I hurt my knee this week in TaeKwonDo practice. Partially torn
ligament, the ER doctor said. Owwie, is what I said.
I would like to tell you that it was done in the middle of an
intense sparring competition, where I was pitted against a skilled
black belt who crumpled before my vicious onslaught and, while
falling to the ground, kicked me with a flailing leg.
I'd even like to tell you that I hurt myself performing a daring
breaking technique of a concrete cinder block.
Yup, that's what I'd like to tell you.
Except, I hurt myself stretching. That's all, just...
Mistakes, of course, happen all the time. We get careless,
overconfident, or just plain stupid and things just go kablooey.
Then there's just the plain old accidents that Fate, God, or
Whomever seems to just plunk down on us at various random
I think my error fell into the just plain stupid category, and I
am willing to leave it at that. I am not bitter about it, since
there was not a lot of lingering pain, and I think I learned what
not to do in the future. Overall, I will count myself fortunate
that a life lesson was learned.
I think such a life lesson should be heeded in the Linux
community as well.
I am referring to the SCO/IBM, SCO/Red Hat, SCO/GPL series of
debacles that have graced our lives over the course of the past
year. Whether their efforts were noble or not, SCO has stirred up a
vast hornet's nest of controversy. I have said in the past that
while their goal was clearly to direct that controversy towards
Linux, they have failed in that regard. The controversy, it seems,
has turned back on them.
But what about the next time?
There will be a next time, I guarantee you that. Someone
somewhere is going to make a try for Linux, and the courtroom seems
a good place to start the attack. The ideal plan would be (a) sue
Linux through one of its proxies, (b) point out to anyone listening
that Linux is naughty, and (c) raking in the customers who flee in
terror from the evil penguin.
SCO is trying this (I could say tried, but they're not done yet)
and so far, they have not gotten to point (c) yet. This is likely
because they haven't been able to prove to anyone that they have a
case at point (a).
My fear is that someone might come along and try it again.
Except this time sue a Linux proxy with something more vague that
will be much harder to disprove. Something, say, like a patent
With code infringements, its a fairly clear-cut case: the
infringee proves the infringer is a cheater-pants and stole their
code. Patent violations, though, are much harder to wade through
because they are based around concepts more than substantive
objects. I know I am greatly oversimplifying the legalese here, but
if you want that, go visit Groklaw.
But it is my very ignorance of the law that we should all be
cautious about. Think about this: I am, it could be stated, fairly
knowledgable in things free and/or open source. But I would, as an
outside observer, no know if a claimed patent violation
were true or not. At least, not right away.
Now, think about someone else in the broader IT community, who
is releatively smart tech-wise, but is also just not a lawyer. If
an alleged violation is hinted at, what will they think? What will
they do? I would hope, and I would urge them, that they would
consult their lawyers.
It is no secret that Microsoft wants to get Linux' role in IT
minimized (actually, annihilated, but I am being charitable). It is
also no secret that since June 2003, Microsoft is ramping up the
number of patent applications they have filed. This is the same
Microsoft, mind you, that someone recently pointed out has enough
cash reserves to sit on five years of zero sales if they had to
wait Linux out.
Plenty of time for a patent trial or two. Or three.
It has been argued that Microsoft won't want to do this, because
it would be seen as anti-competitive by the US Department of
Justice. More likely, the patent suit(s) would come from a proxy.
In essence, a cold war, with billions of dollars at stake.
It may geninely not come from Redmond at all. There's a lot of
money to made from Linux. Lots of people want to get their fingers
into the pie.
If this happens, it will be the hardest fight Linux and the GPL
and open source and all the concepts of the community has ever
fought. It won't matter who's right, or who's wrong. The
implication may be enough to wear Linux adoption down.
I have some hope, of course. I am more of an optimist than I
should be. My hope is this: that since SCO has revealed this plan,
by its very actions, the media and the public may not take a patent
suit at face value. They may start poking in corners and inside
desks to see what's really going on.
We may have been given a great gift from SCO: a look into the
playbook of the next big challenge for Linux.
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