CyberTech Rambler

April 13, 2006

If Eolas Patent is in Firefox, it is a ticking time bomb

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:13 pm

David Berlind blogs in ZDNet about Microsoft’s fixed to workaround Microsoft “Eolas Patent” trouble in Internet Explorer. In that entry, he mentioned that Firefox and other open source software can use the “Eolas Patent” because the company that holds the patent permits it in open source software, provided that Firefox is not used commercially. For example, if I give you a copy of Firefox for free, I will be fine, but not if I charge you for a copy. There is also uncertainty on whether using verbatim version of Firefox in a commercial enterprise will trigger a patent fee, since the founder’s statement, quoted in the article suggest that it will.

If so, this is classic example of “going after the money”. It does it by cunningly saying that developing a software using the technology is OK, but using the results is NOT. Firefox developer are broke, so they will go for the unfortunate Fortune 100 company that uses Firefox.

In my view as a open source software developer, I will not touch this patent even with a barge pole. The licensing condition has, in effect, stopped me from using it because of the need to protect my downstream users. To me, this is a Stealth Patent or a Torpedo Patent.

It is necessary to mention that so far, only Microsoft is at the receiving end of the “Eolas Patent”. The fact that Microsoft lose this patent battle was a wake up call against software patent. The saga is with a lot of twist and turn, with the Patent Office invalidating then reinstated the patent in question.

Unfortunately, all the heat generated by this Patent case is just that, heat. There is no significant move anywhere to show displeasure about this type of patent, i.e., Software Patent. I would love to see a concerted effort to use this case to showcase the ill of Software Patents, perhaps starting with all browsers (open source or otherwise) rejecting this patent by not using it or not licensing it. But this can only happens in a dream.

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