you are likely to find that it
> contains a non-trivial invention, arrived at after much
> experimentation, that is not just a matter of natural law -- just like
> any other patent fit to be granted.  The examiners let a lot of crap
> go by but that's not what drives the patent system, as you can tell by
> looking at the size of the "expired for non-payment of maintenance
> fees" list each year.

Feel free to point me at a software patent you consider worth its salt.
All the ones I read weren't.  It's an inherent problem.  Software just
does not work like, e.g. cars.  It's much more abstract and much more
complex.  While a car has about 10000-15000 parts, programs can easily
have ten times that and more, if you consider complete operating systems
or - say - Debian we're talking about several magnitudes of complexity.
So there are many more parts that might be patented and due to the
abstract nature of software it is much harder to tell whether program X
really falls under the scope of patent Y.

This has been explained before by other people, the paper I like best is
"SOFTWARE PATENTS: AN INDUSTRY AT RISK" by The League for Programming


I suggest you to read it, it's brilliant if a little longuish, but this
way it really explores the subject in depth.  I'm sure length is not a
problem for you.

But please let us not veer off into the pros and cons of software
patents.  My position is clear: They're all bad without exception.  Good
luck finding supporters for a pro-sw-patent position on this list.  I'm
really not intending to create a flamewar about software patents here
now, if you must, mail me in private.



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