Linux Patent Cloud Blows Over Europe

UPDATED: In a week that has seen the Linux patent issue grab a lot of attention,
Munich, Germany, has decided to temporarily halt its plan to migrate 13,000 of its desktops
to Linux.


This move comes coincidentally just one day after Open Source Risk Management
(OSRM) released its Linux patent review
results.
And not to be left out, Red Hat has taken
additional measures to protect intellectual property.


Munich had been hailed by open source advocates as the exemplar for government migration to Linux.
The German city officially agreed to
migrate its
desktops to Linux in June. However, late Tuesday night the project was put on hold because of fears over software
patents.

Under the terms of the European Patent Convention, software patents are not supposed to be allowed in the EU, though
there is a large loophole and a move (the EU software patent directive) to formally allow them.


According to
advocacy group Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), there are already more than 30,000 patents in
Europe. At the request of a local Munich politician, the FFII conducted a European patent search and found more than 50
potential patent conflicts.

Until the risk can be ascertained in greater detail, Munich CTO Wilhelm Hoegner
announced Tuesday that the city has stopped the bidding-process component of the project, which
would role out the migration. The fear of patents, however, does not seem to spell the end of the
city’s Linux aspirations. According to a press release issued on Wednesday by the local government,
Munich is still firmly committed to the Linux migration.

“On the one hand it is good to see that the principal of Munich really understands the possible impact of software
patents,” wrote Europe software rights advocate Jan Wildeboer in a blog post. “On the other hand, it is of course
disturbing to see that these questions have brought the migration in trouble.”

According to Linux and open source consultant Tom Adelstein, Munich has plenty of time to study the various patent
issues, and unless there is more to the story than is being publicly disclosed, didn’t need to halt the project at this
time.


“Munich overreacted to the alderman’s concern about software patents in
Linux,” Adelstein told internetnews.com “The patents related to Linux belong to the project developers. If they’re
worried about that, then they should also worry about Microsoft’s patent awards in their own operating system.”

Adelstein refers to a number of historical precedents in the software industry that Munich could learn from.
“Apple sued Microsoft for taking intellectual property when Windows came out. Apple lost. The city would never be shut
down; governments have the right of eminent domain, and they can stop any action against them at any time,” he explained.

“Finally, you cannot ignore the issue of interoperability,” Adelstein said. “If someone writes software to interoperate
with another device or system, they will always prevail.”


The OSRM
study, released Monday, identified
283 non-court-validated patents in the Linux kernel, though report author Dan Ravicher told internetnews.com
that most patent cases do not end in favor of
the patent holder.

OSRM is not alone in recognizing and attempting to deal with risk management in Linux. Red Hat
announced additional measures to protect intellectual
property. The company’s Open Source Assurance Program has been more geared toward intellectual property threats from SCO
since its inception last August. In January the company
expanded the program to include all
Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscribers. The program guarantees that if there is any intellectual property issue,
Red Hat will fix the problem without interruption to the end user.

Red Hat announced on Tuesday that it had expanded its Open Source Assurance Program in a new partnership with Black Duck
Software. The partnership will leverage Black Duck’s protexIP product line to help track and identify open source code
in development projects in an effort to avoid any potential licensing compliance issues.

“Black Duck’s mission is to help any organization concerned about the risks of combining open source and proprietary
software code, either accidentally or intentionally, into its own software,” said Douglas A. Levin, CEO of Black Duck
Software, in a statement. “We’re very excited to be partnering with Red Hat on these crucial issues of protecting software
developers and furthering Linux and open source adoption to the enterprise.”

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