[Mono-devel-list] Some legal concerns...

Jonathan Pryor jonpryor at vt.edu
Tue Nov 25 07:39:52 EST 2003

If you want to be entirely sure of the future, invent a time machine and
go there. :-)

Of course, when you come back, the act of breathing may cause the
timeline to change, so even time-travel isn't a sure bet...

It's not possible to know what will happen.  Especially with America's
legal system.

First, ask yourself this: how many patent cases do you know of where
Microsoft was the plaintiff, the instigator, the one who started the
suit?  I can't think of any.  They're always the defendant; everyone
sues them.

Personally, this is enough for me.  I'm more worried about some other
company coming in with a really generic patent, trying to shut down half
the industry.  (See AT&T and their patent on "mediation of transactions
by a communications system," which would apply to everything except cash
transactions these days.)

However, you know the (para-) phrase "past behavior is no indicator of
future behavior"?  Which describes the stock-market, and anything that
isn't a science?  That applies here as well.  Just because Microsoft has
never been a plaintiff before doesn't mean it won't be in the future.

So that's not entirely reassuring.  What else?

Well, only the USA has this ridiculous software patent system (and even
the FCC, or was it the FTC, wants to improve it).  Which means the
ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD doesn't need to worry about it (too much).
(Granted, Europe was looking to follow USA's path, but most indications
are that they regained their sanity.  Then the vote was delayed.  So who

It's a fair bet China, Korea, and most of Asia won't be following the
USA -- it would cripple their competitive abilities.  Ditto for most of
Latin America, South America, and Africa.  So that's, oh, 95% of the
planets population that doesn't care.  (Assuming USA's population is 300
million, which is probably too large, and the planets population is 6
billion, which is probably too small.)

(Granted, every USA company is trying to get all the other countries to
follow similar practices, so we can only hope those countries will
realize that USA-style "intellectual property" laws will cripple their
economy under a sea of lawsuits.)

Finally, if any of the above isn't enough, there's always miguel's last
argument: we don't *need* .NET compatibility.  It's nice, it allows us
to run more Windows apps on Linux, but it isn't *needed*.  We have
"native Linux" alternatives -- Gtk# instead of System.Windows.Forms, and
a host of other libraries which make use of the existing Linux
solutions.  What's in ECMA -- guaranteed to have royalty-free patents --
is enough of a base to build a decent Linux platform on.

Granted, this sacrifices .NET compatibility, but it doesn't kill the
platform on Linux, it doesn't remove C#, and it doesn't waste all of our
efforts.  (Lots of our efforts, perhaps, especially the efforts toward
.NET compatibility, but not all the efforts.)

So, if legal concerns are an issue, focus on something that won't have
any liability.  The JIT engines on all platforms and the core runtime
code (bug fixes, etc.) which are part of the ECMA standard.  Or work on
wrappers to existing Linux libraries, like Gtk# and the Posix wrapper. 
Or profile support in the build system, so we can ensure that Gtk#
builds on the ECMA profile. ;-)

Or write an app which makes use of the Linux libraries.  Apps are
crucial, as they're wonderful test cases for the code.  Buggy code is no
fun to deal with.

 - Jon

On Tue, 2003-11-25 at 01:43, Tom Shelton wrote:
> First, I want to say that I am a big fan of the Mono project.   I think the 
> work your doing and have done thus far is fantastic.  I am very much enjoying 
> using Mono on Linux.   In fact, I have to say that Mono is the reason I'm 
> using Linux again now - I have been developing in C# since the beta's and 
> when I saw the progress Mono has been making, I just had to jump to this side 
> of the fence and see what's going on :)
> Anyway, here's my question - and I am a bit embarresed to ask...  But, I have 
> been in this sort of on going debate on usenet and at work about the future 
> of Mono from a legal standpoint.  There are a lot of people telling me that 
> I'm crazy to put any resources into developing anything in Mono - since they 
> claim, MS is going to shut it down at the first sign of success.   They claim 
> that the MS patents on the API's make Mono an illlegal implementation.  I 
> personally think that this will not happen - and I am continuing to evaluate 
> Mono for potential future development....   I guess what I'm asking for is a 
> little reassurance that these doomsday scenarios are bogus.   Things like, do 
> you have a license or some kind of agreement with MS?
> Forgive me if this has been asked before...   But, I sort of wanted to see 
> what the current situation is (I have read the FAQ on go-mono.com in the 
> past).
> Keep up the good work!
> Tom Shelton
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