[Mono-list] Mono and Patents....

Andy Lewis ajl@ascii27.net
Fri, 12 Mar 2004 14:19:10 -0500

Please forgive me as I am sure what I am asking has been discussed and 
debated at length, and I do not mean this as a troll or as flame bait, 
but I do have some questions not clearly answered in the FAQ or other 
places on the site regarding the intellectual property underlying Mono. 
I ma a developer, primarily Java these days, and I certainly acknowledge 
that the CLI and related technologies offer some very cool 
possibilities, but before jumping into using them, I want to clarify a 
few things.

First, regarding Mono licensing. It appears to be a mix of GPL, LGPL, 
and X11 licenses. Does this combination allow me to develop commercial 
applications using mono and distribute them using the "free" licenses, 
provided that I am not distributed modified Mono libraries or 
components, and only my own code is closed source? Or does that require 
a different (non-free)  license?

Second, and more critically, I have a question about the Microsoft 
patents(s) on the technology. I have read about this as much as I can 
find, and I am assuming I am simply missing something. It appears to me 
that the ECMA standard on which Mono is based, is also clearly covered 
by at least one Microsoft patent. The ECMA rules require that such 
patents be available for RAND licensing. In addition, there is the post 
from jsmiller@microsoft.com - one of the patent inventors I believe, 
that the agreement is that in this case the RAND patent licensing is 
simply free (apparently both freedom and beer).

I have been in the software industry since the early 80s, and I know I 
am stating some well known items here, but long-term strategic 
anti-competitive behavior is a consistent hallmark of Microsoft, now 
standing convicted (albeit with minimal penalties) of anti-competitive 
behavior. Gnome, Linux, and open source are openly acknowledged as the 
biggest threats to the Microsoft empire. This empire includes a vast 
legal team, and a recent policy of "monetizing" intellectual property 
such as patents. They have declared themselves the enemy of Linux and 
open source, and campaign, undermine, and lobby against it.

My understanding of RAND licensing is that "reasonable" is a very 
subjective term. Should Microsoft begin to require a license for this 
technology, who is to say what reasonable is? There is no requirement 
that I no of that such license be structured to allow open source 
implementations, so long as it is "reasonable" in the legal sense, and 
non-discriminatory. Clearly relying on Microsoft's good nature is not 
going to work, and the interpretation of a court may be no better, 
though could come at great expense.

The post from jsmiller, while comforting, does not appear binding. He 
states the intent and agreement among the parties, but that is not a 
contract, and isn't binding. Who (lawyers?) has looked at this and 
confirmed that Microsoft can't turn around and make that ECMA standard 
non-free? What I guess I am looking for is the smoking gun that declares 
that the patents on the ECMA spec are free, will remain free, and can 
not be used against the OSS community at some later date. If Gnome 3.0 
for example is intended to include a large investment in Mono 
technology, where is the guarantee that Microsoft simply can't announce 
a new policy that conveniently prevents part or all of Mono from being 
distributable under the GPL or LGPL, or even for free? A step like that 
could cause incredible harm to many communities and potentially result 
in a huge loss of effort and/or a legal mess comparable to the current 
SCO fiasco. Anyone who believes Microsoft would not find a way to do 
something like that if it were even remotely possible is, I believe, 
suffering from severe misconceptions. Even MySQL pulled a move like this 
by making their newer client libraries GPL or commercial only instead of 
continuing LGPL support.

I am assuming that this has been looked at, and the smoking gun exists 
that provides this exists or so much would not be planned around this 
technology. My problem is that I can not find it. I can't find that one 
clear solid item that clears up the risks. If someone could please point 
me to the discussions, documents, threads, etc. that present this, I 
would be greatly appreciative.

Mono does look cool, but I can't in good consciousness use it until I am 
sure that the underlying licensing model is secure.

Once again, many thanks in advance...