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Re: libdts patent issue?

On 7/16/05, Diego Biurrun <diego@biurrun.de> wrote:
> DTS Inc. used a European patent to go after VideoLAN.

One with a US equivalent, paint by numbers.  Presumably they used its
EP number in the C&D to the VideoLAN folks because they're in France. 
C'est la même chose.

> Defend them (in court if necessary).

At what odds?  Why pick this battle?

> 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.

Survive to fight another day.  If you persist in seeing "software
patents" (a false category if I ever heard one) as evil, don't be the
means of letting this particular tentacle of evil screw over Debian's
CD/DVD distributors if they see fit to respond decently to a quiet,
voluntary retreat that reflects the reality upstream.

> 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.

But have you _thought_ about the problem?  Have you _read_ one?  Do
you have a sane distinction to propose between "software patents" and
everything else, or is this just NIMBYism?  I think patenting pure
math is just as stupid as you do -- but I can tell pure math from the
sort of semi-empirical semi-invention disclosed in, say, US #5,924,060
(one of the Fraunhofer suite, which I half-analyzed in the XMMS/MP3
thread).  And I can tell you that many signal electronics patents that
don't involve RF and higher frequencies could equally well (if not
equally cheaply) be implemented with off-the-shelf A/D - DSP - D/A. 
Does that make them "software patents"?

> 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...

If you are referring to Mr. Ravicher, he seems to be a decent guy (and
vastly more qualified than I) but speaking out of where the sun don't
shine insofar as he encourages willful disregard of a presumptively
valid patent without benefit of the advice of competent counsel.  If
SPI (or Debian, to the extent that it legally exists) decides that he
or someone else constitutes competent counsel, obtains an opinion on
the basis of which they decide to continue the distribution of libdts,
and makes some sort of plan for what to do if and when CD/DVD vendors
(among others) get C&D letters and come to Debian for advice, that is
of course a completely different story.

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

IMHO, the one that makes a distinction between free speech and free
beer (or free brewing equipment), and doesn't demand that everyone die
of thirst because the beer isn't free when there's perfectly good
water sitting right next to it.  Which one do you think I am

> Debian has been distributing libdts for quite some time now without
> problems...

Let's see, a single upload in February 2004, which appears to have
gotten through NEW in March and to have been installed by less than
one in 40 popcon users, and never to have been put on a Debian CD/DVD
before sarge released.  Yeah, that's a basis for a laches defense --

> 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.

Did you read the Fraunhofer suite?  I haven't looked closely at all of
them, but I've seen patents a whole lot more bogus than any of them
that have nothing to do with software (and aren't in the "crackpot"
category either).  Any car made for sale in a developed country in the
last five years, anyway, has software in it that is a lot more complex
than an MPEG-2 encoder, let alone an MP3 decoder (and yes, I've hacked
on both); and the spec for a single overhead cam (metallurgy and
machining) probably exceeds the length of that MPEG-2 encoder's source
code.  Software, my friend, is not rocket science.

> 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
> Freedom:
> http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/Patents/industry-at-risk.html

Yeah, that would be Moglen and RMS's crowd again.  Funny how these
monomaniacal, non-reality-based, but strangely compelling (until you
pick at them) position papers come from a common source  A few
concepts I would recommend to you:  "primary literature";
"confirmation bias"; "regulatory capture"; "crocodile tears".

> 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.

If you call that "depth" then frankly you can't tell scholarship from

> 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.

I am not "pro-software-patent".  I think that the USPTO (and, from the
look of it, the EPO) are doing a profoundly incompetent job of
filtering out the trivial and the erroneous from _all_ kinds of patent
applications, not just those which permit an implementation in terms
of a Von Neumann machine with some useful peripherals.  But the
reality here on Planet Earth is that the law is a blunt tool and that
it's just not smart to hold one of the best collections of
non-fictional free speech yet assembled hostage to a half-finished
implementation of a half-assed specification that a marginal but
cash-rich entity with current law on its side wants to suppress.

- Michael

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