Friday, October 12, 2007

Linux patent infringement suit

(via Groklaw) Red Hat and Novell, owners of the two largest Linux enterprise distributions, have been sued in Texas (where else?) by patent troll IP Innovation, part of the troll tribe Acacia. The subject of the litigation is U.S. Patent 5,072,412, which protects a user interface with multiple workspaces for sharing display system objects. The abstract reads:

"Workspaces provided by an object-based user interface appear to share windows and other display objects. Each workspace's data structure includes, for each window in that workspace, a linking data structure called a placement which links to the display system object which provides that window, which may be a display system object in a preexisting window system. The placement also contains display characteristics of the window when displayed in that workspace, such as position and size. Therefore, a display system object can be linked to several workspaces by a placement in each of the workspaces' data structures, and the window it provides to each of those workspaces can have unique display characteristics, yet appear to the user to be the same window or versions of the same window. As a result, the workspaces appear to be sharing a window."
I went through the complaint to see if it could elucidate what this steaming pile of gibberish means, but there was little clue. It took me a while going through the entire claim in order to get an idea of what this entails, as I could not believe that such a broad patent could exist. I thought initially that they were talking about previews, or even application linking. However, it seems that this is all about user interfaces, and it could easily apply to any sort of graphical display using nested windows linked through an operating system. It is important to note that IP Innovation sued Apple using the exactly same patent (a case that was settled out of court).

Pam at Groklaw has put forward the theory that Microsoft is behind this case, but I disagree, as Novell still seems to be in their good books. However, the fact that this preposterously broad patent has been used against Apple and now Linux would seem to indicate some involvement from a certain large software corporation based in Richmond, WA. Nevertheless, what seems evident is that patent trolls may start turning their heads towards open source, and large Linux providers are the obvious targets.

I was also wondering about the terribly adequate choice of name for this particular troll. IP Innovation, a company that does not make anything, it only tries to find innovative ways to detach true innovators from their cash. I say that all open source developers should leave the United States and move to Europe, it is a little bit saner over here. Our patent trolls are very small.

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