back to article Red Hat, Novell sued for patent infringment

Just days after Steve Ballmer again raised the spectre of patent lawsuits being filed against Linux companies, Red Hat is being sued for patent infringement. Ballmer told developers in London that anyone using Red Hat software effectively owed him money. Ballmer said: "People who use Red Hat, at least with respect to our …


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  1. Ian Loveridge
    Thumb Down

    So thats all *nix's then.

    So all *nix, Citrix and Terminal Servers need to licence this functionality? Pfft. sad.

  2. Chris
    Gates Horns

    And so it begins...

    No doubt this will be the first of many and will be drawn out as long as possible to make it as expensive as possible to defend against.

  3. ryan

    Software patents.

    As a developer i can see the merit of software patents, but the whole system is wide open to abuse.

    Patenting functionality just isn't cricket, and these patents seem to only come to light when a vague interpretation of their actual intent can be used to leaver huge punitive lawsuits and generally shit on a developer the patent holder doesn't like.

  4. Anonymous Coward


    I know I'm obviously not smart enough to work at the US Patent office but how is

    "User Interface with Multiple Workspaces for Sharing Display System Objects"

    An invention?

    In the states would it be possible for example (if it weren't prior art an all) To patent the use of a "single pencil on multiple instances of Paper by sharing a common table"?

  5. Kevin Turnquist
    Gates Horns

    VC needs a new icon ...

    Where is the "Ballmer as Antichrist" icon?

    Oh, well, this will have to do.

  6. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Another day, another dumb patent.

    The patent appears to be from 1987, covering what in modern parlance we'd call multiple monitors for a single desktop. Let's see now ... prior art? obvious?

    Perhaps I've misread the patent. After all, my first language is English, not Total Bollocks.

  7. Hugh_Pym

    Didn't we have all this before...

    ...with the infamous Apple vs Microsoft 'look and feel' case?

  8. Curtis W. Rendon

    pretty thin

    The legal posting is pretty vague. Could be referring to all of X Windows...

  9. Robert Long
    Gates Horns


    Since the company in question is not producing, nor has ever produced any product or service based on the patent, damages would appear to be nil.

    I know that's not how it works, it's just how it should work.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So when do Apple get sued for their "revolutionary" Spaces in Leopard?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    I suggest you do some search on Acacia before posting this

    IIRC Acaciia is a well known patent troll and frankly the recent appointments do not change anything regarding its tactics. It has already tried to launch lawyers at Via, Intel, AMD and quite a few others.

    This does not change my opinion of the Billigatus of course (that icon is missing by the way).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    But still no hint of the TRUTH, apparently

    Its high time that publicly claiming a product infringes a patent without giving any proof, and indeed in this particularly despicable case without saying WHICH patents, was made a far BIGGER criminal offence than the alleged patent infringement.

    Until this happens, every tom dick and harry that wants to take over another company would be able to deliberately dent the other company's share price by claiming unspecified patent infringements and would probably have no comeback provided that they were able to buy up the company concerned soon enough to prevent any comeback.

  13. Andy

    Just *NIX?

    Forgive my ignorance, but don't macs do this too?

    Just 'cos MS were last to the multiple-desktops party they have to go and spoil it for everyone...

  14. Anonymous Coward

    I Invented the Bag

    Hasn't every computer GUI since 1990 or so offered this feature in some form ? Either as part of the OS or as a standalone piece of software ?

    I could just as well claim to have invented the coffee ring or the paper bag, in the manner of two characters known helpfully as The Living Carpets. If you want to know more, see "Vik Reeves Big Night Out" on Wikipedia.

  15. Dan Paul

    Multiple Monitors? Isn't that the Video Card Driver?

    I'm no code monkey, but sounds to me like this "functionality" has more to do with the video cards ability to place/stretch a display on 2 monitors than it does with the operating system. Isn't that a function of the driver, not the OS? Haven't all the videocard manufacturers been though this before? Lends creedence to the scarcity of Linux drivers though.

    Hmmm...1987 patent date, suing for IP technology used by damn near everyone and ex-Microcephalic employees involved? Sounds like a techno-blackmail conspiracy to me!

    To Redhat: Better subpoena and impound all their computers and servers today!!!

    If ever there was a case for justifiable Ballmer-cide (He's not human), this is it!

    Oh, by the way... the addition of icons that are specific to "Amanfrommars" are a great touch. Has anyone found out where this AIs collective conciousness resides yet?

    My bet is that Amanfrommars is the result of millions of incestuous X Box and Playstations, resulting in their respective game servers becoming a giant (albeit schizophrenic) cluster computing AI.

  16. Andy Barber


    Didn't Post Office Telecommunications, aka Prestel, aka BT plc, aka BTGroup plc; try to claim hyperlinks, aka URL's as their own Intellectual Property & failed?

  17. 3x2

    Can anyone spell PROXY

    Gosh that Steve bloke - he must be some kinda genius seeing this coming

    Paint me shocked when the Texas court awards damages equivalent the the EU fine on MS.

  18. Richard

    This sounds like Xerox Rooms ...

    This sounds like the Xerox Rooms metaphor which is basically virtual desktops which a user can switch between and was first shown by Xerox in 1985. Virtual desktops have existed window managers in The X Window System ("X Windows" was an IBM trademark I believe) since at least 1993 when I first saw FVWM which was written by Rob Nation.

    So unfortunately I suspect the Xerox patent might hold and I cannot remember any art prior to 1985 which would cover this 8-(

  19. neil
    Jobs Horns


    Now, as suspected by the people in charge of this patent troll, this is a ploy by M$ to halt the spread of the GNU/Linux cancer, what will that do to the 'no sue' agreement with Novell and inter-company relations?

    Personally, I would love to see a full independent audit of M$ code for violations of the GPL. I think that would be fair.

  20. Fran Taylor

    Not Just Linux

    This is a GUI patent. The GUI stuff in Linux is not Linux-specific; it also appears in other OS's like BSD and Solaris. This lawsuit threatens a lot more than just RedHat. Expect RedHat to collect some high-powered friends to counter this.

    This patent is also particularly weak. it's very old, unenforced so far, and apparently there is a lot of prior art.

    I bet this is the trial balloon to see how people are going to respond. Microsoft is too chickenshit to file any lawsuits itself, it will use proxies to avoid bad press and blowback.

  21. heystoopid


    Hmm, a little birdy told me that these patent trolls had a go at God's company some six months ago with this self same rubbish , then all went quiet !

    Given the calibre of return fire from his lawyers , I would say they chose to run away to troll for a lesser victim !

    Don't forget Patent's unlike copyright are very time limited and do have a short shelf life !

  22. Craig McCormick
    Gates Horns

    Roll on space tourism...

    ...just so that Steve Ballmer and Co can 'go missing' on a cruise to Mars or somewhere.

  23. Brian Miller

    Expired? Filed March 25, 1987

    According to the USPTO, "the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed". The patent was filed over 20 years ago, and seems to be six months deceased.

    Also, since the patented concept is nothing new in a Motif/CDE desktop, why isn't IBM mentioned? Looks like a bash-Linux-only filing.

  24. Chris

    Microsoft simply wants fair competition

    It appears that Microsoft's absurd intellectual property agreement with short-sighted companies like Novell, being part of its machiavellian divide and rule tactics amongst the Linux community, has in no way stopped Microsoft from playing the same drawn out legal games and dirty tricks FUD campaigns by proxy just as it is widely believed to have done so through SCO. I expect that Novell must feel somewhat chagrined if it is indeed the case that it paid for the privilege of not being able to sue Microsoft whilst Microsoft has enough money to be able to pay another company, possibly fabricated for the purpose, to sue companies Novell. Although Red Hat is also being pursued, at least it has been sensible enough not to do deals with the devil.

  25. crashIO


    You will recall that Xerox originated email, the mouse and multiple windows shared across a network a long time ago in a galaxy known as San Jose. They did not hold a patent on this emerging tech at the time. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both heard about this, asked to see it, and were granted access to it (despite the protests of the CTO to the BoD that no patents existed and they could steal these ideas) and next thing you know Apple and MS have new OS GUIs. I would imagine the suit won't stop there. If Xerox were somehow able to backdoor a patent on the GUIs they all use now I would think MS and Mac will not be far behind on paying damages. Likely they are going after the little guys first to help set precedence.

  26. crashIO


    You will recall that Xerox originated email, the mouse and multiple windows shared across a network a long time ago in a galaxy known as San Jose. They did not hold a patent on this emerging tech at the time. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both heard about this, asked to see it, and were granted access to it (despite the protests of the CTO to the BoD that no patents existed and they could steal these ideas) and next thing you know Apple and MS have new OS GUIs. I would imagine the suit won't stop there. If Xerox were somehow able to backdoor a patent on the GUIs they all use now I would think MS and Mac will not be far behind on paying damages. Likely they are going after the little guys first to help set precedence.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    @Hmm and @Chris

    @ Hmm

    -- quote --

    Hmm, a little birdy told me that these patent trolls had a go at God's company some six months ago with this self same rubbish , then all went quiet !

    Given the calibre of return fire from his lawyers , I would say they chose to run away to troll for a lesser victim !

    -- end quote--

    Actually, God's company took out a licence.


    @ Chris (and others...)

    Why does this stuff keep getting propagated?

    Microsoft did not promise not to sue Novell for patent infringement, they promised not to sue Novell's *customers*. Novell paid $ for this.

    Similarly, Novell did not promise not to sue Microsoft for patent infringement, they promised not to sue Microsoft's *customers*. Microsoft paid $ for this. (Microsoft paid more $ than Novell).

    These two companies are still free to go after each other's throats if they so choose. The agreement does nothing to prevent that.

  28. Danny
    Jobs Horns

    The War for Freedom. Part 2.

    < Hey, is this Jobs Satan or Ballmer Satan?

    To quote Kosh, "It begins."

    Follow the money and you will likely find MS funding this. The close examination of Linux regarding patents and the like during the SCO fiasco will soon put these lusers to bed and hopefully, like SCO, permanently.

    MS just don't like to share. The only way they are able to keep customers is to handcuff them to the radiator at gunpoint. It's sad that the only way to run a business is by threats and not the merit of your products.

    Another quote (from memory) that springs to mind is from Princess Leia Organa, "The more you tighten your grip the more star systems slip will through your fingers."

  29. David Wilkinson

    Software Patents need to be eliminated.

    Right now any technology company out there could probably scrounge up a half dozen or more patent infringement accusations against any other technology company. That company could them turn around and do the exact same thing.

    The software industries continued existence is only possible due to this mutually assured destruction.

    The cost to bring a case to trial is so high that effectively only large companies with deep pockets have any rights.

    And of course the whole system breaks down when you have a company that owns patents but produces no products.

    Its the equivalent of a stateless terrorist group armed with nuclear weapons.

    It might help if every patent had to be defended before a board of experts before being approved, and if the cases where heard in courts where both the judges and the juries had the technical expertise to understand the real issues.

    I don't see that happening, so I think the best course of action is to simply eliminate software patents.

  30. Giles Jones Gold badge

    OS X Leopard

    Leopard has this feature but this patent troll knows that Apple have good lawyers.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Software patents need to be approved by someone with a clue about programming

    of all the software patents i have seen, i could count the legitimate claims on one hand.

    most software patents are based on making OBVIOUS use of new hardware innovations. The problem is that the big silicon valley companies get to see all the new kit long before the rest of the world does.

    Take the patent claim against RIM for example. its a device that can receive digital information and display text and graphics. It can be bridged to the internet. Heck, I don't care what it was built for, someone is gonna send email to it .. and instant messages, and web pages, and every other form of media or data that the device can handle. I mean thats what networking protocols are for ... making things connect and share data ... so how the hell is it innovation when someone connects something new to the internet.

    As for multiple desktops .. there was little to no need for them when most computers would grind to a halt running two or three applications that could easily be managed on one desktop. Now that the average PC can run ten or more apps with ease there is a need for better organizational methods which will break our existing total workspace into some form of lists, trees, or smaller workspaces ... DUH!

    And considering that software can be brought to market almost instantly there is no need for software patents to last more the 5 years anyway.

  32. Anthony Knee

    Bring it on Steve - if you dare !!!

    I would love to see Microsoft in court taking on Linux for copyright and patents etc.

    The defenders only have to argue that Microsoft steal code and use other people's patents without permission. (Microsoft have been found guilty on this quite a few times and have paid out millions).

    How do we know that what Microsoft is claiming as theirs actually is. Microsoft purchase, copy, and borrow quite a lot of code. They claim that they own the copyright, but in actual fact, they can only claim copyright to portions of it. Recent court cases which Microsoft have lost have resulted in damages. You could argue with good reason that Microsoft have sold illegal software to every person with XP - and that is a lot !

    Microsoft like to hide what they do behind closed source. It protects them not only from people stealing their ideas, but also it makes life difficult for patent holders, companies with rights and a variety of licensees to know what is going on under the covers.

    So let's move on to open source and it's licensing etc. It's obvious that Microsoft will have lifted code that has some very interesting licenses. Some of those require that Microsoft release the source code of applications based on it.

    Open source is far more legal than anything that is closed source. It is easy for rights holders to identify infringments and these can be dealt with - GIF file formats being an example.

    Linux is easy to compile and change - most distros have already compiled the entire OS and most applications to 64 bit. Microsoft have hardly started with 64 bit compilation and they seem to be having problems with it. There are lots of missing bits in the 64bit versions of server 2003, vista and xp. So any court orders against them could be financially disastrous for the company, and damages could run into the millions.

    Pandora's box is waiting to be opened and Steve wants to have a look inside. Go on Steve, I dare you!

    Things are gonna get interesting !

  33. Alan Donaly

    Just another troll

    MS has been playing this stupid game forever propping up SCO for as long as they could now making up lies about redhat and I am pretty sure Novell holds patents MS is infringing on (I also think Novell knows it) patent trolls need to be silenced by outlawing their abuse and Ballmer well we all know the drool farm is fast coming up for him anyway.

  34. Nick L

    More prior art

    I haven't found the actual patents yet to try and work out what they claim, but the earliest one is as late as 1991. Desqview of 1985 and other EMM programs like 1984 Topview would in many ways seem to have offered a "User Interface with Multiple Workspaces for Sharing Display System Objects".

  35. Graham

    Prior Art and Patent law will knock this out

    Xerox shows prior art and is very well known so it's a bit stupid.

    I can't wait for the day in court, but I'm pretty sure it will never get there.

    Patent life is 20 years.

    The Legal guys know this so this is pure publicity.

    This is not a headline.

    Novell and RedHat will have a mild chuckle and pass the sugar.

    I'm sure one of the Microsoft trolls pushed this to a headline.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Vexatious litigant?

    Here in the UK, there is a maintained list of vexatious litigants. These litigants will have real trouble getting themselves heard in court regardless of the amount of money they have to chuck around. If the USA have anything similar, it's a pity that Microsoft isn't on the list - cases like this are obviously vexatious.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prior Art?

    OK - so the patent dates from 1987 and Xerox Rooms was first shown in 1985. What about some "multiple desktops" prior art from 1984 then?

    IIRC, the computer game Elite had multiple "desktops" - multiple views on the game universe and multiple pages of status and controls. There were key combinations to switch pages. While docked, you could switch between buying cargo, buying equipment for your ship, and so on. When in flight you could still view both local and galactic maps (and choose hyperspace locations), check your equipment and cargo, check local cargo prices, and - of course - look where you're going.

    And some controls were shared between pages - particularly the four external views, which shared the radar, energy level displays, flight control "hotkeys" and so on.

    Does this count as the "multiple desktops" in the patent?

  38. tempemeaty

    Old tactic

    Looks like a Proxy War...

    ...just as some nations have learned to use smaller nations to attack, weaken, and divide an enemy... It helps keep their own hands looking clean and their own resources from being drawn down.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Prior Art?

    IBM has had something called SessionManager on their mainframe systems for something like 25+ years. I think I saw it in the late 70's but no later than 81.

    It allowed managing multiple screens and feeding output from one screen into another even then.

    (The number of patents filed where there is prior art amazes me. By example, Motorolla has a patent on Compare and Swap Double a machine instruction from the 1980's. IBM has an EU patent on basically the same thing in the 90's. Problem was it was a machine instruction on IBM 370's from the early 1970's.

    I have friends with patents. They cover entire inventions. What have we come to?)

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prior Out?

    A modest suggestion to Websters (and hope) ...

    Prior Out : when a software patent lawsuit is sunk by prior art.

  41. Paul

    A way to neuter the patent trolls?

    Companies like "IP Innovation" (that's an ironic name they gave themselves, isn't it?) are the end product of a patent system gone horribly wrong.

    A 20 year lifespan is FAR too long and just leaves the system open to this sort of abuse. I say there should be a 5-year limit, with an automatic renewal to a longer period (maybe add another 10 years) if WITHIN THAT FIRST 5 YEARS you've actually licensed the idea out, are actively pursuing licensees, have made, or are actively attempting to make it into a real product. Apply this retroactively to all currently valid patents, with the burden of proof placed on the patent holder. Invalidate all which don't qualify, effective immediately.

    In other words, if you've been quietly sitting on a patent for a long period of time, waiting for someone else to "invent" and productize something which violates it, with the intent of then extorting license fees from them, then your magical mystery IP will be pulled out from under you and you'll be left with exactly how much you have contributed to the greater good: NOTHING!

    A draconian suggestion? Sure, but the patents system is so broken and plagued with trolls now, the only way to fix it is to do something drastic.

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