On Wed, 27 Jun 2001, Branko Collin wrote:

> On 27 Jun 2001, at 14:47, Simon Budig wrote:
> > I just had contact to Mr. Soquat, a member of the staff from the
> > german Ministry of Economics and Technology [1]. He is very interested
> > in how patents are a problem for free software.


> > At the opening of the Linuxtag there is a chance to present the
> > problem to a higher representative of the Ministry (5. 7. 2001, about
> > 13.15 - 13.55). It would be great if we could collect the relevant
> > information and find a person who is willing to present this at that
> > time (about 5 to 7 minutes...). 
> The history of the enforcement of the Unisys patent on LZW(?) 
> compression would be a nice example of how free software can be 
> hindered in something as simple as the production of the predominant 
> graphics format on the web. I realise it is not a good example of 
> 'obvious' things to be patented, but I am sure enough examples of 
> that can be found. 
The true inequity of the Unisys patent is not 'obviousness'.  It's
that they waited until every web site on the planet was using
GIF before they started to enforce it.  That gave them the maximum
chance for royalties.

The LZW patent is (AFAIK) not an unreasonable one.

If they had hit the very first person to use GIF with a lawsuit,
we'd all have come up with a different standard and life would
have been good.  It's not as though GIF (or more accurately LZW)
is some kind of rocket-science - it's just a de-facto standard.

However, Unisys coldly sat back and waited until a few *billion*
web sites were out there (and enough big companies with the
money to pay them royalties and be worth suing).  By then, we
were hopelessly locked into GIF because it was the only appropriate
standard really supported by Netscape and Internet Exporer.

UniSys only acted when they were sure they could make money off
the *PATENT* (as opposed to things made using the patented
technology).   That's just AWFUL, immoral behaviour IMHO.

The law should be that if you don't defend your patent on the
first occasion you see it being infringed then you should lose
the right to prosecute subsequent infringements.  That way,
UniSys would either have fought to retain their precious
technology before it became a de-facto standard - or they'd
have decided to let it lapse into the public domain.

That makes the Unisys patent case very different from the equally
notorious Amazon One-Click thing because Amazon did the honest
thing of suing the first person they found infringing it.

The problem with Amazon is that an utterly *trivial* thing was
allowed to be patented and only people with money stand a chance
to fight the lawsuits to prove it.  Non-obviousness and 'prior art'
are things that the patent department is supposed to test for
before the patent is ever granted - they do a terrible job of
doing that.  The free software community cannot afford the cost
of law suits to defend against infringement suits for patents
that are quite simply junk.

I don't boycott Amazon because the fault there lies in the
US patent office - but I *do* try to get people not to do
business with UniSys because they are just immoral.

These are two completely separate issues and that point needs
to be made.

Steve Baker                      (817)619-2657 (Vox/Vox-Mail)
L3Com/Link Simulation & Training (817)619-2466 (Fax)
Work: [EMAIL PROTECTED]           http://www.link.com
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