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LinuxWorld 2006 Boston: Software Patents Discussed – Bruce Perens Holds "State of Open Source" Press Conference

"Boston just isn't working out as a venue for the Winter LinuxWorld"

"One of the largest problems faced by Open Source," claimed Bruce Perens (pictured here talking to SYS-CON.TV at last year's LinuxWorld in San Francisco) in a "State of Open Source" press conference he held at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in Boston last week, "is the disparity in the ability to contest a patent claim through litigation."

According to the American IP Association's Economic Survey, it costs $3-5M to prosecute or defend a single case, Perens said, yet "Open Source participants are, in many cases, individuals who can not sustain a singleday in court but who should not be denied the right to practice technical development."

"Only by moving the process of contesting of a patent out of the courts," he continued, "does it appear that we can grant justice to the poor as well as the wealthy."

Perens used the "State of Open Source" press conference to propose a solution:

"The only option I see to get the Open Source developer off the hook today is post-grant opposition through the patent office, which is is heard or not arbitrarily depending on the pleasure of the director is, so far, very limited in its process, and doesn't seem to have deferred prosecution of high profile cases like RIM Systems."
Only in this way, according to Perens, will it ever be possible to prevent patent holders from stopping an Open Source project in its tracks "just by filing to sue."

Microsoft, for example - according to Perens - "could stop all new innovation in the Linux space by bringing suits using newer patents, at the cost of some survivable damage to themselves." (His theory, mind you, is that they won't do so until they get unified software patenting laws in Europe. "They won't create bad news that would sink their own legislative efforts.")

Perens reminded the audience how Steve Ballmer rattled the software patent sabre against Linux in Forbes magazine, but noted that "Every day that Microsoft doesn't file those suits, we get a better defense, because of the Doctrine of Laches."

Ths defense, he explained, works as follows: Laches says that if you hold off a patent suit waiting for the market to grow, you lose.

"Laches is an expensive defense to run and it's no sure thing," he added. "The standard interval for a Laches defense is 6 years, however Laches cases have been won witha period of as little as one year."

Never one to mince words, Perens then let rip on NTP vs. RIM:

"The NTP vs. RIM systems case has given us a new poster-boy forsoftware patent problems. First, the U.S. Patent Office declared the NTP patents invalid. Then RIM paid NTP $500M for an instant end to the case, because Treo sales were gaining on Blackberry due to the doubt the case created.

It's clear that justice was not done. A classical patent troll ran a legal extortion campaign, using patents confirmed not to embody any invention, and made a cool half billion from it.

This case sends a signal to get-rich-quick artists everywhere: it's not evennecessary for your patent to be valid. Become a troll, extort, litigate, be rewarded! When you're done, take 10% of your plunder and become a philantrophist for the tax shelter: the man on the street will consider you a hero and a leader."

Bruce Perens may or may not be giving a LinuxWorld Conference & Expo "State of the Open Source" press conference on the east coast next year, mind you. He may no longer be welcome. Not if the bosses at IDG World Expo, anyway, get to hear of what he had to say about this year's show in Boston:
"This show is a disappointment. It seems that Boston just isn't working out as a venue for the Winter LinuxWorld Expo, as the Summer show in San Francisco is huge compared to this one and of course Open Source is bigger than ever. Most shocking about the show is the fact that the two anchor tenants, HP and IBM, are missing from the exhibition floor.

It's New York or Bust, folks."
IDG World Expo had not responded to Perens' relocation thoughts as of this writing.

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SYS-CON's Linux News Desk gathers stories, analysis, and information from around the Linux world and synthesizes them into an easy to digest format for IT/IS managers and other business decision-makers.

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Most Recent Comments
ByeBye Perens 04/09/06 08:16:54 AM EDT

} Bruce Perens may or may not be giving a
} LinuxWorld Conference & Expo "State of the
} Open Source" press conference on the east
} coast next year, mind you. He may no longer
} be welcome.

Bruce has given 6 of these now, if memory serves. If he was "uninvited" who would be a better choice for the Fall 'State of Open Source' session I wonder. Nominations, please!!!

Patent Disarray 04/09/06 08:13:51 AM EDT

For all the talk about how ridiculous our patent system has become, there's almost no downside to those who file bad patents. That only makes the incentive such that people are told to file as many patents as possible, effectively overwhelming the system.

FishandChips 04/09/06 08:07:44 AM EDT

Articles about how awful the patent system is are ten a penny. What is very hard to find are folks who have thought this one through, have some cogent and realistic proposals, and who are prepared to build support for change among those in a position to change things. Anyway, it doesn't sound as if Mr Perens will be one. Big cheese massage sounds more his gig.

standBy4 04/09/06 08:04:49 AM EDT

So Bruce Perens tries yet again to convince the Linux community that it's time to challenge the patent system. Good luck.

jlward 04/09/06 08:03:09 AM EDT

One thing Perems didn't mention is how Microsoft seems to be using the Eolas case as a means to try and knock out Flash and other platforms that are a threat.

Microsoft has said that recent changes to IE in which standard object embed's now must be activated, were to comply with the Eolas patent. However, I recall reading an article which stated that the court did not order Microsoft to do anything of the sort.

This smells awfully similar to tactics Microsoft took to knock Java off the desktop. And even if Adobe and others were to sue, by the time a suit would be resolved, it would most likely be too late.

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