10 years of defending Linux's legalities: Groklaw

10 years of defending Linux's legalities: Groklaw

Summary: A decade ago, SCO attacked Linux but it hadn't counted on running into a paralegal turned legal journalist named Pamela Jones and her Website Groklaw.


Ten years ago, SCO decided to sue IBM and started a series of legal attacks on Linux. Their cases were pathetically weak, but CIOs and CFOs didn't know that. Thanks to paralegal turned legal journalist, Pamela "PJ" Jones and her Website Groklaw, executives who wanted to know what was really what with SCO's multitude of lawsuits soon learned of the FUD behind SCO's claims. SCO and its silent backer Microsoft hope for profits and slowing down Linux's corporate success would come to nothing, and SCO ended up in bankruptcy

Groklaw: 10 years of defending Linux and open-source legal software rights.

Now, in late May 2013, SCO's last, dying twitches continue in the courts and Groklaw continues to cover technology related intellectual property (IP) legal issues. Outside of the courtroom, Linux has become a completely mainstream technology, and Microsoft, thanks to its Android-related patent claims, actually profits greatly from Linux.

A decade after Jones launched Groklaw, Jones credited the community, rather than her own efforts, for Groklaw's success. She wrote:

If I take three things away from our experience, it's this:

1.) Education is never a waste,

2.) All of us together are smarter and more powerful than any one of us alone, and

3) FUD withers in sunlight. It only works when people lack accurate information.

Group dynamics are awesome. Whenever there is a new need, somehow the right people show up and fill it. Whether it was meticulously demolishing SCO's claims, one by one, or doing patent prior art searching, or explaining that software is mathematics and hence unpatentable subject matter, or noticing what the real game is in the patent smartphone wars, you came through with competence, donating your knowledge, research, and skills to the group effort. And you did it entirely as volunteers, as a free gift to the world.

Groklaw was attacked with venom, of course. But here we are, ten years later, still standing.

Indeed, Groklaw stands and works still. I asked Jones, and yes there is a PJ , what she thought Groklaw's biggest accomplishment was. Jones replied, "Showing up as a group with all the research and proof that SCO was not right. It was one of those fortuitous moments in life where you just happen to be in the right spot at the right time with the right skills."

She continued, "If I had to pick just one thing, other than forming such a solid community, it would be getting permission to publish the BSDi settlement agreement [a lawsuit settlement that gave the Berkley Unix distributions the right to legally exist] , because it cut off SCO's claims at the knees. It had been secret for a very long time, so it was possible for SCO to say whatever it wanted to say and no one could contradict, until we published. That was the end of any realistic BSDi claims based on the agreement."

When I asked her about Groklaw's role today in a post-SCO world, Jones replied, "SCO isn't done, unfortunately. So we are not yet in the post-SCO world. It has just filed a motion with the US District Court in Utah to reopen the IBM litigation."

Neither Jones nor I can think of a way this can possibly have any impact on Linux, "But," Jones added, "Even when it's done, there is plenty to do regarding patents, which threaten FOSS [Free and Open-Source Software] in a much bigger way than SCO ever could. I view the smartphone patent wars as SCO II, with Microsoft playing the adversary part with patents that SCO played with copyrights."

Jones continued, "The target is still Linux, which is what Android runs on. Both SCO and Microsoft wanted to force users of Linux to pay them for alleged IP infringement, not only for the riches but to make Linux products cost more so proprietary software could compete. I see no difference, except Microsoft is a more serious adversary."

Indeed, Microsoft has been very successful in landing patent deals with Android device vendors. Companies find it easier to pay off patent claims than fight them. As a high-level executive at an Android-related company told me, “We use a lot of Microsoft software as well, and it was cheaper than fighting with them over our contracts. We want to do business, not fight over legal claims that have nothing to do with us."

Looking ahead for Groklaw's role in a legal environment where patents rather than copyrights are what matters, Jones said, "Now that Mark Webbink is co-editor with me, we have a lawyer on board, and that makes it possible to try things that I couldn't do alone. I hope to file amicus [friend of the court] briefs in patent cases as we go forward, for example to explain what software is and what it isn't. And we filed detailed comments with the USPTO [United States Patent and Trademark Office] when they asked the community to help them figure out some issues about patents. I wouldn't have done that before."

That said, "Our basic role is the same--to wither FUD away by presenting facts. And to help lawyers and judges to understand technology, so they can reach better decisions; and to help the tech community understand the law, so they can stay out of trouble and also so they know what information they have that can prove useful. We've played a role in finding prior art, for example. That would have been impossible if folks didn't know what constitutes prior art. So I try to use cases to explain the legal process."

Jones noted that while SCO has been on the back-burner, "We covered the OOXML/ODF [OpenOffice XML/OpenDocument Format) standards process in deep detail, so we now understand that area. The exact role we play depends on events, and you can't predict that. I never could have predicted that Oracle would sue Google the way it did. We covered that case in detail too. We covered the Apple v. Psystar [Mac clone] litigation fully too. We covered the Novell v. Microsoft Wordperfect litigation too, and the Apple v. Samsung and Microsoft v. Motorola patent cases."

So, Jones concluded, while "SCO hasn't been the center of Groklaw's world for a long time. I'm sure there will be such cases for some time to come, as proprietary software vendors find their world turning upside down."

Related Stories:

Topics: Legal, IBM, Linux, Microsoft, Patents

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  • Microsoft versus Motorola

    Will be the final confirmation that Android is stolen IP.

    Google - ha ha - Foss Patents
    • Doesn't need confirmation

      Considering that most if not all major Android distributors are paying royalties to MS, that's a tacit admission that the IP is owned by MS.

      Google did it to their own distributors!
      • But why hasn't MS sued Google?

        Google, after all, has the deepest pockets of any company associated with Android. Who knows? If MS has a really good case, Google might be persuaded to sign over the Android copyrights allowing MS to take Android proprietary.

        But I think both of us know the real reason why MS hasn't done this.
        John L. Ries
        • Not just Android

          The patent agreements also include Chrome OS and Linux servers, both GNU/Linux.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Flags for this post? Bring it on!

            More on Microsoft's patent agreements regarding Linux servers here:

            "On July 24, Microsoft signed a patent deal with a different kind of vendor: a software and services provider to telcos that runs its business on Linux servers.

            And as I recall, Amazon also signed a patent agreement with Microsoft regarding Linux servers. Yup, here's the link to Microsoft's press release:

            "Microsoft and Amazon.com Sign Patent Agreement

            And last, but not least, here's a link to a Microsoft press release describing a patent agreement with LG regarding Chrome OS and Android:

            "Microsoft and LG Sign Patent Agreement Covering Android and Chrome OS Based Devices
            Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Google is Motorola so they are going to be sued directly now

          It isn't going to help Android at all
          • Nope.

            MS has never sued RedHat and it will never sue Google. They do not engage with players with real skin in the game because they would loose and this may unleash a serious backlash. Not to mention that RedHat is known for invalidating crappy patents. This is what MS fears.
          • Actually

            It's all about what's worth it.

            Is it worth it to pay billions to lawyers to get less than half of that back? Remember Apple vs Samsung in America. It hasn't even ended yet, and it never would.

            Microsoft isn't filled with idiots.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • Bully's logic

            Much more profitable to threaten people who aren't likely to fight back.
            John L. Ries
      • There is no tacit admission

        It is a business decision. Spend $ on payments to MS or spend $$ to fight it in court with no guarantee of success.

        Just look at Barnes & Noble who decided to fight. When the discovery started to find too much for MS liking the case was settled with MS paying B&N.
        • Re: There is no tacit admission

          "It is a business decision. Spend $ on payments to MS or spend $$ to fight it in court with no guarantee of success."

          Not to mention that it has become an increasingly popular practice among large US/EU technology corporations to resort to asking the ITC or European equivalent to spring a trade injunction against the defendant -- thereby cutting off the victim's revenue stream.

          Historically, Microsoft has called this sort of approach (depriving a competitor of revenue) "cutting off their air-supply". Why "compete", when you can just put them right out of business?
          • Sorry, you're wrong

            Those who like to distill what's happening with MS and the Android licensing fees down to simple extortion are fooling themselves. Do you not think that a powerhouse like Samsung could and would fight if they felt they had a case? Of course they would, they're cash rich, and have history of taking these issues to court. Don't believe me? Ask Apple. Still, Samsung pays MS. No, whether you like it or not, MS has presented something compelling, and it's costing OEMs. MS doesn't go after Google because Android is a cash cow. Why kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? MS is making more $ from Android than WP. A story for you: A young boy was asked by his grandfather to choose between a nickel and a dime. The boy was told he could keep whatever he chose. Week after week when presented with the choice, the boy always chose the nickel, much to the puzzlement of the grandfather, who thought the child a bit dim. One day, the boy's brother asked him why he chose the nickel. The boy replied,"If I choose the dime, he'll stop asking me."
          • how much do they pay to MS?

            >>Do you not think that a powerhouse like Samsung could and would fight if they felt they had a case?
            So how much exactly do they pay to license the noone-knows-which MS' IP there? What if Samsung just nodded to sell a few Win8 devices for admitting they were using some out-of-the-air IP?
            Until the alleged IP and the exact sums of money changing hands are named, it's yet another MS FUD
          • garysvb@...: "MS doesn't go after Google because Android is a cash cow"

            garysvb@... also wrote:
            " Why kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

            So are you saying that Oracle erred in going after Google directly rather than going after Android OEMs and other companies in the Android device manufacturing chain?

            Ask yourself this question: What does Oracle lack that Microsoft doesn't lack? Answer: Business partnerships with Android OEMs and other companies in the Android device manufacturing chain. Oracle Solaris and Enterprise Linux are server OSs and Oracle farmed out the x86 commodity stuff to Dell and HP.

            This is precisely why Microsoft failed to win over Barnes & Noble and Motorola Mobility with its Linux patent agreement strong arming. The ONLY companies that have stood up to Microsoft's patent threats are those companies that did not previously have a business relationship with Microsoft. Thus, Microsoft was unable to twist Barnes & Noble's and Motorola Mobility's arms into signing the patent agreements.

            Barnes & Noble went on the offensive with Microsoft, whittled Microsoft's patent claims down to one and ultimately settled with Microsoft with a digital media partnership and an influx of $600 million U.S., $300 million up front with the rest to follow. B & N desperately needs a big brother in its attempt to compete with Amazon, Apple and Google in the digital book market. Motorola Mobility, now a Google subsidiary, continues to fight Microsoft.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
      • @Cynical99 -- pertinent quote from the article.

        "Companies find it easier to pay off patent claims than fight them. As a high-level executive at an Android-related company told me, “We use a lot of Microsoft software as well, and it was cheaper than fighting with them over our contracts. We want to do business, not fight over legal claims that have nothing to do with us."
        :Close Quote

        No one who cares about the facts, rather than about blindly "rooting for the team" believes that MS's patents against Android bear scrutiny.

        And we saw a concrete demonstration of this reality when Microsoft went after Barnes & Noble -- and B&N said "No, actually, we haven't agreed to an NDA, and your claims aren't protected by an NDA just because you choose to say so."

        And when the claims were exposed to public view (both MS's original claimed patent infringements, and the rather different set of infringements alleged in the court documents), it became crystal clear that MS's motives were merely legal extortion, rather than genuine grounds for action.

        No, if Microsoft were ever to launch a *credible* Linux or Android based patent-infringement suite against Google...

        Well then, the issue might be worth further examination (but probably not). But I for one shan't hold my breath.
        • For one to quote steven on legal items

          would be suicide in court. Steven states his opinion as fact, when it probably isn't fact at all.

          Tell me, what information did Steven use to derive that opinion? Nothing based in fact, only what he wants to think.

          As you decided to believe Steven, I hope you never go into business. You'll be an instant target.

          Samsung has a legal team that would simply walk all over MS if they chose to. Remember that little litigation between Samsung and Apple that's still going on? Samsung won't hesitate to fight when needed.

          Considering that Samsung paid the fee, one must think there's something to the claims.

          As for Google, not all agreements are made public.
          • what if Samsung

            only pays $1 per every million of Android devices sold? Can you refute this claim? What does it have to with Samsung legal might?
          • Sigh -

            That was one of the most incredulous statements I've heard on this site. Stating the ridiculous and challenging others to disprove is simply moronic and comes in at about third grade level of maturity.

            You made the statement, you prove it.
          • if Google or Red Hat were paying royalties to MS...

            ...MS would certainly announce it.
            John L. Ries
          • Maybe not -

            MS announces what they want you to see and hear. If the MS didn't want the google deal announced, then it would not be announced. Only MS knows what they want to say and what they don't.

            I suspect that even you aren't privy to the internal workings of MS.