By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-08-02 Print this article Print

So what can developers and users do?

According to Ravicher, they have five possible approaches.

First, he suggests advocating for "patent policy reform." Because as it is now, "Its ridiculous." But, while this would be the best, comprehensive answer, "it will take a while-years-if ever before the laws are reformed.

Next, if you already suspect theres a specific patent that might be a problem for Linux, start looking for prior art to get the patent overturned if its holder tries to take it to court.

There is already a public project, Grokline, which is working on "creating a history of Unix and Unix-like code with the goal of reducing, or eliminating, the amount of software subject to superficially plausible but ultimately invalid copyright, patent and trade secret claims against Linux or other free and open source software." Grokline is directed by Pamela Jones of Groklaw, the well-known SCO litigation news site, and receives support from OSRM.

You can also be ready to design around existing patents. This can only be done on a case by case basis and again its something of a Catch-22 since you can only design around it, said Ravicher "after the threat is upon you."

In such cases, however, its not enough to show that you immediately acted to take care of the patent issue. Ravicher explains, "The rule is that you must have an attorney state that, in their expert opinion, youve taken such action." Such letters, Ravicher continued from qualified attorneys run around 20 to 40 thousand dollars.

Finally, Ravicher says "You can simply pay for a patent license so long as you do so in a way that doesnt conflict with the GPL."

Many people, he adds think that patent licenses almost always conflict with open source licenses but thats not the case. "Some patent licenses are compatible with GPL and some patent-holders are willing to expressively say that in their licenses.

The problem with most of these solutions continued Ravicher is "that theyre one-shot, case-by-case answers. There is no immediate and comprehensive solution."

Next Page: OSRM will be expanding its risk mitigation and insurance offerings.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

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