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TBTF for 1996-04-07: Lawyers guns and Linux

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 7 Apr 1996 22:09:21 -0500



Basic patent in online commerce conquors all

The former Interactive Gift Express Inc. (NASDAQ: GIFT), now renamed E-Data Corp., is suing 22 more companies for allegedly violating U.S. Patent No. 4,528,643, the so-called Freeny patent. As IGE, the company filed 3 lawsuits in mid-August 1995 followed almost immediately by 18 more (see TBTF for 1995-08-30 [1]), for a total of 43 filings to date.

E-Data [2] bought the Freeny patent in 1995. In 1989 computer scientist Charles Freeny had sold his 1985 patent for $200,000 after running out of steam on his attempt to make it pay. See [3] for E-Data's version of the story of how the patent came into their hands. A more cocked-eyebrow account can be found in Robert Metz's "Shaking the Money Tree" [4] Metz, an investment analyst, alludes to a recent Hugh Grant movie when he characterizes E-Data as "Three Employees and a Patent."

Of the 21 companies sued last August, one, VocalTec Ltd., maker of Internet Phone, has reached a settlement with E-Data. The company says that eight others are pursuing settlement talks. In addition IBM, not named in any of the suits, has purchased a license to use the technology. E-Data has sent notices of infringement to 139 companies beyond the 43 named in lawsuits to date.

The patent claims to cover the basics of distributing commercial "soft" goods online -- software, fonts, images, etc. None of the allegedly infringing companies has yet mounted a strong challenge to this central claim. I have seen no speculation on the amounts involved in the settlements and licenses negotiated to date.

For an excellent technical summary of the business of software patents see "Patents and the Internet" [5] by Stephen W. Lundberg of the law firm Schwegman, Lundberg Woessner & Kluth. I've constructed a timeline of IGE/ E-Data actions relative to the Freeny patent at [6]. For previous coverage of Net patent topics see TBTF for 1996-03-03 [7], 1995-09-27 [8], and 1995-09-24 [9].

Note added 1996-04-09: Carl Oppedahl <oppedahl at popserver dot panix dot com> got in touch; he is the lawyer for one of the companies named in IGE's 1995-08-24 filing. See the Web page [9a] that his firm, Oppedahl & Larson, maintains to help the defendants communicate in their efforts to respond to the suits.

An additional piece of intelligence sent by Greg Aharonian <srctran at world dot std dot com>, originator of the Internet Patent News Service -- he gave me permission to post this information but said he cannot supply any more detail.

> Date: Mon, 8 Apr 1996 08:39:03 -0400
> From: srctran at world dot std dot com (Gregory Aharonian)
> To: dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com (Keith Dawson)
> Subject: Re: TBTF for 1996-04-07: Lawyers guns and Linux

> Keith,
> One of the country's foremost software patent busters has been
> retained to invalidate the Freeny patent. Companies signing licenses
> with EData are wasting their money.

> Greg Aharonian

[1] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1995-08-30.html>
[2] <http://www.3wnet.com/corp/edata/>
[3] <http://www.3wnet.com/corp/edata/history.html>
[4] <http://pawws.com/cnoc/library/rm110695.html>
[5] <http://www.slwk.com/paper7.html>
[6] <http://www.tbtf.com/resource/freeny-timeline.html>
[7] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1996-03-03.html>
[8] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1995-09-27.html>
[9] <http://www.tbtf.com/archive/1995-09-24.html>
[9a] <http://www.patents.com/ige.sht>

___

Free services page

This page [10], courtesy of NetMind, lists a number of imaginative free services on the Web: email agents, fax senders, synthesizers, etc. Thanks to Todd Somers <somers at best dot com> who posted a description of it to the apple-internet-users mailing list. Here I rediscovered the Figlet service [11], seen long ago and lost in the URL haze. Figlet generates alt.fan.warlord-style Ascii "art" lettering; a samples page [12] shows all 103 available fonts. Another listed service generates anagrams [13], but in my opinion this is not the best example of the species; I prefer Anagram Insanity [14]. There. Now don't blame me for the hours you're about to waste.

[10] <http://www.netmind.com/>
[11] <http://www.inf.utfsm.cl/cgi-bin/figlet/>
[12] <http://www.inf.utfsm.cl/~vparada/figfonts>
[13] <http://csugrad.cs.vt.edu/~eburke/anagrams.html>
[14] <http://www.infobahn.com/pages/anagram.html>

___

The Internet Caucus

On 3/29 a bipartisan group of U.S. legislators announced the formation of an Internet Caucus [15] to represent the interests of the Internet community on Capitol Hill. It's fair to say I'm a little skeptical that this group will make much of a difference; I hope they prove me wrong. Here is the list of members. C. means Congressman or Congresswoman and S. means Senator. The order in which the names are listed is that of the press announcement; I can't attribute any significance to it.

C. Rick White <http://www.house.gov/white/>
S. Patrick Leahy <http://www.house.gov/~leahy/>
C. Rick Boucher <http://www.house.gov/boucher/welcome.htm>
S. Larry Pressler <http://www.senate.gov/senator/pressler.html>
Speaker Newt Gingrich <mailto:georgia6@hr dot house.gov>
C. Jack Fields
C. Edward Markey
C. Mike Oxley <http://www.house.gov/oxley/welcome.html>
C. Christopher Cox
C. Anna Eshoo <http://www-eshoo.house.gov/>
C. Bob Goodlatte <mailto:talk2bob@hr dot house.gov>
C. Tom Campbell <mailto:campbell@hr dot house.gov>
C. Robert Walker <http://www.house.gov/walker/welcome.html>
C. Jennifer Dunn <mailto:dunnwa08@hr dot house.gov>
C. Vern Ehlers <http://www.house.gov/ehlers/welcome.html>
S. Slade Gorton <http://www.senate.gov/senator/gorton.html>
S. Conrad Burns <http://www.senate.gov/~burns/>
S. Ron Wyden <http://www.senate.gov/senator/wyden.html>
C. Sam Farr <http://www.house.gov/farr/welcome.html>
C. Bill Luther <http://www.house.gov/luther/welcome.html>

[15] <http://www.cdt.org/publications/pp_2.13.html>

___

An engrossing study of crime on the Net

Author and Cypherpunk Charles Platt's <cp at panix dot com> book "Anarchy Online" will be published in paperback by HarperCollins sometime in 1997. Platt has retained all electronic rights and has posted excerpts of the book to the Web [16]. Subtitled "A close look at crime in cyberspace; an uncensored look at sex on the net," the book discusses the Marty Rimm cyberporn incident, the Communications Decency Act, the Jake Baker case, and much more. Platt is selling a hardcover edition of "Anarchy Online" at a special price to Netizens: 1-800-xxx-xxxx.

Note added 1997-04-01: The hardcover book has gone out-of-print so the phone number for orders is no longer operational and has been removed from this page. Platt has removed the excerpts from his Web page (wonder why he did that?). HarperCollins still plans to bring out Anarchy Online in paperback sometime in 1997.

[16] <http://charlesplatt.com/extracts.html>

___

Strong crypto under attack across Europe. Now Belgium. Who knew?

First the 34-nation Council of Europe proposed a key-escrow scheme to allow law-enforcement agencies to decipher intercepted messages [18]. Then the European Union put forward a similar measure [19]. In France a law that took effect in 1993 requires citizens to register with the government before being allowed to use strong-crypto tools such as PGP; France is now considering moderating this law towards key escrow. (The Cypherpunks refer to all such proposals as GAK, for government access to keys. As John Perry Barlow has famously said, "The government can have my secret key when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.")

It turns out that current Belgian law outlaws strong crypto too. A little-known provision in a law passed in late 1994 formally bans "non-approved" encryption systems and requires that all cryptograhic systems aimed at protecting privacy not block wiretaps.

Two Belgian newspapers reported this situation in mid-March; it was publicized by a French journalist, Jerome Thorel <thorel at imaginet dot fr>, in the Netizen [20] and forwarded to the Cypherpunks mailing list by Tim May <tcmay at got dot net>.

[18] <http://www.privacy.org/pi/intl_orgs/coe/info_tech_1995.html>
[19] <http://www.freenix.fr/netizen/chiffre/nature-eurottp.html>
[20] <http://www.freenix.fr/netizen/205-e.html>

___

Enforcing the CDA improperly may pervert Internet architecture

David P. Reed <dpreed at reed dot com> is one of the fundamental inventors of today's Internet. His paper [21] with Saltzer and Clark first characterized the primary approach to the Internet's architecture, an approach that arguably has been a pivotal reason for its exponential growth. This philosophy -- to avoid building special functionality into net internals solely to enforce an end-to-end policy -- has led directly to the simplicity, low cost, and radical scalability of the Internet.

Reed doesn't involve himself much in political causes, but rumors of an impending "Exon Box" impelled him to take keyboard in hand. His post [22] has been circulating under the title "End-to-end philosophy endangered." An Exon Box is a router designed to enable ISPs to restrict access to "indecent" or unrated sites unless an "adult" enters an authorization code to allow transmission of such packets to the site.

Reed expresses the hope that we will work with him to discourage the use of inappropriate architectural changes to the fundamental routing policy of the Net to achieve political ends.

[21] Saltzer, J.H., D.P. Reed, and D.D. Clark, End-To-End Arguments in System Design. ACM Transactions on Computer Systems, 1984. 2(4) p. 277-288.
[22] <http://www.itd.nrl.navy.mil/ITD/5540/ieee/cipher/commentary/comment-reed-96/0331.html>

___

Lawyers guns and Linux

The week before last Greg Roelofs <newt at uchicago dot edu> was at the Software Development conference in San Francisco wearing his "Linux Inside" tee shirt.

For those of you who've been inhabiting a PC or Macintosh Sargasso for the last few years, Linux [23] (pronounced LINN-ucks) is a freely distributable version of the Unix operating system for 80386, 80486, and Pentium machines that contains no proprietary code. Linux was originally written by Linus Torvalds in Helsinki, Finland and is now enhanced by a worldwide community of developers. As distributed, the Linux package contains a preponderance of the code written by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation, so Linux -- dubbed "the choice of a Gnu generation" -- can be said to represent the culmination of Stallman's dream. See David Sol Bennahum's interview with Stallman in MEME 2.04 [24].

Anyway, let Greg pick up his story before arriving in San Francisco:

> About a year ago I heard about a cute "Linux Inside" logo patterned
> after the Intel version. It was nowhere to be found on the net by that
> point (SSC [publisher of the Linux Journal -- ed.] apparently had dis-
> tributed stickers with the logo with early issues of the Journal but
> had been advised to stop due to the commercial nature of the distribu-
> tion), so I made my own. I intentionally did *not* upload it to ftp
> sites in order to avoid CD-ROM distribution, but I did add it to my
> Linux Logos Web page [25] with a disclaimer that it was intended as
> satire and should not be used commercially.

So, Greg gets some tee shirts made with his cute "Linux Inside" logo patterned after the Intel version; kind of a light gold on robin's-egg blue, can't you just see it? He wears the tee shirt to SD'96 on Tuesday 3/25. In retrospect, he allows as how wandering into the Intel booth wearing that particular shirt might not have been the brightest idea going. He did enjoy the booth staffer's double-take, though.

On April Fool's Day lawyers from Intel phoned Greg and requested that he remove all traces of the logo from his Web pages.

He has now done so. But try an Alta Vista search for "image:linuxinside" any you'll see 98 other sites sporting the logo, or one derived from it, or one developed independently. Greg didn't encourage its spread. He's not courting trouble. But Intel will find that trying to suppress this piece of light commercial satire has about the same effect as clapping a drop of mercury between your hands.

[23] <http://www.linux.com/>
[24] <http://www.reach.com/matrix/meme2-04.html>
[25] <http://quest.jpl.nasa.gov/Info-ZIP/people/greg/greg_lnxpics.html>


>>Notes:

>>TBTF skipped a week because I took a weekend getaway after a business trip, and spent my usual quota of online time walking on a deserted winter beach. Care to guess which activity is better for the soul?


>>Sources:

>>Apple-Internet-Users mailing list: mail listproc@abs.apple.com without subject and with message: subscribe apple-internet-users Your Name .

>>MEME: mail listserv@sjuvm.stjohns.edu with message: subscribe meme firstname lastname . Web home at <http://www.reach.com/matrix/>.


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______________________________________________________
Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.