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[ba-ohs-talk] Slashdot: Under Attack by PanIP's Patent Lawyers?

Couldn't resist -- just saw this and thought about about the risk to
volunteers from the colloquiums "permission to use" indemnification
clause from something as simple as putting up a web page these days...    (01)

> "I work for a small plumbing, heating,
> irrigation, and BBQ supply house. Over the past four we have built
> up quite a website that houses tons of information and offers many
> products for sale via an online store. Recently a company known as
> PanIP has decided to sue us on 2 counts of patent infringement. To
> the best of my understanding, as you can see from their website,
> they claim that they invented the use of text and images as a
> method of business on the Internet. They also claim that they
> invented the use of a form to enter customer information.
> Obviously this is ridiculous and most likely won't hold up in court!
> However, this is not the problem. PanIP has also sued 10 other
> small companies. PanIP chose small companies because they hope
> that none of them can afford the legal fees that would ultimately
> remove their patents. Most defendants, including us, want to opt to
> bail out for a smaller licensing fee of $30,000. PanIP will continue
> this vicious cycle on small companies of which many of you may
> become victim of. Eventually they will have so many cases under
> their belt that they will be able to attack larger companies."    (02)

So any volunteer creating a website with text and images related to
UnRevII or OHS and in any way conceivably used commercially by BI or
Stanford under "permission to use" might want to just get out their
checkbooks now to write a nice big $30K check to each of Stanford and BI
preemptively for when PanIP comes a knockin' :-) (unless you also want
to pay BIs and Bootstraps legal fees before they settle anyway as you
have no choice in their course of defense). Let's see -- together that's
$60K, so any BI volunteer who has owned a house for a decade or so might
want to cough that up preferentially to bankruptcy. A bit painful
though.     (03)

I hope this patent won't also be construed to apply to these emails
being posted as web pages on BI's email archives? Maybe everyone on the
list can kick in a few grand so we can start a preemptive defense fund
to pay Stanford or BI in such a case?     (04)

The point isn't that such patents are valid or invalid (though obviously
it's probably bogus with prior art) -- but the cost of fighting such a
threatened lawsuits if you are being shaken down (even to ask a patent
lawyer to just evaluate the situation for a coupel of hours) may be high
and you have no choice in whether BI or Stanford decides to settle.    (05)

Sadly, regardless of "permission to use" being resolved, in the U.S.
this software patent thing is probably going to get a lot worse before
it gets better... And the risk is higher in some ways for open source
work because the operation is more open to inspection and thus charges
of patent infringement can be made more easily.    (06)

To turn "permission to use" on its head, perhaps BI and Stanford could
figure out a way to indemnify all volunteers worldwide for work done on
any open source OHS-like systems in good faith -- such as by obtaining
extensive comprehensive E&O insurance (as opposed to the current state
of indemnification the other way around) if such can be had -- say for a
few million dollars a year? Or at least, they could pledge a few million
in trust to come to the legal defense of accused volunteer developers of
OHS like systems anywhere in the world? That's one action that would
ease my mind when working in this field.    (07)

-Paul Fernhout
Kurtz-Fernhout Software 
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com    (08)