OpenSim considering patent protection

OpenSim developers are discussing ways to combat damaging patent litigation, including changing the OpenSim license to deter potential patent trolls.

The Overte Foundation, which holds the OpenSim licenses, recently released a contributors’ license agreement for its developers. One possible anti-troll protection measure would be to change the agreement so that if someone sues an OpenSim developer for a patent violation, they will lose the right to use the OpenSim code.

OpenSim core developer Crista Lopes, inventor of the hypergrid and treasurer of the Overte Foundation, said that the foundation’s legal counsel will be looking over the suggestion.

“We all share the loathing for patent trolls,” she told Hypergrid Business, adding that the foundation has been studying what other open source projects are doing in this area.

In addition to discussing the issue with Foundation attorney Ben Esplin, she said that the issue will also be discussed with long standing corporate contributors to OpenSim “to see how their lawyers react to the suggestion.”

Ilan Tochner

Some high-profile users of the OpenSim software support the measures.

“This change should help protect the community by ensuring that they retain the right to counter sue the people who make patent threats against the community,” proponent Ilan Tocher, CEO of Kitely Ltd. told Hypergrid Business. “It is a form of patent retaliation clause that many big open source projects include and that OpenSim currently lacks.”

Another supporter is InWorldz LLC partner David Daeschler, who is also known as Tranquillity Dexler.

David Daeschler

“I think it’s the only way to prevent a real problem for everyone involved in this space in the future,” he said. “This has also been done by larger entities to protect patent claims on the Linux source code via the Open Invention Network. However in that case the members have extensive patent portfolios that they can use against violators.”

The new anti-patent measure does require a modification of the OpenSim source code license,but this is not a step “that at all affects usability in my opinion,” he said. “The only question it raises is how legal proceedings would be paid for in the event of a breach of the patent clause. Some of the real patent troll companies are very large and well funded.”

Patent trolls are companies that buy up patent portfolios just for the sake of suing everyone who might be infringing on those patents. Even if the patents themselves won’t hold up in court, many companies — especially smaller ones — pay up rather than engage in costly litigation.

“I think this proposed change by itself won’t help us ward off pure patent trolls but it should help the OpenSim community protect itself from people who wish to use OpenSim while suing the people who develop it,” said Tochner. ” This change means that if you sue an OpenSim developer you lose the right to use OpenSim code or the contributors’ related patents — which is only fair, in my opinion. Once OpenSim becomes more widely used, not being able to use it may become a penalty that deters people from making patent threats against us. Until then this change makes a statement that the OpenSim developer community is united against people who try to take claim of parts of our shared work. It’s an important first step towards a future more complete solution to the patent threats problem.”

(Illustration from Among pixies and trolls, 1915.)

How Apache and Mozilla and Linux fight the trolls

There are plenty of examples of such anti-patent protection measures in the open-source community.

For example, the Apache license includes the following clause — “Work” refers to the Apache code base — ” If you institute patent litigation against any entity …  alleging that the Work or a Contribution incorporated within the Work constitutes direct or contributory patent infringement, then any patent licenses granted to you under this License for that Work shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed.”

Apache is the open-source server software that runs most of the Websites on the Web.

The Mozilla license is even more extensive in its anti-litigation provisions, protecting both code contributed by participants to the open source project, as well as any other software, hardware or device invented by participants.

It was the first of the “industrial-strength” open source licenses, said Lawrence Rosen in his book Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law. When it were first added the measure was controversial, he said, but has since been widely copied.

“It at least forces a potential patent litigant to think carefully before he or she sues a participant for infringement,” he wrote. “Patent litigation is no longer risk-free.”

Another approach is being taken by the Open Invention Network, which protects Linux against patent lawsuits. They will actually go out and buy related software licenses to keep them from falling into the hands of patent trolls.

After all, a patent troll isn’t deterred by losing access to software — they don’t do anything except sit around and file lawsuits.

A similar group is Linux Defenders, which finds “prior art” to help invalidate bad software patents.

The Software Freedom Law Center helps provide legal defense for open source projects facing patent lawsuits, and works with Linux Defenders to invalidate existing software patents.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • I am not a developer, nor even a tester, I am an end-user. Patent trolls have the effect of increasing costs for people like me. While things are going through litigation, their use can be restricted. Once the litigation is settled, court costs are passed on in the form of license fees. And then there is the uncertainty involved. Will I be sued if I use it? I wholeheartedly support this initiative and hope to become involved in its development.

    • Hi Sarge,

      Thank you for your willingness to help defend the community against the evil that is patent trolls. Software patents and business method patents are used by such extortionists to “legally” shake down businesses that actually build something or provide a service that people find useful. If the OpenSim community doesn’t start protecting its members using various legal means, we will all have to deal with threats that restrict innovation and threaten the development of an open metaverse.

      I hope that this license change will be made to let would be extortionists know that the OpenSim community stands united against those that will try to shake it down. This won’t help against all patent-related threats but it’s an important first step.

  • add Ener Hax to the list of supporters for this! *thumbs up* =)

  • Oddly enough, I support this. I’m still sad that it took a bad apple to make this happen though…

  • i have been in companies where patent was the way of life, including intel. some people want to patent every thing.  so as much as i dont like patents for software, opensim has to do something or other will.

  • I agree with Will Burns. It’s a shame it took a bad apple that not only claimed to support the open Metaverse community but used the excuse of the six month rule not to contribute any code back, and all while threatening the community with patents. This issue has been talked about for the past two years but better late than never I guess.

    It’s good to see the community come together in opposition to patent trolls and I hope the people who recently made a stab at the community will now think again about their actions. Everyone knows who they are and few go to their grid. It was never a smart move if they really wanted to be a major player.

  • Discussing patent protection in free software licenses and not mentioning the GNU GPL v3 is just like discussing world religious texts and ignoring the Bible.

    • Leandro — Actually, I was looking at that license when I was writing the story… but was too lazy to look up and see what open source software projects were using it. 

      But yes, some nice language in there relative to patents. 

      Description of how it works: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#v3PatentRetaliation

      Actual license terms: http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html#section10

  • Wayfinder Wishbringer

    This is possibly a valid method to deal with patent trolls.  A second method might be an anonymous OpenSim user asking a cousin who goes by the name of Guido to pay the patent trolls a little visit… 😉

    However there is an aspect to be considered here: legitimate suits. With such a blanket “kick in the slats” ruling, what happens if someone in the OpenSim community actually steps over a legal line and needs sued? Would this concept possibly make people scared to death to protect their legitimate interests, out of fear from being blacklisted from the community?

    Dunno. I’m no attorney, and I can’t possibly imagine all the potential variables involved in this concept. It seems a likely possibility would be the simple concept used by many corporations: “You sue us, our community attorneys (plural) will counter sue you to bankruptcy and then go after your offpring’s properties.” That way the suits can be judged on individual merit.

    Again though, I don’t know. Patent law is not my area of expertise.

  • Susannah Avonside

    I’m so glad I live in Europe, where it’s just not possible to patent software or an idea. There have been attempts in recent years to allow software patents in the European Union, but so far, thank goodness, these have been successfully resisted. Do we really want a situation to develop like in the USA where there seems to be an insane level of litigiousness predicated upon greed? No thanks!

    Whilst I appreciate that this still leaves a substantial problem, surely there is a case for challenging the whole notion of software being patentable?

    It must come hard to those who give their time and talents to the Open Source community only to have parasites come along and try and appropriate that work. What is even more abhorrent is that they are legally entitled to do this. All when I thought theft was wrong, here it is being sanctioned no less than by the corporate state.