Re: GPL'ed Patent Pool

On Friday 10 September 2004 15:05, Alan Cox wrote:
> On Gwe, 2004-09-10 at 21:40, Linas Vepstas wrote:
> >    RedHat sort-of tried to do this, but its so weak and
> >    half-hearted that its all but useless.
> >
> It should be sufficient given Estoppel if not then someone needs to make
> concrete proposals to Mark Webbink.

It's sufficient to prevent Red Hat from suing users of GPL code over these 
patents.  But it's not sufficient to encourage others to follow its example.  
If IBM has to come out with "promises not to sue Linux" rather than a 
specific license text granting rights to specific patents, something is 

It would be nice if Red Hat, IBM, and Novell could agree on the wording of a 
standard patent license to go along with the GPL (which says you must license 
your patents, but doesn't say how).  With those three on board, it should be 
pretty easy to pull SGI and such on board, and then if somebody like OSDL or 
OSI kept a list of patents licensed under the "GPL+", then having a patent in 
the list is a bit like having an entry in the CREDITS file: it's bragging 
rights, a quick answer to "what have you done for the community"...  AND you 
can still dual license it to squeeze money out of proprietary vendors.  (A 
condition without which IBM won't sign over much.)

The tricky part is making sure that a GPL+patent license is GPL compatible, 
but it's not all that tricky.  This is where lawyers come up with specific 
language, after reading the GPL.  The simpler the better: this license only 
applies to code validly licensed under the GPL.  Obviously, terminating the 
GPL terminates the patent license.  This doesn't need anything fancy, since 
suing people over patents is already an "additonal restriction" that would 
violate and terminate your rights under the GPL.  Maybe a sentence confirming 
that suing people under your own patent terminates your rights to use these 
patents, by applying additional restrictions to the GPL and thus terminating 
your rights under the GPL.

The closest the GPL text comes to specifying what to do about patents is in 
the preamble:

> Finally, any free program is threatened constantly by software patents. We
> wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will
> individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program
> proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be
> licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all. 

Since the GPL can only apply to people who accept it, "everyone" in this case 
could be construed to mean everyone who accepts the GPL.  Granting a patent 
license specifically allowing use of the patent in GPL code (and only in GPL 
code) is a facially reasonable interpretation of the requirements of the GPL.

The other GPL sections mentioning the word "patent" are section  7 (which 
simply says a patent license or judgement can't force you to violate any 
other condition of the license without terminating the license), and section 
8 (allowing geographical limitations).

So the GPL itself implies a requirement for compatible patent licenses, but 
does not specify the text of those patent licenses.  This is a hole that can 
potentially be filled in a way that helps neuter the insane patent system.

It seems worth a shot.  To me, anyway.

As for concrete proposals: What's Mark Webbink's email address?  I can bug 
Eric Raymond and his wife Cathy (who is a lawyer) to come up with a short, 
punchy, and legal patent license text for consideration.  (Probably around 
three sentences...)


-- Linux Expo and Science Fiction Convention
October 8-10, 2004 in Austin Texas.  (I'm the con chair.)

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