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xiphmont

Blogging Xiph

I've just gotten back from FOMS/LCA and then ten days in NZ. Immediately following two FOSS conferences with 'no net access whatsoever' was perhaps not the brightest possible plan. A number of things have happened in the past few weeks, both just before and during the trip. The biggest are non-technical: Patents. Patents. Patents.

The whole W3C HTML5 draft and Ogg brouhaha in December and January has made it clear in that our old strategy regarding patents regularly gets us utterly killed in the courts of mindshare and public opinion. "Say nothing, lest you accidentally incur liability", the lawyers have always said. So what do we do when a loose cannon in Nokia makes a ridiculous public statement like "MPEG4 is the open safe technology. Ogg is proprietary and a patent risk"? Obviously we have to be able to respond, and we have to be proactive enough to be prepared to respond.

The entire FOSS world is grappling with patent FUD. Fortunately, the legal thinking regarding patents is beginning to change now that legal minds are beginning to enter, understand and embrace the FOSS way of thinking. Transparency in the patent world is practically non-existent, but a few pioneering legal minds are finally coming to believe that lack of transparency is in fact the root of the problem. Once we were told, "Research nothing, know nothing, say nothing." The simple fact is, we've always researched and weren't about to stop. Now, we're being urged from multiple directions, "Publish everything you know. Document every challenge and rebuttal publicly." I'm ecstatic, even if this means a lot of work. Finally we can do something and do it in the light of day.

Right now I don't have more details to offer. However, I do have another good bit of news. Eben Moglen is one of the early explorers on the FOSS legal trail and his Software Freedom Law Center project has agreed to take us (the Xiph.Org Foundation) on as a client. Hopefully they're able to guide my idealism into something legally sound.

We'll have press releases about both the SFLC and the patent documentation project as soon as we can.

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