What SCO Wants, SCO Gets (Forbes)
Posted Jun 18, 2003 21:30 UTC (Wed) by skybunny
Parent article: What SCO Wants, SCO Gets (Forbes)
I've been staying relatively quiet on the SCO vs. IBM debate, but with this article, someone has finally put into words what I've been biting my lip over for the last few weeks in particular.
Yes, yes, SCO is being a 'bad neighbor', they're not producing anything of value through these lawsuits, and the only thing they can probably do is hurt themselves while dragging a lot of people who don't need to be, through the mud.
But, uh...what IF SCO wins? Seriously now. How many of us honestly consider the possibility that a judge may say: 'You know, I agree with SCO's interpretation of their patents. I'm instating an injunction right now. No selling AIX. And if SCO wishes to bar sales and distribution of Linux, I'm open to that idea too.' An injuction doesn't require a trial. If a judge believes SCO has a strong enough case, he can do exactly as SCO asks, and in days' time.
Linux, free software, and IBM will not win this court battle because they are right, or because IBM is a big company with a lot of resources. Whether they are 'right' is irrelevant in the legal arena, where what matters is who has the best legal backing behind their claims. This court and PR battle will be won through vigilence, money, vocal statements, and, if necessary, lobbying legislatures if things come to that.
Forbes is saying here that SCO has very...dedicated people in its ranks that are willing to fight in court for something for years or longer if it means they get what they want. By the same token, Linux advocates and IBM may have to be prepared for a fight just that long. I WILL say that anyone who dismisses this problem as the collective rantings of lunatics at SCO may be right within the arena of popular opinion of Linux advocates, but I myself am well aware of the possibility that a very bad decision may come down from the courts, and soon. Unlikely, but possible.
Long, drawn-out patent battles are not without precedent in the United States. In the days of radio, one of the key inventions needed to make console radios possible in every American home was the 'regenerative circuit', invented and patented by Edwin H. Armstrong. The circuit used the principle of regeneration (sending the same signal through the circuit over and over again) to produce an amplified signal - so much so that radios could be manufactured without the need for earphones.
The problem is that Armstrong's circuit resembled a 1906 invention by Lee DeForest, called the audion tube. It had mostly the same hardware as the regenerative circuit; the main difference was set in how the circuit was used, to produce dramatically different results.
Armstrong's regenerative circuit patent was issued on October 6, 1914. Nearly a year later, DeForest applied for a patent on the same invention, which he sold with rights to the audion tube to AT&T.
Thus, in a battle through a dozen courts, from 1922 to 1934 (12 years!), Armstrong and AT&T fought the longest patent battle in U.S. history. Armstrong won the first round, lost the second, stalemated in the third, and lost in the Supreme Court because of a misunderstanding of the technical facts.
Some years later, Armstrong created another innovation in radio: frequency modulation (FM). Most are familiar with it today; Armstrong created it as a means to eliminate static in radio transmissions. When he created it in 1933, his employer, RCA (the Radio Corporation of America) was not interested, since their radios gave them an empire using AM. Sure of his technology, Armstrong created his own FM radio station in New Jersey, and, with pressure to the FCC, got 42-50 MHz allocated for the purpose. Hundreds of high powered FM radio stations began to appear.
Just before television (RCA's real cash cow) exploded onto the scene, the FCC mandated that television signals use FM transmission. Armstrong believed that his position about FM's superiority had been vindicated. The problem was, RCA wasn't interested in paying royalties. They offered Armstrong cash for the rights to FM rather than pay royalties as many other companies were lining up to do, and then gave FM another blow: claiming 'sunspots' would cause a problem, they lobbied and won from the FCC a move of FM's band from 42-50 MHz to 88-108, rendering all FM radios of the time useless as of 1945.
Armstrong found himself in ANOTHER legal battle, particularly after RCA claimed a patent on FM technology themselves. This time, however, it was too much for him, and he committed suicide a few years into this second battle, in 1954. FM radio suffered a catastrophic setback of nearly 30 years because of the bandwidth move, and effort to keep FM technology bottled up.
URLs of Armstrong's life, achievements, and difficulties are provided at the bottom - definately recommended reading.
Whatever we do, we should NEVER believe that simply because something is technologically superior (consider FM vs. AM), or even because we are right in fact, that courts will agree. Technology by itself cannot change written laws, or inform judges of facts. This is the job of lawyers, witnesses, lobbyists, and public opinion.
As Linux begins to 'make the big time', it will begin to affect companies which are powerful enough to lobby to change the laws and the fundamental rules of the game in order to maintain their primary goal - an increase in their stock price, value, and power. Consider what was done with FM radio, when RCA was faced with embracing it and paying royalties, or maintaining their own (one could argue, inferior) AM empire. Innovation was just fine in that case, so long as the goals of a rising stock price and company value continued to be met.
For example, Linux giving Windows a bad name is one thing. Taking away sales, and real money - or causing Microsoft's stock price to fall - will get their attention very quickly. Microsoft's market cap is half a trillion dollars. They mean...business.
-The GPL has so far held up because, in part, copyright law has not been changed at a congressional level to prevent it being used (as a for-instance).
-Microsoft has not yet embraced the GPL because it believes its route will still be more profitable. Should this change, expect Microsoft to claim that it invented the idea...and that it will put billions behind marketing to assure people that they did.
We must continue to follow the issues in these times. SCO's ranting may be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, but what is most important is that their claims do not hold in a court of public opinion or a court of law. Being 'right' does not assure a win. History tells us that we must be vigilant. I believe that is the point Forbes is making.
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