Google recently disclosed a draft cross-license under which patents related to the VP8 video compression format—held by Google, MPEG-LA, and several other companies—would be licensed to the general public. SFLC reviewed these terms and considered some criticisms that have arisen in the free software community.
Free and open source software projects live on the web—even projects that don’t build web applications use software repositories, forums, social networks, project management software, and other online tools to engage developers. But with user engagement comes a certain amount of risk: if a user posts copyright-infringing content to a project’s site, the project could find itself threatened with a lawsuit for hosting the content. A compliant DMCA policy gives the project a ready defense to claims related to user activity. Without one, even a bogus claim could cost the project significantly more time and legal expense.
Several times in recent years, opponents of software patents have looked hopefully to Congress and the Supreme Court for a solution to the expensive problem of software patents, and several times we’ve been disappointed. The narrow Bilski v. Kappos ruling invalidated one business method patent but left the question of software patents to one side, and even arguably weakened a rule—the “machine-or-transformation” test—intended to limit the scope of patentability. The reforms of the America Invents Act were half-hearted; they provided additional opportunities to challenge patents at the USPTO, but did not fundamentally affect the rules for patenting software.
Despite these missed opportunities, there are signs of slower but consistent reform in the courts, and yesterday’s ruling in the Eastern District of Texas in Uniloc v. Rackspace is one of them. The Uniloc ruling is about as good as it gets for a defendant in a software patent case: the judge dismissed the case at an early stage on the grounds that the claim at issue described an unpatentable mathematical formula.