Red Hat's "Cowardice" against Software Patents

Warren Togami wtogami at
Mon Apr 3 05:03:54 UTC 2006

Eric S. Raymond wrote:
> I know at least one fairly influential kernel developer who threw out
> Red Hat/Fedora in disgust over this.  When he asked me straight up how
> I could defend what he bluntly called 'corporate cowardice', I didn't
> feel like I had a good answer.  And I still don't.  In return for all
> the free development work they get, it does seem to me that it's part
> of Red Hat's job to shoulder risks like these -- and that Red Hat
> hasn't held up its end.
> AVI. Quicktime. ASF. MPEG. DVD playback. Flash. Java. These are *not
> optional* in 2006, any more than the ability to read Microsoft Word
> files in a word processor is optional; if we try to treat them that
> way, consumers will blow Linux off.

Eric, you are completely divorced from reality if you truly think this
is safe and prudent.  You are essentially asking Red Hat to become a
martyr and destroy itself.  Would that really be good for the community?

What you advocate will not win this war in the long-run.  These are not
technical or community growth problems, but tough political and legal
issues that we cannot simply ignore because it would be convenient.

Red Hat instead uses *REALISTIC* means with its relatively small
resources (compared to the big pro-patent industry players) to slowly
maneuver in long-term strategic actions against software patents on a
global scale.
Red Hat made progress with the OIN patent alliance in this one way.  OIN
through mutual assured destruction creates some level of patent defense
for certain Open Source Software from attack from companies like Microsoft.

Search Google for "Red Hat Software Patents" and see how Red Hat fights
on many fronts in both politics and business ways worldwide.

Unfortunately OIN is not a defense against "IP only" companies that are
plaguing traditional software companies with big pockets like Microsoft.
    (Search for "Microsoft Eolas" for an example.)  Due to the threat of
"IP only" companies where traditional companies are not able to
retaliate using their patent portfolios, the biggest patent holder IBM
is calling for reforms in the way patents are granted.  Hopefully this
signals the beginning of a backwards slide against bad patents.

I'd call this the beginning of progress.  Red Hat spends resources
worldwide to fight software patents being ratified (like in Europe), and
protects some OSS today within the current broken system through these
business alliances.  Red Hat itself files for its own patents, but by
our "Patent Promise", these patents are used in defense of OSS.  Any
OSS has a perpetual, irrevocable royalty free right to use it.  The
patent submission process is not cheap.

The actions and resources Red Hat uses to fight software patents and
protect the future of FOSS is "corporate cowardice"?

Red Hat engages in substantive actions to fight software patents.

Do you?

> 2. We can put real resources into developing a decoder implementation
> the blocking patents don't cover, and accept the risk that the
> patent-holders will launch harassment lawsuits anyway as a cost of
> doing business.

The real problem here is not technology but politics and law.  You are
proposing that we simply ignore the actual problem and *HOPE* that
nothing bad happens.

> 3. We can buy the rights to the technologies we want as a straight
> commercial transaction from the patent-holder.

Fedora distributes only 100% Free and Open Source Software.  FOSS
requires software to be freely modifiable and freely redistributable.
Paying a royalty for Fedora to distribute something like MPEG for DVD
capability would make it not Free, because that removes the ability for
others to redistribute the software.

> Let's start with the basics. For a consumer OS to be unable to play 
> MP3s and handle podcasts is just plain not acceptable, not in the 
> world after iTunes. Red Hat/Fedora's duck-and-cover on this would be 
> understandable if the Fraunhofer patents blocked decoders, but 
> Fraunhofer itself has only dunned for royalties on *encoders* -- thus
>  Red Hat/Fedora has ceded to Fraunhofer rights it has never claimed.

Get Fraunhofer to put into writing a perpetual and irrevocable royal
free license for FOSS to utilizes their algorithm.  I challenge you to
make this happen.  Come back when you've made some progress like this.

Meanwhile, please stop claiming that Red Hat is being a "coward" by not
fighting in the global software patent war, because this assertion is
blatantly incorrect.

Warren Togami
wtogami at

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