[linux-elitists] Rick Moen uses gifs on the sly (but don't feel to proud)

Heather star@betelgeuse.starshine.org
Thu May 10 16:04:10 PDT 2001


Attentive elitists will note that I stripped the debbug cc out of this, and
I plan to leave it that way unless the Bugs guys need something specific.

#include /std.disclaimer/i-am-not-a-lawyer.h

As a general case, I think it would be a Bad Thing(tm) if the Debian project
managed to get sucked into UNISYS audit annoyances.  

btw, on the Burnallgifs website, it's missing a rather important piece of data
(or, has made it hard to find) ... *exactly* when does their patent expire?

Some articles say 2003.  Others say 2004.   I found some Unisys PR guy's
posting (http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:www.cni.org/Hforums/
	cni-copyright/1995-01/0021.html+unisys+lzw+patent+expires&hl=en)
saying it was awarded 1985.  Using the search engine via the Patent Office'
wesbite (after a clickthru or two) doesn't find any assignee "Unisys" on
a 1985 patent.  Poking in other patents that babble about LZW, that could
be (quoted from patent #6,188,333 issued to Unisys Feb 13, 2001... the most
recent patent containing the "word" LZW got given to Interval Research
Corporation, #6,229,929 May 8 2001) :

   2. Description of the Prior Art
...  A ubiquitously used data compression and decompression system known 
   as LZW, adopted as the standard for V.42 bis modem compression and 
   decompression, is described in U.S. Pat. No.  4,558,302 by Welch, 
   issued Dec. 10, 1985. LZW has been adopted as the compression and 
   decompression standard used in the GIF and TIFF image communication 
   protocols.

The older one says
   Inventors: Welch; Terry A. (Concord, MA)
   Assignee: Sperry Corporation (New York, NY)
   Appl. No.: 505638
   Filed: June 20, 1983

Lemme guess, Unisys inhaled Sperry, right? Yup.  (Free Online Dictionary
Of Computing)
                              Sperry Corporation

   <company> The company which merged with the Burroughs Corporation to
   form Unisys Corporation. Divisions included Sperry Univac, Sperry
   Flight Systems, and others. Some of these were sold off after the
   merger.

   (1995-03-27)

If the assignee no longer exists do they actually have any hold at all?
We will, of course, have to make sure that our toys are not also infringing 
on their stacks of later patents :(

Dec 10 1985 + 17 years = 2002 ... I predict one hell of an Xmas party. 

Anyways, we made a pretty good show of making everyone know when RSA would
expire.  In a last flourish || an attempt at some tiny fragment of good PR,
they even released their patent early <wicked grin>

So the problems are
	1. $5000 ?  They're outta their gourd...  They might have gotten
	   away with a cheap-per-unit-but-scaled licensing scam.
	2. they've changed their tune before, including "appearing out of
	   the mist" after GIF got ubiquitous - so any present licensing 
	   deals made with them cannot really be trusted.
	3. As far as I know, yes, patent law does allow patent holders to
	   be this stupid/greedy for 17 years.
	4. Joe Random Websurfer can't tell an infringing item from a non-
	   infringing item if it bit him, anyway.

Gotta hate that backstabbed feeling #2 provokes, at having been allowed to 
use (LZW bearing GIFs) as if they're free when they're not.  Many other 
formats are under patents;  it's not the patent itself that I'd be whining 
about*, it's the uncertainty of the license deal.  And that as Clued Dudes 
we have some responsibility, if we want to take it, to see that [4] doesn't 
allow Joe there to get sucked into taking UNISYS' side while their schoolyard
bullying playtime remains.

*but you're welcome to on your own... 

I think there was a "was it poisoned and now forever wicked" thread going
on during the K-isnt-free-is-too-is-not wars that may apply to pictures 
which undergo conversion, but not art that gets recreated.  Rathole alert.

Interestingly, if the GIF format itself remains ubiquitous until the right
patents clear, we then have a format which is *known* to be patent clean,
and perfectly reasonable to leave packaged.

Now *that's* FUTB for you.

* Heather * 
IX. For every vengeance there is an equal and opposite revengeance.
		-- Esquire, "O'Donnell's Laws of Cartoon Motion", June 1980



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