[Mono-list] bad news from microsoft

Miguel de Icaza miguel@ximian.com
13 Mar 2002 13:22:00 -0500

> Besides laughing in the face of danger, there are a few other useful
> steps which might be taken with regard to patent-pflegening. ;-)
> On another mailing list, a Microsoft .NET technology evangelist told a
> group of compiler authors to contact ECMA if they had questions about
> patents on the CLR.  Has Ximian, or any other member of the Mono
> project, spoken to ECMA about patent licensing issues?

I have been trying to get a list of patents that apply to the ECMA
standard, and getting ready to re-write, challenge, chop, amputate or
remove any patented pieces that might get people in trouble.

So far, I have not been able to get such a list.  That does not mean
that there are no patents, it just means that we do not know what they
are and they are not being publicly discussed.  

Eben Moglen told me once that the reason many companies did not disclose
their patents was because patent claims typically claim the sky (`we
invented everything') while they only cover a tiny bit of technology. 

There are two issues at hand here:

        * Patents apparently have a thing called "the cover", which is
          some kind of document attached to the patent that has the
          history of it: `It was challenged on these grounds', `Licensed
          to blah here', `There is prior art on X, Y and Z'.

        * Some companies want to avoid public scrutiny of the patents,
          because then it is possible for people to `file' prior art and
          attach this to the cover, which makes the patent less valuable
          if the claims are discredited.

On the other hand, some patents on technology developed in .NET might
not have been granted yet, so it is not possible to know which patents
they do own.  What will be very important when it comes to .NET is to
look at everything that has been done in the past: from cross language
interoperation (done by many system vendors many years ago), to portable
byte codes (this was done by the OSF a few years ago), to web
technologies like JSP, PHP and Apple Enterprise WebObjects.

Anyways, it is a risk, but until we know what the risk is, and we know
that there is no prior art, we will just keep on working. 

On top of that, I would like to research what is going on in terms of
the Microsoft/US lawsuit.  I remember reading that the settlement
included things like `Microsoft should publish the APIs to their
documents'.  Maybe this has to be extended to be `Microsoft should allow
the use of any patents they own on pieces required for
inter-operation'.  It might be something worth bringing up with the
current defendants. 

And .NET is likely going to be an important piece of `interoperation'. 
Does anyone have pointers to the settlement?