Don Marti

Sun 17 Apr 2005 08:33:51 PM PDT

Stay away from The First One's Free

Some software patent holders, such as Unisys, have an unofficial "free sample" program, where they allow personal and educational use but take legal actions against business or public use. Participating in such programs confines free software to hobby use and class projects.

In some situations, whatever the law says, it is a good idea to mess up the free sample program by refusing to infringe the patent even when the patent would not hold up in court, or if the chance of being sued is small. For example, refusing to distribute GIFs or GIF-creating tools promotes patent-free formats, and helps make it possible to use free software in public or in business.

Other patents, such as the BT patent on hyperlinking, are so ludicrous that an infringement warning would be appropriate, since it would inform users about the problems with some countries' patent systems.