AlwaysOn: Open source and patent trolls

AlwaysOn: Open source and patent trolls

Summary: Speaking at a panel at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit 2006 addressing the question of whether all software, or even hardware, will go open source, MySQL CEO Marten Mickos said: "There is no technical argument for keeping code closed. In five or ten years there will be a way to make money and keep every single line of code open.

TOPICS: Patents

mickos200.jpgSpeaking at a panel at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit 2006 addressing the question of whether all software, or even hardware, will go open source, MySQL CEO Marten Mickos said: "There is no technical argument for keeping code closed. In five or ten years there will be a way to make money and keep every single line of code open." Today, historical pressures and licensing issues are holding back companies from embracing open source more fully, he said. Open source companies are experimenting with different business models, such as commercial open source, which includes some proprietary, closed components in a solution, different kinds of licenses and services.

Technically, there is no reason the majority of software can't be open source, once the patent infringement issues have been handled--but that's a major hurdle. Bruce Perens, vice president of policy at SourceLabs, said patent issues are the Achilles heel of open source. He expressed concern that small- and medium-sized companies won't survive if they get his with software litigation. Even if they are right, they couldn't afford to survive a lawsuit, he said.

Ron Hovsepian, CEO of Novell, cited the Open Invention Network, which is buying up patents for cross-licensing purposes to defend the Linux environment, making them available royalty-free to developers. Mickos proclaimed that patents are the Achilles heel of the entire software industry. He called it a societal problem, and compared it to the evolution of smoking. First, it was a medical experiment to see if there were health benefits, but it was a killer. Patents are killing innovation within what he termed the superior open source model. "Europe in software patents is doing smarter things. The U.S. needs to catch up. Software patents are plain bad," Mickos said. "We all need to join consortiums [like the Open Invention Network] to protect you, but when it really gets bad, legs get broken and bad things happen."  He may be referring to his leg, which is in a cast (see below), but I doubt that a patent troll caused the damage...


Mark Spencer, Digium; Marten Mickos, MySQL; Ron Hovsepian, Novell; Matt Ettus, Ettus Research; Bruce Perens, SourceLabs

Topic: Patents

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  • What else would a bunch of open source hacks say?

    "Bruce Perens, vice president of policy at SourceLabs, said patent issues are the Achilles heel of open source."

    Translated, Bruce can't just take someone elses work and copy it. Gee, what else would you expect an open source hack say???
    • Your should be allowed to own your own work

      The problem is that they get their _own_ work declared illegal. Free Software people don't steal other people's work - they write their own code, and share code that is licensed to allow it. That should never be illegal.
  • why does Mikos lcok the front door at night while he sleeps

    Basically just because someone says the banks ought not to lock up their cash in vaults. There is a police force who will put people in prison if anyone ever steals.

    Basically MySQL is trying to slip one in 'in 5 years all software will the open source"

    HA HA HA,
    Aint gonna fall for that line.
    • What are you talking about?

      Your post makes little sense, seeming to be nothing more than a series of on-sequiturs.

      He may now bother locking his door in Sweden, but if he does it would be to keep uninvited people out of his house. That has nothing at all to do with Free Software or software patents, which is all about intangibles.

      Neither of these things has anything to do with bank vaults. And 'slip one in' where, or what exactly?

      I'm not convinced about the 'everything will be open source in 5 years' either though. Proprietary software will be around for a while yet.
  • OSS problems

    They still don't have any sort of method for making money, but they do a good simulation of chickens running around without heads.

    The only reason for writing code for nothing is altruism and while I support the effort, I have no illusions about business models etc. Anyone trying to make money out of OSS is simply exploiting the work of the people who put it together.
    • OSS is great for business

      People write software because they get paid to write it, or because they need it to do something. Both of those mechanisms work just fine with Free Software.

      Because the software is shared everyone gets where they are going much faster (there is usually something approximately like what you wanted already available).

      And companies do make money out it. Not the huge profits of Microsoft, but a reasonable living. MySQL and Digium are both successful companies based on Free Software. So are Google, and ebay.
      I too make a living writing Free Software _and_ I find it enormous fun - that's about as good as it gets.
  • Has Open Source Joined the Coalition for Patent Piracy?

    Dan Farber said "there will be a way to make money and keep every single line of code open." I most certainly appreciate his honesty. Of course many people in the software community have been making money from their contributions to open source by writing books or articles, selling consulting services, being paid to speak or conduct training sessions and a variety of other means of generating income.

    Buying licenses for the good of the community from inventors is a reasonable way to promote their collective profit motive.

    But the groups constant attacks on inventors which are motivated by bald faced greed says a great deal about their collective ethics. If they chose to donate their own inventions to the collective that is their choice. My observation is that the vast majority who claim to be inventing are not and while they may donate code it most often does not qualify by any means as inventive. So perhaps part of the motivation is envy and resentment - - - compounded by greed. Yes some people in the software community do produce inventions and when the do they are no less deserving of being compensated than those in the community who chose to make a living selling support services.

    When the software community tries to rationalize stealing others inventions it is a very different matter. Arguments that software should not be patentable just do not make sense when many inventions can be implemented in either hardware or software. It is the essence of modern micro technology that more and more of what used to be implemented in hardware is now done in microcode or software.

    Everyone should read the story about how Intel preyed on an inventor and crushed them with abusive litigation tactics while demonizing them as a patent troll. It is a story of corporate arrogance, and lack of morals or ethics. See and then consider how the Coalition for Patent Piracy [They call themselves the Coalition for Patent Fairness ;)], a group of washed up tech companies which cannot produce significant inventions but can pirate others work has duped the open source community into backing their agenda. It is an agenda where their patents will still be enforceable but those of others will not be enforceable.

    Ronald J Riley, President
    Professional Inventors Alliance
    Change "at" to @
    RJR Direct # (202) 318-1595
    • No we just believe in openness and innovation

      Our attacks are not on inventors (we include plenty amongst our number) but on an expansionist patent system which does not do what it purports to do. It does not promote innovation, or increase the overall societal good. There have been plenty of studies showing that software patenting reduces innovation.

      If the patent system actually worked as intended in the area of software, then there wouldn't be hundreds of thousands of software authors, both free _and_ proprietary railing against it. It is not that we don't understand it - it is that we understand it too well.

      There isn't a shortage of software ideas/inventions which requires promotion of more by 20yr government monopolies. There is loads of software all over the place, and plenty of it is inventive. It is funny how America, 'home of the free market', is the biggest hindrance to a genuinely free market in software. People should be allowed to write software and let it compete in the market without one person getting a monopoly on some little aspect.

      And the distinction between hardware and software does make sense. The reason why things are implemented in software these days, rather than hardware, is that it is _much_ cheaper. You don't need a big factory, you don't need years of research, you don't need a multitude of prototypes. Software is fundamentally different in being an intangible which can be written in bedrooms just as well as huge factories, and is already protected by copyright.

      All these differences are why allowing 20yr patents on it makes no sense, and merely hinders progress. 2yr patents might be OK, but no-one is proposing that. Trying to defend the US patent system as it applies to software and business methods will only bring the patent system into total disrepute until it collapses under it's own hubris.

      Your claim that people who are anti-software patent are not inventive is just rot of course.
      They are just as inventive as pro-patent people. I would actually argue that very little software is genuinly inventive - almost all of it just does things the most obvious way. But things don't need to be at all inventive to get a patent in the US these days. Nearly all the software patents issued ought to have failed the 'obviousness test', but do not because it has been watered down to almost meaninglessness.

      The emotional appeal you present as 'stealing others inventions' is what I descibe as 'writing some software which does something the same as someone else's software'. The whole point about computers is that in order to communicate and trasfer files, and have familiar human interfaces they need to do some things the same way as other pieces of software. This should not be illegal, and is not in any way immoral either.

      It is a good thing that more than one company can put progress bars in their software, send client-server messages, have hyperlinks, play mp3s, send email to mobiles devices and so on. Making these things exclusive to one company does nothing but prevent the spread of knowledge, inflate prices and make all your media devices incompatible.

      Stick to patenting things that are actually worthy of 20yr monopolies, or continue to fight the masses of software authors and companies around the world which see the folly of the US approach.
    • Hardware vs software.

      Your example :

      appears to be of a *hardware* patent (I say "appears" to be because your article is very unclear as to what the patent actually covered). No one is against hardware patents, the argument is about software patents. Don't try and confuse the issue (but this of course is what the pro-software patent trolls try and do :-).

  • Patent Prior Art

    A good way to stop patent trolls is to confront them with prior art at the earliest opportunity.
    Check out for a jump start on prior art for published but pending and yet unissued US patent Applications.