Brett Smith (Free Software Foundation) talks on the TPP in Melbourne – March 5th!

Updated: new (larger) venue now finalised.

Brett Smith is in Melbourne to talk to government negotiators about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the impact on free software. This public lecture will introduce free software and discuss recent issues in free software licensing, including the TPP. Members of the public are welcome. No technical knowledge is required.

It will be on Monday 5 March, 2012, 6 p.m. in Theatre 1, ICT Building, Barry Street, Carlton.

This talk will introduce free software, explain why it’s important, and explore the many places where free software interacts with the law. Brett Smith will illustrate how copyright, licenses, patents, trade agreements, and other laws all play a role in deciding whether and how we can create, use, and share free software — and by extension, who controls our computers. Members of the public are welcome. No technical knowledge is required.

Brett is a GPL Ninja. He works in the Free Software Foundation’s Licensing Compliance Lab, as license compliance engineer. Brett answers complex licensing questions from the public, writes widely read and timely posts for the FSF’s blogs, codes up Python programs, and dashes across the country to give input to policy makers. Brett also ran the GPL version 3 drafting process.

Please register here: http://apps.freesoftware.asn.au/invite/brett-smith-fsf/

Google to acquire Motorola Mobility (Updated x1)

Very interesting news, especially given Motorola’s recent sabre rattling about going after patent victims^W income – hopefully this will put the end to that nonsense.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. & LIBERTYVILLE, Ill. – Aug. 15, 2011 – Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Motorola Mobility Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: MMI) today announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Google will acquire Motorola Mobility for $40.00 per share in cash, or a total of about $12.5 billion, a premium of 63% to the closing price of Motorola Mobility shares on Friday, August 12, 2011. The transaction was unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies.

The acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a dedicated Android partner, will enable Google to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing. Motorola Mobility will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. Google will run Motorola Mobility as a separate business.

I hope with Google in control we’ll see some better Android devices out there – can we get a real keyboard please ?!?

Update 1:

It appears that patents are part of the reason for Google buying Motorola, but looks like they’re being trailed as defensive according to this TechCrunch article:

During today’s conference call explaining the deal, Page noted that Motorola’s “strong patent portfolio” will help Google defend Android against “Microsoft, Apple, and other companies.” The first two questions on the call went right to the patent issue as well. With Android under attack on the patent front by Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others, buying Motorola is very much a defensive move as well.

Microsoft Patents “Legal Intercept” of VoIP and other Network Protocols

In 2009 some bright sparks at Microsoft decided that they should patent how to legally intercept VoIP (explicitly SIP traffic in the patent) and other network protocols. The SIP attack basically boils down to tweaking the SDP packets to remove an option:

If SIP invite messages are intercepted on their way to the call server or in the call server then the “a=candidate” lines referring to a direct peer to peer voice connection may be removed from the SDP parameters. As a result, the terminating call VoIP entity is not offered local paths and will not respond with them in the answer SDP. This forces the call through the NAT and into the public network where it can be transparently recorded.

But of course this is a patent and so the broad principles are couched in heaps of legal mumbo-jumbo and so what is actually covered is impenetrable.

One interesting point, given recent developments, is:

For example, VoIP may include audio messages transmitted via gaming systems, instant messaging protocols that transmit audio, Skype and Skype-like applications, meeting software, video conferencing software, and the like.

This is long before they bought Skype, but I’m sure that won’t stop conspiracy theorists.. :-)

Soliciting Australian Signatories to an Open Letter Against Software Patents to Minister Kim Carr

The Melbourne Free Software Interest Group (a group of Melbourne computer folks with an interest in software freedom) have put together an open letter to Senator the Hon Kim Carr, the Minister for Innovation, to request that software be excluded from patenting as part of the Australian governments review of patents in general.

We are currently collecting signatures to the letter and if you are in Australia and of a like mind we would really appreciate it if you would contribute your signature too! Just click on the link, read the letter and the form to sign it is at the bottom of the page. Please also pass this on to others you know who may be interested.

Amazon Patents Social Networking in 2008 ?

Does this sound familiar to you ?

A networked computer system provides various services for assisting users in locating, and establishing contact relationships with, other users. For example, in one embodiment, users can identify other users based on their affiliations with particular schools or other organizations. The system also provides a mechanism for a user to selectively establish contact relationships or connections with other users, and to grant permissions for such other users to view personal information of the user. The system may also include features for enabling users to identify contacts of their respective contacts. In addition, the system may automatically notify users of personal information updates made by their respective contacts.

It’s the introduction to a patent by Amazon for their obviously unique idea of a “Social Networking System” which includes such strikingly novel ideas such as:

wherein the service maintains relationship data representing contact relationships between users, and the method further comprises using the relationship data to detect, and to cause the first user to be notified that, a third user is a contact of a contact of the first user via the second user.

and:

wherein the personal data of the first user comprises an identification of a school attended by the first user and an associated date range of attendance, and the computer system is additionally programmed to use said personal data to identify, and to inform the first user of, other users of the service who attended said school in said date range.

None of which existed before the patent was filed in 2008, honest guv…

Hello USPTO ? Anyone in there ?

Patents, MPEG-LA and Not-So-Professional Video Cameras

So you’ve bought a nice new professional video camera and you want to shoot a video of a friends band so they can sell a couple of copies to buy a new guitar, simple eh ? Well not quite, you’ll probably want to check the license for the camera according to this article by Eugenia Loli-Queru:

You see, there is something very important, that the vast majority of both consumers and video professionals don’t know: ALL modern video cameras and camcorders that shoot in h.264 or mpeg2, come with a license agreement that says that you can only use that camera to shoot video for “personal use and non-commercial” purposes (go on, read your manuals).

Now, you may ask, this can’t be right, can it ? Surely a “professional” video camera should be able to be used for professional purposes ? Well yes, it should, but it can’t. The reason is (of course) software patents, according to Eugenia:

Apparently, MPEG-LA makes it difficult for camera manufacturers, or video editor software houses, to obtain a cheap-enough license that allows their users to use their codec any way they want!

So the camera manufacturers pass that onto the purchaser, if you buy one and want to use it professionally then you will have to get your own license from MPEG-LA and then pay them a royalty on every copy sold. Sadly you can’t even get away from this by transcoding your MPEG2 or H.264 video into a free format for two reasons, firstly the camera most likely uses it internally first (and that’s apparently enough) and secondly the MPEG-LA claim their patent portfolio is so broad that you cannot create a video codec these days without infringing one of their patents. So theoretically you’d need to pay no matter what you did.

Eugenia does offer one possible way out, the ancient MJPEG format:

Let me make one thing clear. MJPEG **sucks** as a codec. It’s very old and inefficient. OGV Theora looks like alien technology compared to it. But (all, if not most of) its patents have expired. And JPEG is old enough to predate MPEG-LA. Thankfully, there are still some MJPEG HD cameras in the market, although they are getting fewer and fewer: Nikon’s dSLRs, Pentax’s new dSLRs, and the previous generation of Panasonic’s HD digicams. Other cameras that might be more acceptable to use codec-wise are the Panasonic HVX-200 (DVCPro HD codec, $6000), the SILICON IMAGING SI-2K (using the intermediate format Cineform to record, costs $12,000), and the RED One (using the R3D intermediate format, costs $16,000+). Almost every other HD camera in the market is unsuitable, if you want to be in the clear 100%

Yet another reason why software patents need to be defeated, they stifle what we can do with the technology we have paid for.

Microsoft Tried to get Patent Royalties for OpenOffice.org from Sun

In an interesting blog on patents, copying and litigation former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz discloses that Bill Gates and Steve Balmer tried to put the frighteners on Sun over OpenOffice.org to try and protect their office application monopoly. Their attack went like this:

“Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.” [...] “We’re happy to get you under license.”

Of course (as ever) they do not identify any patents, as that would let us fix any problems (if there are actually any), they would much rather weave their usual web of FUD on the matter than come clean. Jonathan’s response turned the issue on them on a different tact:

“We’ve looked at .NET, and you’re trampling all over a huge number of Java patents. So what will you pay us for every copy of Windows?”

That killed that angle of attack off.. :-)

Response to Greg Black on ZFS & FUSE

Catching up on PLOA I noticed a posting from Greg Black bemoaning the lack of ZFS in Linux so I thought I should make a couple of quick points in response to it.

  1. The CDDL/GPL thing is just down to the fact that their requirements are incompatible (Sun based the CDDL the MPL), so you can’t mix that code. Just have to live with that.
  2. A major issue with ZFS is that there is ongoing patent litigation in the US between Sun and NetApp over it – it’ll be interesting to see what Oracle do when they finally take over Sun (assuming Sun doesn’t expire before the EU regulators comes to a decision on the takeover)
  3. ZFS-FUSE isn’t dead! Whilst Ricardo has stopped work another group has taken up the challenge and there is a new home page for it – http://rudd-o.com/new-projects/zfs – complete with Git repository (no more Mercurial, huzzah!).
  4. The ZFS-FUSE mailing list is active too, if you want to learn more.

Why Microsoft Got Hammered by the Judge over XML Patent

If you were wondering why the judge came down like a ton of bricks over i4i’s XML patent, then this this is likely the reason:

In a 65-page summary opinion dated Aug. 11, U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Davis said that evidence presented during the May 2009 jury trial showed Microsoft had met with i4i executives as far back as 2001, knew of the firm’s patent for XML editing, and yet did nothing to guarantee that its implementation of “custom” XML would not infringe the i4i patent.

The judge also raises some (what look like to me) anti-trust monopolistic points:

“The trial evidence revealed that Microsoft’s intention to move competitors’ XML products to obsolescence was quite bold,” Davis said in his opinion. During the trial, i4i’s expert testified that 80% of the market for the company’s products was made moot when Microsoft added custom XML capabilities to Word 2003.

Of course you have to hand it to Microsoft for trying it on when attempting to get around the injunction, but the judge caught them again:

“Even after several years of litigation and a jury verdict of infringement, Microsoft requests the ability to continue selling the accused products and release an upcoming product with the same infringing functionality,”

Not to mention that Microsoft would have known of both the patent and the lawsuit whilst successfully railroading OOXML through the ISO standards process in flagrant disregard for the concerns about the format.

Fortunately it’s already been reported that OpenOffice.org ISO standard XML file format ODF is not affected by this patent.

i4i Says XML Patent Doesn’t Affect OpenOffice.org!

Here’s some interesting news from Government Computing (via Groklaw) on the patent that has caused all the worry about Microsoft Word and XML:

i4i said it has looked at OpenOffice and found it doesn’t infringe on its patents.

Which is good news for ODF, but still demonstrates what an utter minefield software patents are. The sooner they’re gone the better.