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Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse in the world of software patents, a reliable source sent me this response from Steve Jobs about a patent pool that's forming and aiming to nail the open source codecs projects. It's enough to make the weak at heart go weak in the knees and stop working on open source projects.

Here is Steve Jobs' response to the letter from Hugo Roy:

From: Steve Jobs
To: Hugo Roy
Subject: Re: Open letter to Steve Jobs: Thoughts on Flash
Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2010 06:21:17 -0700
All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other "open source" codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn't mean or guarantee that it doesn't infringe on others patents. An open standard is different from being royalty free or open source.

Sent from my iPad

Does this mean that patent holders are going to launch an all-out war on open source projects?

Yes. I'm afraid so.

Beware open source programmers. As snipers like to say, "If you see red, you're dead", which here means something along the lines of, "If Apple and other patent holders decide that you've infringed on their patents (whether you have or not), they'll stop your project and possibly seek damages (money) from you.

'Tis a sad day indeed for those open source projects.

'Tis sadder still for the hundreds of dedicated programmers and thousands of adoring fans behind these projects.

I guess if you want to innovate, you have to work for a big company and let them have the profit and you might get your name buried somewhere in the nether regions of an abstract.

Read the original letter to Steve Jobs from Hugo Roy and the response.

What do you think of this and other software patent infringement suits?

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Last Post by Chromatix
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This is the poster-child reason to abolish software patents.

Let me be clear: Theora *is* covered by patents - namely the ones held by On2. These patents have been irrevocably licenced to the community. On2 is also now owned by Google, which is perfectly big enough to stand up against patent litigation.

I seriously doubt that any *other* valid patents could apply to Theora. That's even if you presume that software patents in general *can* be valid.

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open source has always been a good thing for regular people. I guess when it comes to money and greed, some people want control of everything. it's sad.

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IBM, Google, Novell all have large patent portfolios. Wouldn't it be nice if they got together and:

1) Forced Apple (as force seems to be the only language they understand) to stop selling any devices using OSX because it infringes on UNIX IP, and sued them for billions in damages over the last 10 years of sales?

2) Got Microsoft to reveal exactly which patents they say open source infringes on, and perhaps while they are at it ask them to reveal the source code for all of their products to investigators so we can be on a level playing field. Then we could see just how many instances of patent and copyright infringement on GPL'd code are in their products. Big bucks to be had from Microsoft as well, and if we don't stand up to them they will just keep bullying anyone who does not exclusively use their "approved" Windows garbage code.

It is unfortunate that these big-egoed corporate bullies cannot just try and cooperate with others in the world. But it seems as if the only thing they understand is aggression, hate, and legal violence. This is how wars start. Open source companies are by and large good corporate citizens who tend to work cooperatively with other companies, but if you push people into a corner (as they are doing now), eventually they will stand up for themselves and retaliate.

Think about that next time you consider spending any money that may support either Apple or Microsoft. That is the only other thing they seem to understand -- money -- and taking that away from them will at least weaken the amount of havoc they can wreak on our societies. I personally will never use any Apple or Microsoft products or services again (and haven't for the last 6 years).

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Just because something is open source that does not mean companies will not make money off it. If there is money to be made or lost, patent ownership has a right to be enforced.

But as Chromatix said, software patents are a problem. There are so many ways to implement functionality in software, the lines of ownership are incredibly blurry. They are getting blurrier with each added feature of complexity, and each time a software dev changes jobs from one company to the next.

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It seems to me that the only reason these corporations are starting to persecute open source projects is because they represent a growing threat to their greedy profit margins!

This quote sums things up nicely (not sure who originally said it!):
Nothing is done for the common good where there is money to be made.

In recent years there has been a gradual swing towards using open source software. Personally I don't know a single person who owns a PC who doesn't use software from at least one open-source project. Obviously the corporations are waking up to that fact and now they are trying to do something draconian about it in order to protect their profits.

It's not like they aren't making enough money already is it? It's just playground bullying tactics taken to the nth degree. Are they really losing out on that much money due to open-source? If so, perhaps we aught to squeeze them a bit more by encouraging more people to switch to free/open source software.

The corporations know full well that even if they don't have a valid/solid case against an open-source project, the very threat of legal action would be enough to cause many projects to simply fold as I suspect most open source projects couldn't afford to pay the costs for legal help during any case against them. So in many cases fighting against such a lawsuit would be completely infeasible, probably causing them to settle out of court (i.e. the project agrees to cease and desist and simply folds and the corporations drop their suit!).

Other projects that perhaps could afford to fight, who have some other corporate sponsorship, or who have large communities willing to financially support their legal campaign could potentially be tied up in hearings for years before any final resolution is reached. Now I don't know how these sorts of proceedings work, but I suspect in many cases development of the offending project would probably be ordered to cease until a final decision was made on the case, which again will damage and hinder any project again in the major corporations interests.

Since my last Windows machine died, I've switched to using 100% open-source software on all of my PC's. Apple and Microsoft are getting no more of my money...Forget 'em, I'll write my own software if I have to!

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To make a REASONABLE profit is the goal.
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The entire concept of the patent system is based on two things - patents are:

1) unique - they cannot overlap an existing patent or published invention (ie. prior art).

By definition this means that if somebody else independently came up with the same idea before the patent was granted, and can prove it, the patent is, in theory, automatically invalid.

It also means that no two patents (in the same jurisdiction) can apply to the same invention, unless it was made by explicitly combining the two ideas embodied in the patents. Thus an invention that has been validly patented cannot infringe a valid patent held by somebody else. If this situation appears to exist in reality, then by definition one of the two patents must be invalid, and it only remains to determine which one.

2) non-obvious - it must be highly unlikely that an ordinary expert in the field would have found this solution when tackling this class of problems.

This means that engineers who turn out solutions in the ordinary course of their jobs are almost certainly not producing anything patentable. Even the invention made by combining two patented ideas is probably obvious to somebody who has read and understood both patents.

In principle this should also mean that if an invention is independently produced by another engineer, who had not read the patent or even seen the original invention, this should cast doubt on the non-obviousness of the invention, and thus the validity of the patent. In practice, independent invention is *not* usually a defence in patent court. I can't think of a good reason why, since this makes it ridiculously difficult to overturn a bad patent.

The large corporations now state openly "We know for certain that our competitors must be infringing some of our large patent portfolio. We just don't know which ones or where, yet. If we have reason to do so, we'll go looking." That in itself is evidence that non-obviousness has ceased to be a criterion for the USPTO.

The USPTO has failed to apply either of these standards adequately to software patents, and that is precisely why we've got the mess we do now. Any large company can take a mildly novel algorithm of ordinary complexity, dress it up in the right legalese, present it to the USPTO as an "important invention" - and a patent will probably be granted.

It is actually not too difficult to write a video codec that does not infringe the MPEG patents. You must simply restrict yourselves to algorithms that predate software patenting (eg. anything in MPEG-1, Vector Quantisation) or which are explicitly known to be patent-free (eg. Range Coding, Discrete Wavelet Transform), or which are explicitly covered by valid patents which have been gifted to the community (eg. Theora). You might find yourself adapting image-processing techniques which have existed for a long time, but are now feasible in realtime due to the advance of hardware technology (eg. interpolating in CIELAB colour space, generalising motion compensation to the per-pixel level).

Quite simply, patent reform is overdue, and must focus on restoring the two tenets of uniqueness and non-obviousness. This should preferably include the defence of independent invention.

The big decision makers of the industry are all US-based - Microsoft, Google, Apple, Hollywood. Their decisions are already strongly influenced by the toxic patent climate, and these decisions affect citizens on other continents as well. As an EU citizen I am dismayed by this state of affairs.

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