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Sunday, August 30 2015 @ 04:58 AM CDT

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What We Do (and Don’t) Know about the Novell Patent Sale

Intellectual property Rights

 Have you discovered The Alexandria Project?

Ever since the proposed acquisition of Novell by Attachmate Corporation there has been much curiosity, but almost no information, relating to the other major piece of the deal: the acquisition of 882 patents by a consortium led by Microsoft for $450 million. There are three main areas of undisclosed information that are piquing peoples’ interest, and in this bog entry I’ll go through each of them.
 
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Understanding the Novell Deal (and when we'll learn more)

Intellectual property Rights

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Two days have now passed since Novell announced the high-level terms of its proposed sale, and so far the press has not been able to prize any additional details out of the parties involved. As a result, speculation is rife on several key points, and especially with respect to the 822 patents that Novell proposes to sell to a consortium of companies, only one of which has been disclosed: Microsoft.
 
Given this dearth of information and the fact that I’ve been a transactional lawyer for over 30 years, I’ll use this blog entry to lay out those things that can be known, those that can’t (yet) be known, and when we can expect additional disclosures.  (This is a long blog post, so if you have a short attention span and only care about Linux, that bit is at the end.)

 

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When and How to Launch a Standards Consortium

Open Source/Open Standards

Handshake, by Tobias Wolker, multiple licenses at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Handshake_%28Workshop_Cologne_%2706%29.jpegAbstract: The last twenty-five years have been marked by an explosion of consortia formed to develop, promote and/or otherwise support standards enabling information and communications technology. The reasons for forming a new consortium, as compared to adding to the work program of an existing body, include the absence in such organizations of appropriate technical expertise, interest, and/or supporting programs, as well as the benefits to be gained from directing all of the resources and efforts of a new consortium to the achievement of a set of specific objectives. This article reviews the benefits to be obtained from launching a new consortium, the criteria that should be used to determine whether doing so is appropriate, the programs and functionalities available for achieving specific goals, and the stages of institutional maturity at which each function should be added in order to accomplish a new organization's mission.

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W3C Accepted as an ISO/IEC PAS Submitter on a “Take it or Leave it” Basis

OpenDocument and OOXML

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After sixteen years of working in parallel to the traditional standards infrastructure, the World Wide Web Consortium has taken an interesting decision: to begin submitting selected W3C Recommendations to that same system for endorsement. In doing so, it joins the small handful of consortia (seven, to be exact) that have applied for this option out of the hundreds of consortia currently active in the information and communications (ICT) to apply for that option. 
 

If this process sounds vaguely familiar, that’s likely because this is the same process that OASIS used to gain global endorsement of its OpenDocument Format (ODF).  Microsoft took a similar, but procedurally distinct, route with OOXML, its competing document format, when it offered it to ECMA, which enjoys a special “Fast Track” relationship with JTC1.  What won't sound familiar is the conditions that the W3C has successfully included in its application to make submissions, on which more below. 

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Standards of Political Civility and Darwin's Finches

On the Media

Better run for cover . . . it's Election Day in the USA

HimselfHeaven help us all (all us Americans, anyway) — it's election time again. That means we've once again descended into a morass of partisan invective, not to mention lies, damn lies, and (of course) statistics. Except that this election year it seems that everyone is behaving even worse than last time, when everyone acted even worse than the time before, when, well, do you sense a trend here?

One hallmark of this year's political "discourse" (to abuse a term) has been the number of astonishingly angry and ill-informed accusations made by some candidates against their opponents (and others). Nothing unusual about that, sad to say. But what is different is the degree of acceptance, and even approval, exhibited by many voters that in earlier years might have rejected these candidates as well as their statements.

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Community Rights and Community Wrongs

Open Source/Open Standards

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Wikibook Header, public domain, courtesy of WikiCommons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Copyright_%28Simple_English%29_Wikibook_header.pngAlthough the continuing debate over the future of Java and OpenOffice should not surprise, the fact that developers have allowed themselves to be caught in this position to begin with should. The reason?   The community has overestimated the power of software licenses – even FOSS licenses – to protect their rights, and opted not to take advantage of other tools that could.
 
Yes, today’s restrictive licenses embody powerful rights, but those rights are no stronger than the ability of their owners to assert them. Placing all one’s defensive reliance on a single legal tool can make no more sense than relying on a single weapons system.  Why?  Because it’s all too easy to be outflanked by an enemy with a more diverse armament.  And ever since Oracle's acquisition of Sun, the traditional defenses of open source developers have been about as effective as France's post-World War I Maginot Line.
 
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If IT Policy is Your Thing, Keep an Eye on Europe

Intellectual property Rights

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If you’re interested in the intersection of technology, government, standards and open source software, you really want to be paying close attention to Europe these days. That’s because the EU is where all of the really interesting, high-level IT policy action is.

Yes, there are some important things happening in China, but Chinese policy is very narrowly targeted towards achieving industry-specific economic goals. And yes, isolated initiatives and skirmishes pop up in the U.S. from time to time, much to the bewilderment of most legislators.  But it’s in the EU where you find by far and away the greatest sophistication on the part of policy makers, and the most extensive grass-roots engagement by citizen groups.

The reason is not surprising. Unlike those other two huge markets – the U.S. and China – the EU is of course made up of many independent states, and it has taken decades of multidimensional, creative effort to incentivize, cajole and nudge those states into a more cohesive and forceful economic whole.
 
With that by way of background, let’s take a look at a kerfuffle that emerged yesterday when two lobbying associations reacted to a pre-release copy of the latest version of that extremely interesting and much battered document called the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), version 2.0.
 
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Are There Too Many Consortia?

General News

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Companies that participate in hundreds of standard setting organizations (SSOs) often bemoan the continuing launch of more and more such organizations. Why, they are wont to ask, are so many new ones being formed all the time? And indeed, the aggregate participation costs for such companies in terms of membership dues and personnel are very high.

Of course, if you read the press releases of the new consortia launched in any given year, you'll see that almost all include some of the same companies among their founding members. So which is the more accurate picture — that there too many consortia, or too few? The best answer to both questions almost certainly is "yes."

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The Launch of the Document Foundation and the Oxymoron of Corporate Controlled "Community" Projects

Open Source/Open Standards

 

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Say bye-bye?This morning brought the significant -  and decade overdue – announcement of the launch of an independent foundation to host development of the open source, ODF-compliant OpenOffice productivity suite.  The good news of that lost decade is that under Sun’s ownership and control, the OpenOffice suite became the most successful and widely implemented alternative to Microsoft’s Office, providing at least some degree of competition in a product niche where it had been missing for far too long.

The bad news is that in the same time period the OpenOffice suite could have become so much more.  As with other single-company controlled efforts in the past (e.g., the Eclipse Foundation, before IBM spun it out into an independent organization), other companies that could have, and would have, made significant contributions of personnel, funding and promotion stood aside.  

 

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Google's Ironic Ad Campaign and the Future of Traditional Media

On the Media

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Page through a major newspaper (remember newspapers?) today like the New York Times, and you’re likely to run into two enormous ads, one by Google (almost two full pages) and one by AOL (a full two pages). Leaving aside the irony of Google advertising in a form of media that it has almost competed out of existence, there’s something potentially transformative going on here that’s worth exploring.