GPL'ed Patent Pool


Over the years, there has been lots and lots of talk about
patents and about how they might impact free software/
open source, but there really hasn't been much done about it.
So here's a proposal, a 'lets do something about it' thing.
I think there's a way to defend against a patent attack.

This proposal is aimed mostly at large companies holding
lots of patents who are Linux-freindly, such as IBM, Novell,
and RedHat.   But I don't know how to contact 'the right people'
in these companies to get this going.  Also, the proposal is
a bit raw, and this list is really good at whacking half-baked 
ideas ...

The idea is to create a "GPL Patent Pool".  The pool would
name a number of patents that can be 'freely implemented'
in GPL'ed code.  The pool would help remove fears of 
people who work on GPL'ed code; it would help protect
against Microsoft attacks, and it would be great PR as well.
I'd like to see IBM, RedHat and Novell, at a bare minimum, 
create and participate in this, although it works a lot 
better if there are lots of participants; the more, the 
better; I'll try to explain why more makes it better below.

OK, so here's how it might work:  The pool would
consist of a license, a piece of paper that states something
like this:  "This license grants holder the right to implement
Patent 123456 in GPL'ed code.  This license does not grant
rights to implementing the algo in non-GPL'ed or proprietary
code.  This license grants users the right to use this patent,
when its implemented in GPL'ed code.  This freely transferable; 
(and is transferable in the same way that the GPL transfers).
The use of GPL'ed code consitutes acceptance of this license;
however, if you do not accept the GPL, then the rights granted 
herein are revoked"

I'm trying to capture a number of goals and subtle twists here:

1) GPL coders can implement algo's without fear of getting
   sued by patent holder.  This is currently a concern that
   is making the rounds among coders.  Its also one where
   IBM already has experience:  IBM Legal drafted a license 
   for RCU for Linus Torvalds, that let Linus implemnent
   RCU in the Linux kernel withou fear of being sued by IBM.

   So what I'm talking about is a kind of genericized version
   of this kind of license, one that works in general.

   RedHat sort-of tried to do this, but its so weak and
   half-hearted that its all but useless.

2) The license needs to be transferable between GPL'ed coders
   and users.  Avoid the recent Microsoft vs. IETF Sender-ID
   non-transferability fiasco.  But it should also not "leak" 
   rights:  you don't want to accidentally give rights to 
   developers of proprietary technology.  So if you don't 
   accept the GPL, then you also don't get this license.  
   Basically, the goal is to clarify/strengthen the the GPL 
   with regard to patents, where it is currently vague.

3) This is not a traditional cross-license or consortium.
   You don't have to be a consortium member to get the license.
   There does not need to be a consortium with bylaws, etc. 
   There doesn't have to be a body enforcing the thing,
   (although e.g. OSDL might be one to handle the admin tasks).
   The license is direct, between the patent holder and 
   the developer/user. 

4) The defense against attack works best by having as many 
   members, and patents in the pool as possible.  For example,
   IBM and Microsoft already cross-license most of thier 
   patents, so having only IBM in the pool accomplishs little.
   That is, Microsoft might not be able to stop IBM from
   selling Linux, but it might make it so cold and inhospitable
   for everyone else that it would hurt all around.
   By having lots of folks in the pool, lots of folks get 
   protected.   Presumably, there will be patents in the 
   pool that Microsoft infringes on but has not cross-licensed;
   these form the 'arrows' that fend off the attack.
   Its a varient on the traditional "mutually assured
   destruction" doctrine of software patents.

I dunno.  The idea still needs a lot of work.  Rip away ...


p.s. If you don't like the ideas above, then I blame Rob Landley,
because its all his doing.

pub  1024D/01045933 2001-02-01 Linas Vepstas (Labas!) <linas linas org>
PGP Key fingerprint = 8305 2521 6000 0B5E 8984  3F54 64A9 9A82 0104 5933

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