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

Robert Scott Horning robert_horning@netzero.net
Mon, 15 Mar 2004 13:06:54 -0700

Miguel de Icaza wrote:

>>My conceen is that RAND does not imply compatibility iwth the GPL or any 
>>other open source license, and I am trying to find out ifth eMono 
>>project is specifically licensed for the patents covering the ECMA 
>>specification, of simply relying on public statments regarding them.
>You are mixing GPL (a copyright license) and patents *again*.  They
>have nothing to do with each other.  I thought you had just said you
>did understand the difference.
>Mono-list maillist  -  Mono-list@lists.ximian.com
I just have to add my $0.02 here.  A clear-cut example of  how a patent 
issue can have an impact on the GPL is the following:

If you develop an MPEG-2 encoder on your own (for example, trying to 
decode DVD-Video), using the ISO documents (ISO/IEC 13818), there still 
is the problem of trying to obtain patent licensing from the MPEG 
Licensing Authority.  The current per-unit licensing for a decoder 
(software decoders are treated the same as a hardware decoder) is about 
$2.00 per copy shipped.  This, BTW, is considered by courts to be a 
Reasonable and Non-Discriminitory license, so buyer beware.

(See http://www.mpegla.com/)

If you write software using these specs, you own the copyright.  That is 
not disputed.  You can even distribute that software under the terms of 
the GPL.  It is just that clause 7 of the GPL kicks in:

*"7.* If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent 
infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), 
conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or 
otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not 
excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute 
so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and 
any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not 
distribute the Program at all. For example, if a patent license would 
not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Program by all those who 
receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you 
could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from 
distribution of the Program."

That would essentially kill any open source project using the GPL in 
this situation.  Think about it carefully.  That is one reason why 
Linux-based DVD systems are so slow to develop, and even the ones that 
are around have some very questionable legal background.  I would 
strongly not recommend Ximian or any other group that wants to protect 
their behind to do something of this nature (DVD-Video processing) 
unless you are absolutely sure all of the patents have expired or don't 
cover your activities.

I would also love to release some MPEG manipulation libraries for mono 
(and I still might), but there certainly are some issue to deal with 
before it happens.

How this related to Microsoft and the C#/CLI patents is not directly 
impacted, but the issue certainly is something to consider.  If 
Microsoft were to only charge $0.01 per copy of mono shipped, it could 
potentially kill the whole project, but still be considered a reasonable 
license.  That Microsoft has granted royalty-free license might make it 
difficult to backtrack later, not to mention the P.R. impact they would 
have on all open source/free implementations of the dotNet platform.  It 
would make the effort to establish the PNG group and format pale by 
comparison in a worst-case situation.

I guess too many people still remember the BS with Unisys and the GIF 
data format.  Thank goodness the LZW patent has expired.

And yes, I do know the difference between patents, copyright, and 

Robert Scott Horning
218 Sunstone Circle
Logan, UT 84321
(435) 753-3330