[Mono-list] something general about software patents

Andy Satori dru@druware.com
Thu, 14 Mar 2002 12:42:55 -0500

The short answer is fairly simple.   You don't worry about it until you
have to, unless you feel that it's a real possibility.  I'm certain that
a lawyer would tell you differently, but my own experience with this
type of situation is that if the issue comes up, it's going to get mired
in a legal battle.  

About 10 years ago, a product called Quattro Pro existed that was really
a decent product.  When Excel came out, they filed a lawsuit against
Microsoft claiming that Excel infringed upon the Look and Feel patent on
Quattro Pro.  In a 5+ year long case, the courts ultimately decided that
it didn't really matter.  Quattro Pro lost a lot of money trying to win
a fight over a vague patent.  The US Patent and Copyright system is more
often about having them than using them.  

A good example of an exception is the frivolous and insane 'One-Click
Ordering' patent and lawsuits from Amazon (I won't buy from them for
this reason).  It's utter nonsense, but because of the wording, they can
and have prevented other competitors from implementing similar
technology without licensing it.  Oddly though, they are only going
after entities that threaten them directly.  

The question is, does Mono threaten Microsoft?  

The answer is a resounding no in my opinion.  Again, all Mono does is
prove the .NET framework and platform as a viable platform.  It also
provides and avenue for Microsoft to sel more software *and* (this is a
big one) more .NET MyServices.  With the direction Microsoft is going,
and the direction they are taking in the ongoing anti-trust case, this
is critical to them financially.  They absolutely want Mono to succeed.
In truth, they *need* Mono to succeed because much like they need Apple
to remain a viable competitor, they absolutely must have a viable
competition in the marketplace to keep the US and EU authorities from
killing them.  It's completely understandable for MS to make us very
very uncomfortable, but right now, they need Mono more than Mono needs
them.  The C# language is a standard, there is very little they can even
threaten to do about mcs and the supporting code.  The only place they
have any leverage is on the framework elements, and the reality is that,
there is almost no practical or financial reason to do anything on that
front.  And the marketing ramifications of doing anything on that front
are staggering to a company that knows the value of it's developer's
better than any other Operating System *Company* out there.  IBM didn't
get it ( I think they still don't looking at their Linux efforts ).
Apple seems to get it in cycles, did in the 80's didn't in the 90's,
seem to get it today.  Be got it, then went public.  Amiga seems to
grasp it but can't do anything about it.

I think what you have to ask yourself is the same thing I asked myself
before I signed onto this list.  Do I feel that the threat Microsoft
poses to this project is big enough to warrant staying away?  I believe
my presence answers that question.  

Andy Satori

> Do the Ximian team or any other list members have access to 
> some legal resources, so we could find out what the best 
> policy on this is? Like I said, my gut feeling is that we 
> should implement now (of our own ingenuity) and correct 
> later. At least that way we can't be accused of violating 
> patents knowingly -- bearing in mind that determining patent 
> violation seems a very subjective process. Until then it may 
> be best not to post patent details to this list.