GNOME Foundation steps up its open source patent defense

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Commentary: RPI is suing the GNOME Basis over Shotwell, an open supply venture. GNOME refuses to again down, for good cause.

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Picture: BCFC, Getty Photographs/iStockphoto

Patent lawsuits towards open supply tasks are reportedly on the rise. The query is why. Sure, open supply has by no means been extra pervasive or in style, however no less than a number of the patent fits do not make a lot sense.

Take, for instance, Rothschild Patent Imaging (RPI) LLC’s lawsuit towards the GNOME Basis. It is unclear what substantial worth Rothschild hopes to achieve by the motion. When Rothschild Related Gadgets Improvements, LLC sued Garmin (finally dropping the swimsuit), it focused a cash-rich company. Right here RPI goes after an open supply foundation–GNOME reported simply over $1 million in earnings in 2018 (up from round $250,000 in 2017). In accordance with the GNOME Basis, RPI supplied to accept a “excessive 5 determine quantity,” however the GNOME Basis is combating, not flinching.

The explanation? Defending open supply.

SEE: How Mark Shuttleworth grew to become the primary African in area and launched a software program revolution (cowl story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Fleecing the fleece-less

As reported by sister website ZDNet, RPI sued the GNOME Basis over alleged violation of its US patent (#9,936,086) that covers wi-fi communication of photos. Much less well-known, nevertheless, is the truth that RPI sued eight organizations concurrently utilizing the identical patent. Solely a type of alleged violations entails open supply.

RPI, in different phrases, does not seem to have a specific axe to grind towards open supply. It isn’t a SCO that sued IBM for $1 billion means again when, then hiked that quantity to $three billion (and sprayed pay-or-be-sued letters throughout each identified consumer of Linux). This isn’t to recommend that RPI’s actions will not have an effect on open supply. They might have a really destructive influence on open supply, typically, and Shotwell customers, notably, as GNOME Basis government director Neil McGovern informed me.

“Our intention is to cease this from taking place ever once more. We need to ship the message that you do not mess with free and open supply software program.”

Because the GNOME Basis went on to say in a press release:

A month in the past, GNOME was hit by a patent troll for creating the Shotwell picture administration software. It is the primary time a free software program venture has been focused on this means, however we fear it will not be the final. Rothschild Patent Imaging, LLC supplied to allow us to accept a excessive 5 determine quantity, for which they’d drop the case and provides us a license to hold on creating Shotwell. This could have been easy to take action; it will have brought on much less work, price much less cash, and supplied the Basis so much much less stress. Nevertheless it additionally could be flawed. Agreeing to this would depart this patent stay, and permit this for use as a weapon towards numerous others. We are going to stand agency towards this baseless assault, not only for GNOME and Shotwell, however for all free and open supply software program tasks.

The reply as to how this would possibly have an effect on different customers of Shotwell is two-fold. First, as talked about within the assertion, RPI has proven a willingness to sue. Maybe its technique is to gather a “excessive five-figure quantity” from a big quantity of defendants. Fairly than go huge (SCO type) with one or two defendants, it could be RPI’s technique to gather a little bit from numerous organizations on the idea that retaining the settlement charge low sufficient would possibly immediate defendants to skip the trouble of protracted litigation and simply pay.

The GNOME Basis is pushing again. Not solely may this squelch RPI’s efforts to fleece would-be licensors, but it surely additionally resolves a doubtlessly extra nettlesome side of RPI’s swimsuit: Injunctive reduction. Not solely did RPI sue for damages, but it surely additionally sued to cease the GNOME Basis and downstream customers from exercising the rights supplied beneath the GNU Lesser Normal Public License (LGPL).

SEE: GNOME sends message to ‘patent trolls’ and recordsdata defence towards lawsuit (ZDNet)

Enjoining open supply use

As lawyer James Gatto of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP has written, Shotwell is licensed beneath the LGPL, model 2.1, which permits licensees to repeat and redistribute the code to others. Par for the course in open supply land, proper? 

Sure, however….

If in some way Rothschild obtains an injunction, will it apply simply to the GNOME Basis or downstream customers as effectively? One of many novel underlying authorized questions that might must be addressed is whether or not licensees who redistribute an open supply program are “in lively live performance or participation with Defendant.”

On this means, RPI may really attain deep into the downstream consumer base of Shotwell or, no less than, those that modify and redistribute it. If profitable, RPI may block Shotwell customers from utilizing or modifying the software program. This, in flip, would create critical uncertainty as to the important freedoms afforded to open supply customers.

The GNOME Basis is combating the swimsuit, submitting a movement to dismiss the case outright. The GNOME Basis can be answering the declare, arguing that there isn’t a patent violation. Lastly, the GNOME Basis has filed a counterclaim, as a result of “We need to guarantee that this is not simply dropped when Rothschild realizes we’ll battle this.

“We need to ship a message to all software program patent trolls out there–we will battle your swimsuit, we’ll win, and we may have your patent invalidated,” declared the GNOME Basis in its assertion.

RPI might have picked on the flawed GNOME.

Disclaimer: I work for AWS however in that work I’ve no interplay (direct or oblique) with the GNOME Basis. On the time of writing, I’m not conscious that AWS has any involvement with the GNOME Basis.

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