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A patent lawsuit against GNOME (lwn.net)
604 points by globuous 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 319 comments

Rothschild Patent Imaging appears to be the company holding the rights to a number of dubious patents filed by Leigh M. Rothschild, who appears to have a well-deserved reputation as a patent troll [1][2].

I hope Gnome is able to take a Newegg approach here and kill the patent.

[1]: http://www.unhappyfranchisee.com/qr-code-patent-troll-sues-d...

[2]: "A Florida inventor named Leigh M. Rothschild is the largest single NPE based on the number of defendants who have been added to patent lawsuits he filed, according to the the report." https://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/2016/0106/Despite-crack...

Seems like this https://phys.org/news/2005-09-world-built-in-wi-fi-enabled-d.... invalidates the patent.

Nikonn CoolPix had wifi support in 2005. I'd imagine if you could select specific pictures to upload wherever from the device, that's the whole patent claim invalidated by 4 years. Hell, this article even references a device that Nikon offered to wirelessly transmit images as early as 2003. Find one of these, bring it to the law firm defending Gnome and that should invalidate the patent.

I built a service around 2005 that did realtime photo sync and sharing from mobile devices. Here's a demo video from 2007 (the most relevant part is around 6:45):


That's a good start, but there's more to claim 1:

...filter the plurality of photographic images using a transfer criteria wherein the transfer criteria is a subject identification of a respective photographic image within the plurality of photographic images, wherein the subject identification is based on a topic, theme or individual shown in the respective photographic image; and transmit, via the wireless transmitter and to a second mobile device, the filtered plurality of photographic images.

Invaliding prior art has to cover every single thing in the claim. (And my hunch is that it's out there).

Based on my understanding, the patent still needs to represent an "inventive step" from the prior art. Let's say you can show that

A. Classifying images based on a (pre-existing?) identification; B. Filtering images based on classification; C. Wirelessly transmitting images

were all known at the time. Then you could argue that a "person having ordinary skill in the art" would have known to combine A+B+C to solve the problem. Thus the prior art teaches the invention and the patent should be declared invalid.

This isn't wrong. But it's oversimplified and in practice in the US obviousness arguments have a low likelihood of success, lower if it gets too a jury trial.

You are much better off defending again infringement suits with novelty arguments.

Perhaps some NASA software does this, considering the cost of sending each and every image?

Shouldn't infringement match all claims too? SQL did filtering using transfer criteria 45 years ago.

Unfortunately, the Nikon CoolPix would not serve as prior art because it does not appear to have these two elements of the patent.

filtering the plurality of photographic images using a transfer criteria wherein the transfer criteria is a subject identification of a respective photographic image within the plurality of photographic images,

wherein the subject identification is based on a topic, theme or individual shown in the respective photographic image;

That sounds patenting facial recognition (among other things). Not a method for facial recognition, but the very idea of doing facial recognition.

The patent system is so broken. It's as if drug companies, instead of patenting a specific treatment for cancer, were able to patent "treating cancer".

It’s not patenting facial recognition. It’s patenting the specific use case of identifying a subset of images to transfer over the wireless link based on the subject of the image.

Sorry, it seems I forgot to put the word "like" in there, as in similar to.

I understand it's not patenting facial recognition in general, just in the specific case of using facial rec or other techniques (which the lawyers called transfer criteria/subject identification) to identify subjects of images before filtering by subject and transferring them wirelessly.

I stand by the meaning of the simile though. There's nothing original enough to be patentable in that claim.

A specific method for doing facial recognition should be patentable. "Use facial rec to identify individuals in images, then filter for specific individuals, then transfer those images" should not. If we allow patents on use cases, every use case will be patented and eventually the trolls will have a collection of patents that together cover the very idea of recognizing faces.

Like parent said, the patent doesn't actually seem have anything to do with facial recognition. I read it as talking about images that have already been identified, by some unspecified process. The process could be facial recognition, but it could also just be the user herself manually identifying each image.

I do agree that the patent is too unclear and broad, and that everything described must have been already known by 2008.

I'm not fluent in patent lawyer, so I must say you might be right. I read "subject identification" as an active process that was part of the claim, but it could refer to a pregenerated tag instead.

Which would make the patent even more laughable. "Wirelessly transfer all images I've tagged with 'Vacation 2017'" is patentable?

Still sounds awfully general. I mean, it is clearly subjective, but I think the issue is the divide between domain specific technical expertise and lawyers / judges who would argue a patent is exploitable.

How on earth can an obvious business practice be patented?

“yes, I would like to patent the sale of a spade when you buy a rake”

I wouldn't consider providing customers who paid for rakes with shovels instead to be an "obvious business practice"...

Reading comprehension fail.

filtering the plurality of semantic interpretations using a transfer criteria wherein the transfer criteria is a sensible interpretation of a respective natural language sentence within the plurality of semantic interpretations

Is that in a patent application for reading comprehension?

So images are indexed by topic, theme, and individual. Sub-setting the transfer on any of those indexes violates the patent? There must be more to it.

Kodak had consumer wifi support then too. They had military cameras with satellite upload capability even earlier.

Aside fighting the patent, I hope this egregious act does not come without consequences. It may be meaningless, but I'm tempted to mail a letter to this company regarding my disapproval for the gesture they are sending to the open source community.

One reform worth considering is that an entity that can be demonstrated to persistently engage in frivolous patent lawsuits should lose the rights to their entire portfolio.

This could be accomplished with a legal mechanism that allows the defendant to counter-sue the plaintiff as a patent troll. In this scope they could bring in previous litigative history of the plaintiff (or any related entities, piercing the corporate veil). If the judge rules in the defendant's favor, then all of the plaintiff's patents (and any related entities) are immediately released into public domain.

This would go a long way to preventing patent trolling. And not just because of the direct incentives. Any entity engaging in a patent lawsuit would put their entire portfolio at risk. The larger the portfolio, the higher the risk. The individual or small company with one or a few patents has very little risk. Whereas the large company that hoards thousands and thousands of patents would bear enormous risk on any single lawsuit.

Another potential reform (from the book "Radical Markets") - charge a (say 1%) property tax on the patent based on self-assessed value, with the caveat that you MUST sell the patent to anyone willing to pay your claimed value.

This basically destroys patent trolling, which only works because of the asymmetrical difference in cost between obtaining a patent and defending a patent lawsuit. If the troll prices the patent too low, the person they are suing just buys it, if they charge too much, they have a massive recurring tax bill (and an incentive to settle quickly, not to drag it out in the courts for years).

Doesn't this work against small-time inventors? Price it too high, and they can't afford to keep it (don't have time to sell it or build a business around it); price it too low, and someone can just buy it off them. Perhaps it could lapse sooner if you aren't paying the tax (to discourage people from just sitting on patents), but that doesn't solve patent trolling.

Remember, the rationale for the existence of patents is to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts", not to reward people with monopolies, which is the mechanism.

This is one of several related reasons why I hate the term "intellectual property". Ideas are not property, and shoving them into a property-rights framework and thinking of them as such leads to all sorts of perverse results.

It would be possible to, say, make it royalty free until either you tried to use it in litigation or, say, five years had passed.

If you can’t make the thing event slightly useful in five years, society doesn’t gain much for you having an exclusive monopoly on the thing. So long as the tax is low percentage wise, the yearly cost to keep it as your own would be well worth it.

Doesn't work very well for e.g. drugs, where you may have the first 10 years of the patent term effectively useless because of approval cycles, etc.

It seems fair that you should have to pay some kind of fee to reserve useful ideas. If you don't have the ability to turn ideas in to reality then they should be given to someone else who can pay the purchase price.

Add on a "use it or lose it" policy and I'm onboard. If the patent holder isn't building products with their IP or licensing it as the original author than they shouldn't be allowed to hold it.

It would disable "defensive" patent strategies where companies don't patent their actual technology, but the path to it, which is against the spirit of patents, and disable patent acquisition as an IP strategy.

Meanwhile companies like ARM, which live off IP licensing but wouldn't be punished because they're the original patent authors.

I'd prefer just upping the potential consequences for patent trolling - heavier fines for standard violations and the option, if a violation can be shown to demonstrate clear intent, to jail the offender.

Seriously, want to solve all white collar crime ever? Put some jail time on the table and watch everyone straighten right out.

What about just losing software patents altogether? Sorry, but from my perspective on the other side of Atlantic, it looks like a yet another example of "there's no way to avoid this - says the only country where this happens".

They have software patents in many (most? all?) EU countries. The only thing they don’t have is patents on software code itself, which the US doesn’t really have either. See: https://www.ipwatchdog.com/2018/11/15/epo-publishes-revised-...

The main criteria in the EU is whether the method embodied in the software is “technical.” (Image recognition as opposed to say a business method.) See: https://mewburn.com/resource/patentability-of-business-metho...

In the US, under Alice, Section 101 has morphed into a very similar analysis.

So they'd have one company for every patent. It won't work.

Transparent shuffling of money and legal responsibilities don't have to be an effective shield if we follow the money.

Plus if you toss lawyer in jail and disbar them you will run out of lawyers to sac pretty quickly.

> In this scope they could bring in previous litigative history of the plaintiff (or any related entities, piercing the corporate veil).

Or alternatively you'd manage to take down all of microsoft's patents for that one time they thought a paper clip telling people what to do was innovative... Less jokingly, I'm sure microsoft has a dumb patent or two kicking around, that doesn't mean their entire suite is BS.

There's a difference between having a handful of dumb patents among a sea of valid ones v. having a portfolio composed entirely of dumb patents.

There's also a difference between sitting on a handful of dumb patents v. most or all of your patent litigation cases being over dumb patents.

There isn't a difference unless that's outlined in the law or it's interpretation and I don't know how you'd sanely define things to disallow abuse here.

I'd go a step further. The people behind this lawsuit, and anyone else owning a software patent, should be in jail for fraud.

The loosing side having to pay the legal fees of the winner is an often used mechanism to deter frivolous lawsuits. Patent troll cases I've seen tend to stick to places of trial/judges without those, so could be another area to improve...

AFAIK that was what Facebook tried with their modified BSD that granted patents unless you sued Facebook.

Though that doesn't help against NPE.

Sounds like Anti-SLAPP with IP characteristics.

Patent trolls don't care what you think of them. They don't have customers to worry about offending. They're just corporate highwaymen.

I mean sure, a single letter would not stop a company that is a known patent troll. On the other hand, a lot of letters may at least be felt, at least by employees handling the mail.

Or maybe not, maybe they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. But you know, it’s not like it would take so much time or effort that it would be much of a shame if it did nothing at all.

These people are purely evil; they don't care what you think of them, and will just laugh at your letter before they toss it in the trash. You'll just be wasting your time.

You will waste more of your time than theirs.

I would applaud you sending a letter, but honestly this company might not even receive mail at their box or just outright discard items coming from unknown parties. I feel like you'd be putting some effort into this and they wouldn't even notice or read your letter.

These sorts of trolls tend to operate with a minimal amount of staffing since they're usually subsidiary spin off companies (so nothing but bare bones is allocated in terms of payroll) and since patent trolling is such a gamble (if you're trolling 200 patents with the expectation of getting one or two hits then you should try and minimize costs)

They know what they're doing, and they don't care that it's wrong.

Take away Rothschild's ability to use any open source software bearing a license with a patent clause.

I'm sure his phone or internet access don't at any point rely on such software.

I'd like to point out that the patent isn't even relevant and this lawsuit will probably get thrown out straight away, copied from the article comments, the patent specifies:

> An image-capturing mobile device, comprising Shotwell is not an image-capturing device.

>a Newegg approach

Any more info about this? Never heard of it admittedly.

Newegg's legal counsel, Lee Cheng, successfully convinced his bosses that they might save money by fighting patent extortionists instead of paying them. They had an early high profile case, and won, and then won several more. (Also lost a couple, if I remember right.)

Lee furthermore pursued a strategy of trying to win by invalidating the patent. Newegg got enough of a reputation for this that patent trolls would mass-file a lawsuit, realize that they had included Newegg in the lawsuit, and withdraw the suit. So then Newegg started a strategy of chasing down any patent troll dumb enough to file a suit against Newegg, and aggressively sue them in retaliation -- again, seeking to invalidate the patent (https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/01/newegg-sues-pate...).

Cheng and Newegg eventually went their separate ways, and I haven't heard much from either one since. But, for a while, Newegg was in the tech news every few months for doing real damage to another patent extortion outfit, and it was glorious.

And thus, having been gloriously saved by a commercial company instead of better laws or regulations, we never heard from patent trolls again.

All regulation in the US is just a consequence of the lobbying war between opposed commercial interests, so in reality the difference is moot.

> I hope Gnome is able to take a Newegg approach here and kill the patent.

How do you propose paying for that? It is fantastically expensive.

If anyone from the Gnome team is listening, if you guys started a GoFundMe or something to help with legal fees to challenge this, I would throw twenty bucks your way.

I'd be happy if someone held me to that.

The GNOME Foundation takes donations[0], I think it would probably be good if they had some way to signal that you only want the money in a legal defense fund (especially given that sometimes they put Foundation resources behind controversial things which I myself don't want to support).

Nonetheless I'm throwing some money into the pot, hopefully it is used to fight this troll case, which thankfully may be so facially ridiculous that it is thrown out.

[0]: https://www.gnome.org/support-gnome/donate/

Not a GNOME user so I have no idea what the GNOME foundation gets up too, what sort of controversial things have they funded in the past?

Look at the staff list https://www.gnome.org/foundation/staff/ . It's top heavy with useless people running "diversity initiatives" and "anti-harassment teams" and only one Gtk dev. If they had 10 developers then maybe there'd be a place for these people, but at the moment I don't agree with their priorities.

I'd happily donate to a legal fund to fight this lawsuit though.

The role of a typical FLOSS foundation is to enable development by providing neutral infrastructure and organizational efforts, for example organizing conferences & hackfests with travel reimbursements, boring accounting & paperwork, maintaining trademarks, avoiding legal risks; the actual development will be done by interested companies and individuals.

I think part of what flukus was getting at is not supported by that staff page. GNOME has outreach and sponsorship programs, but they all seem to be gender discriminatory, and focused more on external social causes than on the quality of GNOME software.

GNOME Foundation could probably just use GitLab.com, it wouldn't take a full time staff if their focus was infrastructure. It seems like the GNOME Foundation is predisposed with gaining institutional power over the symbols of GNOME, to egoistically control the community.

I would donate to an effort to kill this patent as well.

We have to start getting more aggressive in these scenarios. If the patent isn't killed, they're just going to turn around and sue someone else with it. So if we want a world where small players can compete with the likes of Microsoft or Facebook, we need to retaliate against trolls who go after small players.

It's not just the patent. That whole company needs to be killed. They serve no useful purpose; the epitome of bullshit jobs.

Honestly I wish more countries would take New Zealand's approach and just outright ban all software patents. There is no reason any software patent should exist.

> That whole company needs to be killed.

And the owners both bankrupted and jailed, or they'll just do it again.

There are still ways you can patent software in New Zealand. I knew a guy who did it and IIRC it was granted on the basis of there being a comparatively small hardware component.

I don't disagree, but I don't think you can bring a legal case to a judge that a company can't exist.

But if every one of their threats resulted in someone dragging them into an expensive fight over whether or not that patent was valid, maybe eventually they'd just go bankrupt from the legal fees.

Essentially, use their own strategy against them. Whenever they sue someone, they have two choices: roll over and let the patent get invalidated, or fight an expensive lawsuit against a party that refuses to settle.

Where is the satisfaction of having a troll bankrupted by litigation? If the troll went bankrupt, it probably means:

* The lawyers got paid so much money there is no more money left to pay the receptionist and the power company and the copier rental.

* The troll is protected from paying any damages to the legal team that defeated them.

So the lawyers/executives suck up all the money and move on, leaving a wake of destruction behind them. In many cases, that should be considered criminal.

> GoFundMe

oh, that American health insurance website.

I mean didn't the people of Belgium recently did the equivalent of gofundme to raise money for treatment for a toddler for the drug Zolgensma?

Belgium, I dunno. But it happened in Portugal. Governmeant ended up paying for the medicine. The parents kept the €2.5m...

Yeah, that's exactly what it is...

Ditto. Patent trolls need to be destroyed.

Put me down for $20 if it comes up.

Same here. Documenting and open-sourcing the legal effort around this could be good experience for people that help in other similar situations.

I'm in for $20 too.

I'm in.

It cost Newegg $60,000 to fight their patent troll. Gnome team is going to need a lot more then $20.

I know, but $60,000 / $20/person = ~3,000 people. That really isn't that much in the scope of things.

> It cost Newegg $60,000 to fight their patent troll. Gnome team is going to need a lot more then $20.

Wow, that's all? That's actually really encouraging, if true. I would have assumed it was millions.

Even if that is correct, you still need to have a couple hundred grand in reserve in case the judge is a dumbass and you lose.

Donating to an open source project to combat a software patent troll?

I could already see this story making headlines in pretty much every tech news outlet there is. They'd get a few thousand individual donations for sure.

And sadly it will be the lawyers laughing their way to the bank.

Or will some of the money be recovered if the case is won? Thinking about it, wouldn't it be fair if you were more than compensated in case you won a lawsuit filed against you?

Aren't expenses for lawyers compensated by the losing party?

Loser pays (the English rule[0]) can apply in the U.S. but is quite uncommon. Most of the time both parties are responsible for their own legal fees[1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_rule_(attorney%27s_fee...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_rule_(attorney's_fees...

> Federal courts also possess inherent authority to assess attorney’s fees and litigation costs against a plaintiff who has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly or for oppressive reasons.

Patent trolls obviously act in bad faith.

He will not be the only one throwing $20...

They could start some sort of anti-patent troll foundation / joint effort with Cloudflare, Newegg, the EFF, etc.

I would personally donate hundreds each year if such organization existed, patent trolls are my worst software nightmare.

If you really want to know, it's not hidden : https://www.gnome.org/foundation/reports/

Donations are not necessarily consistent over years. You'll also have expanses.

Is this the first time a troll has gone after an open source project?

Is there a precedent?

Are they after the usual troll thing, a quick settlement less than lawyer fees to fight it?

Does nonprofit status of the victim become relevant?

Gnome accepts direct donations a number of online payment methods including paypal and bitcoin. They are 501(3)c tax deductible.

(I just donated $50 - good luck guys)

I’m a patent litigator. I’ll do the work for free. I’d do it myself but I don’t want to also front the ~$20k for an IPR filing fee.

This is a good potential pro bono case, there are some big firms that might be willing to pick it up since theyre unlikely to be conflicted out

I don't understand why software patents are allowed to exist. There's nothing novel about software. Every software patent I've ever read is "a system for X" where X is something generic like "taking photos with multiple cameras and sharing them over the internet." You haven't made anything novel there, you've taken a logical product of interoperable building blocks and put an artificial legal barricade around it.

It would be like Target patenting "a system for selling goods to consumers" and suing any other retailer with a checkout.

My (layman) impression is that the "non-obviousness" requirement is supposed to deal with this problem. But it seems like the patent office is (was?) poorly calibrated for obviousness. I'm sure the lawyers writing patents intentionally make it hard on the PTO, but that must be true in every other field too, and I assume the PTO can solve that problem.

The problem is that so many brilliant inventions are obvious once they've been explained. Because of this, it's very hard to describe what is and isn't obvious.

The closest analogue I could imagine would be a test in which your patent includes a problem statement and a solution which solves that problem, and the test for obviousness is to present the problem statement to a group of skilled professionals and see if the solution they craft for that problem statement matches the patent, and strike any claims they propose.

This is a very unreliable test and a lousy and expensive standard, but it's the best I've got.

Actually, the Supreme Court has laid out some objective tests for nonobviousness, the so-called "Graham factors" [0]: (1) commercial success; (2) long-felt but unsolved needs; (3) failure of others.

It's my opinion that in order to sue for infringement, a patentee should first have to convince a court that their invention is nonobvious, using objective tests such as these. The PTO is poorly placed to guage nonobviousness, for several reasons. First is simply the sheer amount of knowledge required to be able to judge what is obvious and what isn't. Second is the incentive structure at the PTO: examiners are rewarded for closing applications one way or another, not for rejecting arguably obvious patents. Third is the fact that some relevant evidence, namely the commercial success of the invention, simply isn't available yet at application time, and won't be until months or years later.

So the situation we have now is one where the courts tend to defer to the PTO on obviousness, but the PTO isn't set up to do a good job judging it in the first place.

For all these reasons I think it would be better if the burden of proof were on the patentee to prove nonobviousness, rather than on the PTO or defendants to prove obviousness; and if that proof had to be given in a court before an infringement suit could even be filed. This system would be very efficient given that closer scrutiny would have to be applied only to those patents whose litigation was seriously contemplated, a small fraction of all patents issued.

IPR is a step in this direction, certainly, but I'm not sure it goes far enough.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_v._John_Deere_Co.

Can’t work if the patented solution has become common knowledge within the profession

Drat, that's a good point. The patent office could use the test as part of the review, though.

Patents protect how a problem is solved not what is being solved.

Several valid patents can be directed at the same exact problem as long as they solve it using different techniques.

Yes, exactly. That mechanism must be non-obvious. My suggestion is that if I pose the problem meant to be solved to a random group of professionals and they quickly come up with the mechanism for solving it that an applicant is attempting to patent, then that mechanism is very likely obvious.

Take as an example the "Drinking Bird." Imagine the inventor has applied for a patent. You get some materials engineers and a physicist or something in a room, describe a device which resembles a bird and continuously sips water, and ask them to devise a way to build it in a few hours. If they describe a bulb full of dichloromethane with a tube leading up to a beak, then it's not patentable.

That's part of it. Other factors that tend to show non-obviousness include being the first to have the idea to make the gadget in the first place; serving an unmet need; combining steps/parts that convention suggests should not be combined; commercial success with the invention; the combination producing surprising results; and so on.

Proving non-obviousness is well trod ground in litigation and in patent examinations. It is often the hardest criteria to get over.

Though typically obviousness can be proven by finding two or more printed publications that in combination disclose the claimed invention.

In this example, the novelty in the claim at issue is related to using a transfer criteria that is a subject identification of the image...wherein the subject identification is based on a topic, theme or individual shown in the image. This was added as the final amendment to get the patent over the prior art the examiner cited.

If one can find evidence in [edit: one or more] printed publications that this was going on before 8/8/2008, the patent can be invalidated easily. Otherwise, it will be a slog of litigation.

> If they describe a bulb full of dichloromethane with a tube leading up to a beak, then it's not patentable.

That seems pretty specific ... what would be an analogous software scenario?

Problem: customers find ordering things online to be cumbersome and time consuming. We need a for repeat customers to place orders as simply as possible.

Programmers/UX designers brainstorming session includes several ideas, including this one: What if we remembered customer addresses and credit card info and just had a single button that said "buy"?

Patent denied.

> But it seems like the patent office is (was?) poorly calibrated for obviousness.

My guess is that it's not necessarily that people at the patent office have a hard time telling if something is obvious, so much as that the incentive structures at play are all wrong.

I imagine that, if a patent reviewer denies a patent application, they potentially have a fight on their hands when their decision gets challenged. Whereas, if they approve it, any argument ensuing from that decision will be the court's problem. It's a classic "keep your head down and don't cause any trouble for yourself" situation.

Assuming I'm right on that guess, I'd further guess that it's also a classic "I'm not paid enough for this shit" situation. I don't have any friends at USPTO, but I have friends who work in other government offices, and, from what they've said, I would assume that that is a deciding factor in a large percentage of decisions that are being made by rank-and-file government employees across all branches. And I doubt patent clerks are any more likely than any other kind of clerk to be getting paid "dealing with this shit" money.

I worked at the USPTO in the distant past. You're pretty close

Obviousness requires a reputable, dated source stating something like "I have combined these two elements" or "Someone should combine these two elements". While magazines or trade literature are acceptable sources, the prior art search is typically conducted primarily through the patent archive. It's a slam dunk if you have two patents with claims that cover the same invention and some way in the text to tie them together. You can't generally rely on your 'expert opinion' that it's obvious because you say so.

Patent examiners are also promoted and retained primarily based on the volume of patents they process. IIRC the bar is something like one or two patents processed a day. That would mean 6-8 hours of reading the patent, researching prior art, writing the response, reading the attorney's response and writing your final disposition, as well as any appeals. Regardless of size of patent.

All this for mid 5 figures to low six figures in NOVA

Just ripe for abuse by rent seekers and walled garden enthusiasts.

Sounds like that office could use a few opinionated/retired software developers in it.

Yeah, it's super easy to make even the most mundane thing sound like space-age technology: "a process for systematic analysis of textual corpus to identify and correct erroneous deviations from accepted linguistic norms" - in other words, spell check. We can't rely on overworked examiners to decipher pseudo-technical bullshit to determine if the behavior of a software system is sufficiently non-obvious and specific. The entire concept of a software patent must be forbidden.

I'll go one step further and say that the whole concept of patents is not only unfair, it's ineffective at what it supposedly tries to achieve (fostering innovation).

For every monetary incentive of developing something new, there are 10 obstacles because of patent law. Patents are a hindrance more than an aid.

Maybe so, but the alternative effectively means innovation has zero value. Why would I bother researching how to make a new product when I could just copy an existing one? Oh sure, I could tweak a thing here or there to make sure it's not exactly the same, but entire R&D divisions would just be cut from most corporations if the only value to innovating was that you got there first and ended up having (at most) a year before some other company disassembled your product and recreated it, selling it just above cost. Furthermore, if this was common practice, consumers would know that waiting a while would always lead to a knock-off product being available at huge discount, so even during that initial lead time sales would be impacted.

your quoted example is a "what" not a "how"

There are probably 100 or 1000s of issued patents related to spell checking -- they can solve same problem as long as how they solve the problem is different.

What you're calling a "how" can be a list of simple "what"s.

> In an electronic word processing system for creating and editing a document, the document comprising a plurality of sentences, a combined spelling and grammar dialog box for displaying both spelling and grammatical errors in one of the plurality of sentences in the document comprising:

> a rich text edit command (RTEC) field for displaying both spelling and grammatical errors found within the sentence and editing the sentence;

> an error title line for indicating whether the error displayed in the RTEC field is a spelling error or a grammatical error;

> a suggestions list box for displaying a suggestions list, the suggestions list comprises a fist plurality of suggestions operative for correcting the spelling error found if the error type displayed in the error title line indicates a spelling error, or the suggestions lists comprises a second plurality of suggestions for correcting the grammatical error found if the error type displayed in the error title lined indicates a grammatical error;

> a plurality of common command buttons operative for correcting both errors in the spelling and in the grammatical composition of the sentence displayed in the RTEC field.


In other words: an editable sentence, the description of a spelling or grammatical error, a list of suggestions to fix the error, and some buttons to apply a suggestion, skip, etc.

That specific combination of UI elements was perhaps new in 1996 (as were most GUIs), but not what I'd call an "invention" so valuable to society that it deserves 20 years of protection from free market competition.

The actual spelling and grammar analysis code might be worthy of protection for a year or two, but they probably lifted most of that from some college kid's paper.

Sorry to bother you with the late reply.

For about 10 years the US had a judge made "flash of genius" standard that was part of determining patentibility. It was eliminated by the US Congress in 1952.

I haven't done the research, but I imagine the flash-of-genius standard was repealed because it is impossible to objectively quantify. Current non-obviousness analysis incorporates some things that might be evidence of a flash of genius without going there, such as, market success, unmet need, and so on. But usually non-obviousness is determined if one cannot find subject matter in printed publications that one of ordinary skill in the art could combine to make the claimed invention.

You say that as if spell check isn't a Hard Problem...

The problem is that they will happily issue patents for <obvious thing>-with-a-computer, then another one for <obvious thing>-over-a-network, then again for <obvious thing>-over-wireless.

I think the real problem is that the patent office gets fees for approving patents, and no negative feedback for approving bad ones. The natural result is that they externalize the cost of disproving bad patents to the population at large. Do the people who approve overturned patents even hear that they've been overturned? If not, then there's not even the emotional cost of being told they've done a bad job.

If whenever a patent was overturned, the Patent Office had to pay the court costs of the one who managed to overturn it, they'd be a lot more circumspect about what they approved.

> poorly calibrated for obviousness

They should move way to the other side on the scale of obviousness. Patents should be there to protect investments, not to stake out ideas bright and not so bright practitioners can stumble upon. In my opinion only ideas that necessitated a few man-years of work to be discovered should be patentable with onus on inventors to prove nonobviousness. I wouldn't be surprised if only pharma patents would survive only because expensive trials are needed.

Re: the patent office is (was?) poorly calibrated for obviousness.

Captain Non-Obvious works there.

> It would be like Target patenting "a system for selling goods to consumers" and suing any other retailer with a checkout.

This sounds like that ridiculous time when Amazon patented the concept of buying something from an online store by clicking a [singular] button.


I think they are generally fine. There just needs to be a shorter window, say 3 years and they need to be non-transferable. This removes the patent trolls and people just buying patent portfolios (IBM) but still allows a new small company to invest in product without having their better funded competitor just stealing it the day of launch.

Thanks for the perspective. I understand the sentiment, but I fear Mickey-Mouse'ing of that 3 years. If that company is wildly successful, they'll have the funds to lobby for extension after extension on that 3 year expiration. Just like how many Disney properties were supposed to enter the public domain in 19xx but are still off-limits (yes, copyright law is a different domain, but the concept translates). On principle, I think there must be a hard line that the system does not work this way - "we know it's bad but maybe it will only last a few years" isn't a compromise I'm comfortable making.

I get your reticence. I think you have the hardline of it is done three years after submission with NO exceptions. No extensions, no derivative works. I think we are generally agreeing just that the law must have teeth or it will be bypassed or revoked. It is a fair point but we have to assume some partial rationality when proposing solutions or their can be none.

I don't know about non-transferable - if IBM are better placed to capitalize on my invention than I am, I think it should be fair to sell it to them.

But I'm certainly in favour of some use-it-or-lose-it clause that lets a "portfolio" age quickly.

But in that case IBM can license the invention from you, which is also the idea of a patent. And instead of negotiating a selling price you would negotiate a licensing price.

Does that realistically make a difference? The only difference between selling it for $x or leasing it for $(x/3) (assuming GP's proposition to dramatically reduce the term), is whether they want exclusivity, whether they can back out of a lease early), and who shoulders the costs of defending it. At that point you've made little difference to how patents affect the industry, you've just increased the administration for the inventor.

It would mean IBM couldn't sue someone for violating it.

I think examiners (and non-technical folks who don't think much about it) get fooled by "pseudo-novelty". Progress moves fast in the technology field, especially with computing. Every year things that were impossible last year become possible through simple incremental improvements. If you're not paying attention the new uses might actually seem novel rather than just the obvious applications of the better machine.

Edit: Not sure why that's controversial... Some time around 2009 I finally got my parents hooked up with cable internet vs the DSL they had before and wowed them by playing a movie over the internet from my home media server. I didn't invent "a method and process for transmitting a full length movie over a network without quality degradation", but my mom sure thought so. I did some "computer work" and a "novel" new ability emerged.

Edit: Changed whats in () to something less offensive.

> examiners (and non-technical folks who don't think much about it)

Patent examiners all have degrees in science or engineering. See, for example, this job listing: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/545074300. They're also organized into art groups which become experts in narrow fields of inventions.

> simple incremental improvements.

Almost every patent issued is an incremental improvement of some other invention. By "simple" you probably mean non-obvious, which is one of the requirements for patentability.

> I did some "computer work" and a "novel" new ability emerged.

That's a different kind of novelty. It's not patentably novel if anyone, anywhere in the world, ever did it publicly before you.

> Edit: Not sure why that's controversial...

> (and normies in general)

I don't think it would be controversial had you not condescendingly referred to "normies".

Ah. Thanks. Doesn't sound off to my ears but that makes sense. I'm going to try and soften that while I can. Thanks for taking the moment to answer.

FWIW, Wiktionary notes it as "usually derogatory", and to my ears it makes it sound like you are saying you are inherently better than them (which I'm sure is not your intention). A word best avoided in my opinion.

Galaxy brain is realizing that this has been the problem with all patents throughout history. The gap between theory and practice on patents is huge.

I kind-of-sort-of also feel this way about other patents, but in the spirit of specificity my particular sticking point is software.

Yeah, other patents are problematic, but at least patents of yore were more like "here's my design for a door hinge. Here's a diagram showing my specific implementation. There are many ways to mount a door and this is one I've invented and physically produced. Anyone else is free to create a different hinge mechanism."

A modern software patent version of that is "I thought of the idea of a hinge in my basement. They've existed for centuries but I'll be the first to file. No, I've never physically produced a single one. Yes, any implementation of opening a door infringes on my system-for-opening-a-door patent."

there are 1000s of hinge patents. Here is the abstract of one issued in 2015

"A hinge device for a door is provided. The hinge device has two hinge members which engage with each other and a hinge cap. A bearing with one or more tapered ends engages with the hinge members to allow easy opening and closing of a door attached to the hinge device."


I opened up an old piano recently and saw a patent number inside. Looked it up expecting some cool piano technology and found out it was a 100 year old patent about putting the owners name on a bit of metal and then screwing that to the stringboard rather than the traditional method of casting in on the stringboard. The whole patent essentially comes down to using bolts to attach 2 bits of metal rather than using one.

Who is Galaxy Brain?

The problem I see with (software) patents, is that they don't account for two individuals having the same idea on their own. Specially in todays quickly evolving society, something can become viable from one moment to another and there's room for several people to have an idea before the first one can actually implement it.

At this point, patent law doesn't protect any invention from being stolen, as it's supposed to, but instead denies people the right to sell their own original idea because someone else registered it first.

The main reasons why this seems to become more and more of a problem are a) globalization means patents have a much longer reach b) the increasing pace of technological advances makes it harder to be aware of every possible invention in a field and c) the increase in supporting technology makes even complex-sounding inventions trivial to implement.

With all those things in mind, my opinion is that the trade-off has tipped over the point of balance; it used to be that patent laws predominantly protected the rights of inventors from intellectual theft; these days, more than anything, it's abused to legally lock inventors out of selling their creations.

I'd say patent law, as a concept, needs a complete rework. It's just not fit for the 21st century anymore.

Think using voice control to turn on your toaster; it sounds like quite a task, but it becomes trivial by leveraging technologies like Googles voice assistance, IFTTT and some cheap IoT hardware.

I share the sentiment but I also realize that the only time I hear about software patents is when one of these outrageous stories make it to HN's frontpage. Maybe the system works well overall but we only hear about that tiny minority of patent trolls acting in bad faith?

I guess what I'm asking is: do some people around here have stories of software patents actually working as intended and protecting small innovators from software giants?

I think you don't hear about it often is because big companies have a cheaper outcome when settling for a fee.

Read any random software patent and see if you can understand what it covers and how to implement it. Then ask yourself if that method should be exclusive to someone for more than 20 years. Software patents effectively patent math, which is not supposed to be patentable. That's the problem.

New Zealand banned software patents a couple of years ago.

Don't you think that main problem is that it is allowed to get the patent without implementing it? So you can patent things like "filter photos by person" without having working face recognition technology that someone else might be researching. Basically, you can patent what someone else is developing and then collect the fees for it.

There’s a whole separate problem with software patents - it’s not a patent on an invention, it’s a patent on an idea and all possible implementations.

> There’s nothing novel about software

Well that’s not even close to true.

I think you're confusing the term "novel" with "impressive", "complicated", or "hard." Indisputably, there is software that checks those other boxes. But it's not novel.

Software is fundamentally a mechanism that maps inputs to outputs. We've had a similar mechanism for a while now, mathematics. And we decided that - as complicated as mathematical theory and equations can be, there is no justice making a particular instance of math a novel, patentable, encumbered creation. It's all a derivative of the concept of mathematical manipulation, same as all software is a manipulation of a state machine.

Saying "this particular combination of state transitions is novel" is non-sensical to me.

If that particular combination of state transitions has happened before, then it lacks novelty. If it hasn’t though...

A system for human locomotion involving the repeated repositioning of one foot in front of the other. Where's my money?

You have to include that boilerplate to satisfy approval requirements

The underlying elements of a computer : processor, RAM, input, networking are interesting systems to a patent examiner

Even though you want to talk about the thing in your head that does a very specific application describable in one line you have to include that systems stuff

Is this specific to software? Do you believe any patents should be allowed to exist? Anything I can create must necessarily be a logical product of smaller building blocks.

Should Carl Benz not have been granted a patent for the motor-car? Engines, wheels, and seats were not new.

Doing things "with a computer" should not be patent-able. The computer already has the inherent capability to do everything anyone could ever conceive of instructing it to do, because of mathematics.

Constructing new capabilities for a computer, or a novel physical device to interface with the computer to extend its capabilities, should be patent-able.

IMO, in what I see of this patent, the computer used is not novel, the wireless signal utilized to transmit data is not novel, nor are the cameras that communicate with the computer novel. Nothing of value was built.

..with a computer patents don't happen anymore.

Law evolves over decades or centuries. Computer related patents are very new to the scene (in law years). They are getting better but there are still some clunkers out there.

In other more mature industries like medical devices, autos (auto parts really), kitchen gadgets, fasteners, packaging, HVAC, etc., the patent litigation (including trolls) is fierce too and has been for decades.

Probably not. Government granted monopolies only make sense when there are government forced delays as in drug approval. And even there, there are a lot of problematic cases.

In addition to banning software patents, a positive step could be to prove that developing the patent required substantial investment and would not be feasible without the patent -- as is the case with (current) drug development and laws. That would at least raise the bar and burden of proof of social benefit to the one filing.

That complaint (https://insight.rpxcorp.com/litigation_documents/13472237) is wild. Paragraph 19 states:

> The Product practices transmitting, via a wireless transmitter and to a second image capturing device, the filtered plurality of photographic images. For example, the Product offers a number of ways to wirelessly share photos online such as through social media.

It then specifically calls out a screenshot of http://yorba.org/shotwell/help/ with scary red lines highlighting how you can "export photos" and "publish to the Web" and "send photos via email, instant messaging, or in other ways."

...which just use whatever network interface the system has. And sure, that could be wireless... but it's not like Shotwell has any say (or necessarily any knowledge) of that, right?

How does patent law deal with that, where the wholly circumstantial and independent properties of a product's operating environment could result in a system with emergent properties that violate the patent, and which are wholly outside of the control of the original software?

E.g., if I'm using Shotwell on a home computer plugged into an Ethernet cable, but there's a radio link somewhere on the route between me and Facebook... would that instance of Shotwell suddenly be in violation of the patent?

It doesn't. Software patents are an absurdity that people have fought for ages. They are basically invalid in most of EU.

You can't patent math, as per patent law. Software is just abstracted math. Therefore, software should not be patentable.

But somehow, you can copyright it...

> How does patent law deal with that, where the wholly circumstantial and independent properties of a product's operating environment could result in a system with emergent properties that violate the patent, and which are wholly outside of the control of the original software?

I don't think you want to know the answer to that question.

Reading patents is hard, but the patent in question is easy because it's so short, and the lawsuit is explicitly saying which claim they believe is in violation. Here is the claim in full:

> A method performed by an image-capturing mobile device, comprising:

> receiving a plurality of photographic images;

> filtering the plurality of photographic images using a transfer criteria wherein the transfer criteria is a subject identification of a respective photographic image within the plurality of photographic images, wherein the subject identification is based on a topic, theme or individual shown in the respective photographic image;

> and transmitting, via a wireless transmitter and to a second image capturing device, the filtered plurality of photographic images.

IANAL, and I am not sufficiently well-versed in patent law to know precisely how the terminology is to be interpreted in court, but that last element of the claim is really hard to substantiate. First, there's no evidence that it's transmitting via a wireless transmitter (if it doesn't, it can't violate the claim by definition!). Second, there is strong evidence that the destination is not a "second image capturing device." If that last clause is not violated, then the claim is not violated, and the patent is not violated.

From the way the patent claims are constructed, it feels like the patent examiner narrowed the patent to cover specifically wireless point-to-point transmission of images. I don't think the court will look kindly on the broad interpretation being used here.

> Reading patents is hard

You’d think that would keep all the brilliant legal minds on HN from commenting on it!

I appreciate your analysis of it. You’re one of the few here who did read it.

Patents are written in an intentionally obtuse and difficult to parse way. They're pretty much written in the style of an 11th grader who is overdoing the thesaurus to try and sound smart while conveying as little actual meaning as possible. It's not like you actually want your competitors to be able to reproduce your idea -- you just want the protections.

Abstract of the patent in question:

"A system and method for distributing at least one digital photographic image is presented, the system and method comprising at least one capturing device and at least one receiving device disposed in a communicative relation with one another via at least one wireless network. In particular, the capturing device is structured to capture the at least one digital photographic image via, for example, a capture assembly, whereas the receiving device is cooperatively structured to receive the digital photographic image via, for example, the at least one wireless network. In addition, the capturing device(s) and receiving device(s) may be disposed in a selectively paired relationship via one or more common pre-defined pairing criteria. Further, the at least one digital photographic image may be filtered via at least one pre-defined transfer criteria disposed on the capturing device and/or receiving device."

What a bunch of assholes. Federal government really needs to stop enabling these people.

These kind of claims should yield further investigations into the rest of the patents of the companies that have too many patents. Especially if their only source of income is patents. If found that they hold invalid patents to things that have prior "art" or implementations, those specific patents should be revoked.

At the very least the company must show damages to sales or something like that.

The whole patent system in general is a massive drag on innovation and the economy. Sure it's supposed to do the opposite, but that the difference between theory and practice.

The way it is now it's harms technological progress with this sort of nonsense.

Whats worse yet is does GNOME even generate any revenue from Shotwell? If not... this is such a low blow.

From what I remember, they only picked it up once the Yorba Foundation folded.


I wish there was an organization of non-patent holders (to reduce risks of retaliation) that does nothing but work to find prior art in patent troll portfolios, invalidating them and destroying their business. There are so many obviously shady patents that these trolls hold onto, it should be pretty easy to get the low hanging fruit.

A non-profit that sues patent trolls for money to fund itself. A reverse troll for patent trolls.

The fee is something like $16K to start either a post-grant or inter partes review, and even if you win you don't get that money back. There's no reward other than being in a more sane industry.

The abstract of a patent means almost nothing.

They're just playing by the rules of the game.

If there are any assholes in this situation, they're the people who set up the patent system and the ones thay defend its existence.

Why do you want to tear up the U.S. constitution?

I want to eliminate the stupid parts. Commerce clause can go, too.

The abstract is irrelevant. It's the claims that matter, especially the top level claims (1 and 4). In this patent they are both about "an image-capturing mobile device", which Shotwell pretty clearly isn't. They stand zero chance of winning this.

But that's just having a wifi webcam, isn't it? How in the world is that novel enough to get a patent?

the abstract/summary portion of a patent is worthless. It's just a executive summary.

You have to look at the steps.

A patent is a recipe for 'creating' the invention. You do A, and B, and C, and then D, and then furthermore E... etc etc. You have to look at those steps and understand what they mean to see what the actual patent is about.

So if the patent says 'You need to do A, B, C, and D' and Gnome does "A, B, and D", but not C... then Gnome doesn't violate the patent.

Changing the behavior of the application or showing how the application doesn't follow all the steps outlined in the patent is probably the most effective way to 'defeat' a patent.

But regardless it's a frivolous lawsuit that will likely cost Gnome a lot of money and time for no good reason.

> ...a frivolous lawsuit that will likely cost Gnome a lot of money

I would be very surprised if an org like the EFF didn't step in and do a lot of free work. I'd gladly pay into a legal defence fund specifically to ensure that the word on the street is that patent trolls going after open-source developers get taken to the cleaners.

Pretty sure I had a photographer friend with a CFCard with built-in wifi before 2008 when this patent was filed.

Something changed recently, making the US "first to file". Did that totally eliminate the concept of prior art?

I mean, if you're looking for that, the Viking lander in 1976 did the same thing: transmit a digital image from the capture device, filter and save it at the other end. Even Mariner 4, in 1964 might fit those criteria.


> Something changed recently, making the US "first to file". Did that totally eliminate the concept of prior art?

No, it just removes the question of when an invention happened. Under first to invent, if two similar patents are filed, there is some effort required to determine which was invented first, and gets priority. Under first to file, it's much simpler to determine.

Prior art is still a reason to deny a patent, and patent examiners are still likely to miss it.

Then what exactly does first to file even mean? If you and I both invent something, but I invent it a month after you do and file for a patent first, would it be granted since I'm the first to file, or could you invalidate the claim by showing that there was prior art - specifically, your prior invention of the same thing?

It depends. If I invented it, and kept it to myself, and don't get around to filing a patent until after you; first to file means you get the patent. I may have rights to continue to use the invention as a prior user, but I'm not familiar with the details there.

If I published it before you filed though, that's prior art. Again, I'm not super familiar with details here of if it had to be published for some time or just the day before is fine.

> the Viking lander in 1976

I love this as prior art. The Viking lander was definitely "a mobile device", was wireless and transferred images. I think the only question might be if the "filtering" involved qualifies.

I wonder when we started sending digital images from space. Apollo did not use them but sent analog signals. But I think Voyager used digital images.

Commercial digital TV was first introduced in the US in 1994, also predating this patent. That's fairly well known and widespread, also all of the TVs all of us own and which are part of FCC standards violate this patent.

Read the claims. Not the abstract.

Wow, going after GNOME is such an incredibly stupid thing for a patent troll to do. Once EFF get involved they can kiss their patent good-bye.

Part of the stupidity of filing a lawsuit against GNOME is that the awards are either statutory damages (pay what you should have paid before) or punitive damages (pay a higher price because you are willfully violating the patent).

If the court invalidates the patent, which is likely, GNOME and other free software projects can use that as a precedent in the future, which makes it harder for trolls to operate. The smart troll picks "soft targets" who will just roll over and pay.

If the court awards statutory damages, GNOME made no money because they sold no software, so it's possible the statutory damages ends up being less than the cost to litigate. The smart troll does not pick "zero-value targets" like GNOME.

If the court awards punitive damages, GNOME has very little revenue and may not be able to pay all the damages. The smart troll does not pick "poor targets" like GNOME.

This feels like a poorly-paid paralegal just shotgunned a bunch of suits and really, really screwed up.

Statutory damages are not related to how much money you made out of the violation.

But if GNOME has no tangible assets to go after, the patent troll won't actually get any reward for this.

If they (somehow) won or GNOME foundation settled, could they use that precedent to go after juicier targets? Maybe their strategy was to pick a "poor target" to set that precedent? Disclaimer: I don't know anything in this space.

I am not a lawyer. I am not GNOME's lawyer.

If they get a judgment against GNOME for violating this patent, it would make a lot of news and likely be appealed. Getting to a final precedent in favor of patent infringement would take years, sinking lots of lawyer dollars into the effort, and the whole process is fraught with an enormous amount of risk.

I just don't see them having that kind of long play in their playbook. But I don't know anyone involved... It could be they are acting stupid but are really smart?

Not only EFF, IBM is on the tag team too now (via Red Hat).

Yeah, they have deep pockets, but IBM receives more patents every year than any other US company. They probably don't want to see the system reformed.

They don't really need to see the system reformed, just that they want _this_ patent invalidated.

I have no idea, but I would hope so..

Registering a patent for things that plainly pre existing isn't merely improper it isn't much different than taking a crowbar to your door while you are away to steal away with your valuables.

If you should happen to chase the thief away this time it isn't much of a victory if the thief and his compatriots faces little to no consequences.

Firstly software patents are a net negative and shouldn't be a thing. Next plainly frivolous patents should subject the owner to a fine at time of application. Make the seeker pay an additional bond forfeit for frivolous patents.

Next make granting bad patents expensive for the government. Let anyone read patents in process and by proving them void claim the aforementioned bond.

These sound like really good ideas. It sets up the incentives in the right way to facilitate innovation.

Have you studied these propositions in the past, or are these ideas you came up with after researching?


Let's use up the news momentum to give GNOME (more) resources to bury these fuckers.

I can't after how they turned on Stallman

Turned on? Stallman just didn't learn, despite decades of people trying to convince him, that his behavior was counter to his very cause. His overt misogyny created barriers to free software development where there needn't be any - who wants to go into the office that has "knight for hot ladies" pasted on the door? All of that behavior is being addressed directly now and people aren't going to put up with it.

RMS quirky as fuck. More than anything it's a shame he just couldn't pick up on that one social skill.

Wired did a fairly decent write-up, although I disagree that his speaker's pack is convoluted. https://www.wired.com/story/richard-stallman-and-the-fall-of...

> His overt misogyny

Doesn't exist as far as I can tell.

I have not seen any examples of RMS misogyny mentioned in ANY of the RMS threads on hackernews so far.

What definition of "misogyny" are you using and what examples do you have that meet that definition?

The geek feminism wiki has done a great deal compiling the troublesome things RMS has done. https://geekfeminism.wikia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman

> Stallman has made many posts sympathizing with efforts to legalize some forms of child pornography. Among other things, they stated that he was "skeptical of the claim that voluntarily [sic] pedophilia harms children". These comments were defended by his supporters on Slashdot. As of 2016, there are reports of Stallman changing his views on the matter within the previous few years.[2] However, in 2018 he defended Cody Wilson, who later pled guilty to sex with an underage girl, with Stallman saying that the girl likely had "entirely willing sex with him." Stallman changed his original post but nevertheless still said it is "normal for adults to be physically attracted to adolescents" and that adults using trafficked children shouldn't be legally responsible. In 2019, Stallman posted an email to an MIT listserv about the allegation that MIT professor Marvin Minsky raped a 17-year-old girl, and due to public outcry he resigned from both MIT and the Free Software Foundation.

> For many years, Richard has been doing a schtick about "St. Ignutius" that involves Sexist humor. His performance of this shtick in July 2009 sparked the EMACS virgins joke incident.

> The "St. Ignutius" routine mentioned above has been performed relatively unchanged since the early 90s, as a commenter recounts on a blog post about the EMACS virgins joke. The commenter writes about seeing the routine when she was only 15, and how RMS singled her out several times during that performance:

> He actually pointed to me in the back and proclaimed, into the mic, "A GIRL!" causing the audience to turn and look. Mortifying. Then he proceeded to gesture toward me every time he referred to "EMACS Virgins." (I cannot believe that he is still doing the same talk 10+ years later.)

Do you have any empathy for how it would feel as a 15 year old girl surrounded by dudes to be in this position?

> In a 2007 interview, he said:

    I don’t have any experience working with women in programming projects; I don’t think that any volunteered to work on Emacs or GCC.

    A number of women have contributed to GCC, including:

        Janis Johnson maintains the test suite and has been a contributor since 2001
        Sandra Loosemore is the lead author of the GNU Library Reference Manual;[3] RMS is listed as her co-author.
        Dorit Nuzman made major contributions to loop scheduling and vectorization.
        Carolyn Tice is also mentioned as a contributor.


> Same words a nazi would have used...

Are you serious? What an absurd, unfair, bad faith characterization. I would expect comments like that on reddit or twitter, not here.

You may have recongized the joke. Women at MIT expressed their displeasure with that and other things RMS had done.

Do you believe those women's feelings were valid? Simple yes or no question that basically indicates whether you have empathy for people looking for inclusivity in the tech scene.

> you're a fucking wazzock

Can you please at the very least read the HN rules? You're coming onto this forum, it's pretty fucking rude to shit in it as you are doing.

"Because I can recognize a joke when I see one."

Me, too. But I suppose, you are also not a women struggeling in a sexist nerd IT world? (and after hearing some storys it is not clear to me, if it really is a full joke)

So I can understand, that women are offended by it. Also, the sign is by far not the only thing, people were offended by him.


In any case, RMS effectively got dismissed because of an email on a university-internal mailing list where he tried to defend the honor of a dead friend and colleague in a way that seemed appropriate to him at the time. But the wording triggered the attention of some overly sensitive SJW who decided it's a good enough offence to retaliate against using all the social media power that she could muster.

The "hot ladies" stuff was tacked on later to try to justify the dismissal, as if it's not just the bad (but loud) media coverage that was the actual reason.

You're not being very charitable here -- all the stuff that got tacked on was the answer to whether this was an isolated incident or not.

Stallman's personal views are something that people involved in Free Software have been trying for years to downplay and sweep under the rug because RMS is Free Software to a large extent and every part of him affects people's image of the surrounding work.

I love Free Software and I contribute a lot of code. I hope that RMS the archetype lives on in the mission of the FSF but that the grittier reality fades.

What was an isolated incident? Sharing his opinions over email? Certainly not.

Of course I'm not being charitable: the armchair warriors have tried (and, to a large extent, succeeded) to destroy the reputation of a man who we all, collectively, owe a lot to.

Regarding the views, I hardly think that being picky about the semantics of the word "assault" is significant enough grounds for dismissal, and for the whole media outrage that happened.

Nobody really tried "to downplay" his views because they are largely irrelevant to the work that FSF was and is doing. So they stayed as they were: personal views. The most frowned-upon of which he publicly renounced on his personal blog around the time the scandal broke out.

I don't think anybody is interested in "destroying RMS' reputation." I think women are tired of men getting a pass for misogyny simply because they have great contributions. It just doesn't make up for their behavior.

If anybody argues that his name should be struck from history, I'll argue against them. But he shouldn't be employed by MIT.

> I don't think anybody is interested in "destroying RMS' reputation."

Really? Look at this disgrace: https://twitter.com/sarahmei/status/1177030240951926784

But this lady has her audience, and she's pushing the right buttons.

Personally, I care little what happens at MIT, but when it comes to FSF, this has gone way too far. Fire the whole board because of an email thread? Really?

> Fire the whole board because of an email thread? Really?

It's obvious from any charitable reading of that Twitter thread that Sarah Mei's concerns aren't merely "an email thread," absent any other context.

If you object to her actual concerns - that the FSF appears unsympathetic to the victims of harassment, unwilling to apologize for Stallman's behavior, and incapable of expressing a plan to move forward with more progressive policies, then say so. But to purposely misconstrue people's motives in an attempt to make their concerns seem absurd is disingenuous. This isn't about the email thread, it's about the culture and attitudes the email thread represents, and how people would rather excuse RMS' bad behavior rather than confront it in any meaningful way, because they care more about protecting Free Software and its Prophet than the effect RMS has on people, and on the reputation of the FSF, however harmful.

Part of the reputation that RMS built for himself is as a serial harasser with no grasp of the concept of consent. It's a legitimate concern that the FSF seems unconcerned about addressing that part of his legacy.

> It's obvious from any charitable reading

Where was that charitable reading when the original accusation occurred?

> that the FSF appears unsympathetic to the victims of harassment, unwilling to apologize for Stallman's behavior

You are repeating all that stuff as if it's a known fact, and not the rumors and conjecture that it is.

> how people would rather excuse RMS' bad behavior rather than confront it in any meaningful way

And here you are also regurgitating the arguments that Sarah Mei and similar orators have provided.

People are writing excuses (at least some do) because the punishment has already far exceeded the alleged crime. Don't you think so?

> Part of the reputation that RMS built for himself is as a serial harasser

Same here. What reputation? Irrespective of the truth in these claims, most people around these discussions are only hearing about this supposed "reputation" now.

Now, FSF could issue an apology, but a) they have probably as little ability to verify these claims as you and I, b) issuing that apology independent of Richard would give credence to these claims, and given that there are few actual accusers it would basically have to agree with all the stuff that has been claimed, by whoever, recently. Which would be a significant betrayal on their part.

A good PR person could issue a trustworthy-sounding promise/non-apology, but FSF are mostly techies, so I'm not holding my breath. But it would be a good idea, politically-speaking.

If you are concerned about actual people is this discussion, though, and are looking for a change in policy, then it, again, will need concrete firsthand accounts and detailed explanations (conveyed to FSF in private, at least). Because a good policy can't be built on vague accusations.

"The "hot ladies" stuff was tacked on later to try to justify the dismissal,"

Source for that?

Such decisions are not done in a day. The original post, with misinterpretations, appeared on Sep 12, and the resignation happened on Sep 16.

The extra "revelations" post was also published on Sep 16.

Yes, but was the sign there before, or not?

Also, as far as I understood it. The latest thing was just the last straw.

The sign was probably there for decades. If it was problematic, I'm sure some of the university staff would have removed it.

So which "latest thing" was the last straw and how?

"The "hot ladies" stuff was tacked on later to try to justify the dismissal"

"The sign was probably there for decades"

How about "sorry for spreading misinformation"?

"So which "latest thing" was the last straw and how?"

So you did not read the medium blogpost that started this, at all?

> How about "sorry for spreading misinformation"?

By "stuff" I mean all the subsequent "revelations" about his character.

> So you did not read the medium blogpost that started this, at all?

So you meant the event where he tried to defend his deceased colleague? That "last straw"? How dare he.

Ok, I misunderstood your comment then.

"So you meant the event where he tried to defend his deceased colleague?"

Yes, that is what I mean. Because for some weird reason, women are sensitive to women being sexually exploited. And the Epstein topic is loaded.

It is not about that he defended him, it is about how.

And Epstein was convicted before.

"He was convicted of only these two crimes as part of a plea deal; federal officials had in fact identified 36 girls, some as young as 14 years old, whom Epstein had sexually abused"

Minsky did associate with him nevertheless. So whether there actually was sex or not ... if RMS says the most plausible sitution was that the women was "entirely willingly" .. is insensitive and stupid at least.

Because every sex abuser says the victim was willing. So if RMS uses then this exact argument, of course that triggers and backfires.

> It is not about that he defended him, it is about how.

He didn't defend Epstein. Quite the opposite.

> Minsky did associate with him nevertheless.

Apparently, so did many, many other people. Very few of which have somehow been mentioned in this scandal.

Anyway, that is obviously reaching. Simply being in the vicinity of a known convict is not a reason for having a career destroyed. And Stallman himself wasn't there.

> is insensitive and stupid at least

Yes, well. It was. It doesn't mean that the following witch hunt was justified. People are entitled to being stupid somtimes.

> Because every sex abuser says the victim was willing.

Imagine yourself in a position where someone is saying your good friend of decades is a rapist. And there's some evidence that intercourse happened, but the details are unknown. And the friend is unable to defend himself. Would you keep silent?

> Yes, but was the sign there before, or not?

The story is well known

The sign was there

And together with it there was an Amnesty International sticker.

So it really depends on what people want to see, more than what's really there.

I've seen much worse sign, like professors not receiving at their office even if they were required to, posting signs with the new address where you could find them (usually their private studio office)

And they only received if it was "really needed" otherwise you just sent an email and waited.

That's what made me really furious when I was a student.

Women were more concerned that they traveled 100kms from their home towns to meet the professor and talk about their thesis and finding their door shut, not of some stupid signs that was clearly a joke made by someone who wasn't a threat to anybody.

The real threat came from the polite, well dressed, highly educated, power angry monsters, those like Epstein.

Stallman is the exact opposite of that kind of men.

"The real threat came from the polite, well dressed, highly educated, power angry monsters, those like Epstein.

Stallman is the exact opposite of that kind of men."

But he defended someone who associated with Epstein and who had sex with an underage girl, he got from Epstein.

> But he defended someone who associated with Epstein and who had sex with an underage girl, he got from Epstein.

He did not.

I think it's time to cut with the BS!

- according to the sources Minsky never had sex with the girl, if you have proof of the contrary, please provide them

- Stallman was not defending Minsky, in fact he even assumed the sex happened, he was arguing against using the term "sexual assault" because its legal definition is very different from the everyday connotation

But I found something I think you might enjoy.

I found someone who probably nailed it

    How about, if the old person would be mick jagger? I could imagine, he still has his charms to some. Also I have seen young attractive women aproaching old yoga gurus for example ..

    But yeah, the old guy wasn't mick jagger, nor a yoga master and at best he did assume the girl was a 18+ old prostitue doing it willingly for money and power
And he (Minsky) turned her down.

p.s. the author of that comment is you

Yeah, I know what I have written.

I also know that I have written, that I did not know many details about the case or the witch hunt in general as it was a witch hunt, in which both sides were wildly throwing accusations around and I found it hard to find actual facts. And that seemes to be still he case.

Now apparently I misunderstood the comment about the sign being tacked later on, but how do you know Minsky turned her down?

"Both sides"? What wild accusations is the defending side throwing?

The details are not 100% clear at this point, but there's a testimonial: https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/339725/

Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marvin_Minsky#Epstein_interact...

"Attention whore" to the women who wrote the blogpost.

The claim that the sign was attached to the door later (yours not intentional, but on other comments, I saw it like this)

The claim as a fact, that Minsky did not have sex with that girl.

When this remains unclear so far.

OK, I'll give you that. But what actually sounds worse, "attention whore" or "creep, pedo and rape apologist"?

The girl is likely going to get out of the scandal unscathed, so in my personal opinion she deserves whatever scorn she has received.

And whether or not the sex happened, is probably irrelevant in the context of this discussion. After all, it wasn't public knowledge on Sep 12.

> The girl is likely going to get out of the scandal unscathed, so in my personal opinion she deserves whatever scorn she has received.

The woman who pointed out misogyny in her professional and educational environment should be scorned and attacked?

It's shockingly obvious from this thread how much work we have left on fixing the misogyny problem in tech.

Please buy yourself a dictionary. Misogyny is nowhere near the claims presented in the story or the follow-ups.

And no, simply being an awkward nerd (whether that happened or not), or "being a creep" how some people called it, does not automatically mean being misogynystic. One has to be aggressive or malicious for that.

> Please buy yourself a dictionary.

Why are you talking like this? I understand if you feel strongly about this, but personal snipes aren't cool, and don't feel nice to receive.

Do you believe that the women who have come out and said RMS' behavior made them uncomfortable feelings are invalid?

> Why are you talking like this?

Because I feel like willful mislabeling things for emotional effect is what got us in this situation. Remember the contents of the original email: it was pointing out that "child rape" was not a good description of the event that supposedly took place (as it was thought at the time). And I happen to agree with that distinction, no matter how tone-deaf it might have sounded.

> I understand if you feel strongly about this, but personal snipes aren't cool, and don't feel nice to receive.

Please understand that you repeat an unfair accusation against a person that contributed quite a lot to our society. And who got hurt profusely by similar accusations already.

> Do you believe that the women who have come out and said RMS' behavior made them uncomfortable feelings are invalid?

Which women, though? I've only seen one personal account so far, and it accused him of staring at her cleavage for a while. Which is rude, of course, but by itself, as one instance, does not justify the whole shebang. Especially when you consider how many years him career spanned, and how many people he must have met during that time (where are all the others?).

The rest was a few rumors like "I heard people say things about him in my class of '95", which is very hard to verify, as well as apologize to someone. How old were you in 1995? I was 9.

From what I've seen, Richard is a polite guy, or at least tries to be, so if there were actual faces to go with the accusations, I'm pretty sure he'd write the apology himself.

"it was pointing out that "child rape" was not a good description of the event that supposedly took place (as it was thought at the time). And I happen to agree with that distinction, no matter how tone-deaf it might have sounded."

No. It was more than that. Stop downplaying, if you want to be taken seriously. But I stop repeating myself.

> One has to be aggressive or malicious for that.

Weird that you tell someone to buy a dictionary, and in the same sentence use an incorrect definition for misogyny.

I don't really have to quote the dictionary definition in full to be correct about misogyny being the wrong charge.

Well, many people described RMS as a creep. And when the accusations are true, that for example he told women they should date him or he kills himself, than that is valid.

He openly advocated against criminalization of pädophiles. That gets you the term pedo, even though not fair, it is playing with fire.

And if it was indeed a case rape, in the sense of exploitation of a minor by minsky, who felt the rush of lust, which the other sides asume, than he is a rape apologist, if he says the most likeley scenario is, that she presented her as "willing", as this is, like I said, the common rape defence.

But like I said, I allmost don't know any actual facts, except that the whole discussion was horrible, as most people did not know nor wanted to know facts, before judging.

> Well, many people described RMS as a creep. And when the accusations are true, that for example he told women they should date him or he kills himself, than that is valid.


And was it "women" or "a woman"? Once? Maybe, like, 30-40 years ago? If happened, it was a shitty thing to do, but it shouldn't have any effect on a person's life decades later.

Maybe consider the whole span of his career before readily accepting 3-4 vague rumors as something really damning.

> He openly advocated against criminalization of pädophiles. That gets you the term pedo, even though not fair, it is playing with fire.

True. But that's been known for years. And stating one's opinion once on a personal blog is not a crime.

> But like I said, I allmost don't know any actual facts, except that the whole discussion was horrible, as most people did not know nor wanted to know facts, before judging.

It's unfair to conclude "everybody behaved badly" and shrug when only one side is paying the price.

Espesially since the choice to move the "discourse" to the social media plaforms (inhabited by very different people) has been made by the original accuser.


"he was arguing against using the term "sexual assault" because its legal definition is very different from the everyday connotation"

He did quite more than a semantic argument, by saying "more than willing"

> more than willing

Who said that and when?

Ok, slightly misquoted from the head.

"but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing. "

Is the quote from EMS I mean. The one who started all this.

It was a guess. And not an entirely implausible one.

Yes, apparently some people have an extremely emotional reaction to seeing the word "willing" anywhere near the topic of sexual exploitation, but that's not a good enough reason to break out the torches full-on. Especially in an academic environment (where people are supposed to be able to think first).

> Me, too.

It doesn't look like that.

> But I suppose, you are also not a women struggeling in a sexist nerd IT world?

I'm not a woman, I'm also not a sexist nerd.

And I know, having been a supporter of the free software since the mid 90s, having interacted with the first Luther Blisset group in Italy, having tried to build an Italian Linux distro in 1996 and been part in the hack community (I've been among the first to build and attend hack meetings conventions in Italy, you can read more about the first one here http://www.ecn.org/hackit98/faq.html), that I've never met more women in tech than in the FSF circles.

There were literally no women in tech back then, but there were more than a few of them interested in being part of a socio-political revolutionary platform such as the free software philosophy.

I've personally taught a group of girls howto install Linux so they could teach to other people in the free Linux courses we gave in many community centers, back when Linux meant Slackware 1.0 (1.0.1 to be correct) and kernel 1.2.13.

I've been a teacher for Rails girls whose motto is "Our aim is to give tools and a community for women to understand technology and to build their ideas"

Because RMS and all the guys like him believed in inclusiveness and I believed it too, thanks to them.

GNOME has brought me so much value over the years, yeah, sure, I'll use this excuse to throw some money at it.

I always thought of Gnome as a Redhat product.

Nope! Current GNOME foundation board has one RedHat employee, out of six people. RedHat contributes a lot to the project, because they are one of few companies making a desktop distro with serious resources behind it. (That, and RedHat understands open source enough that they see collaborating upstream as a net benefit). But GNOME is its own thing, and always has been, built by contributions from all sorts of places.

Isn't KDE maintained by RedHat? There was news a while back about them killing off KDE in the near future

No. They just aren't packaging KDE for RHEL.

You are confusing KDE with X11, which is maintained by Red Hat and was announced as going into maintenance mode in favor of Wayland.

They weren't confusing it with X, though they were misremembering RH's role - https://access.redhat.com/documentation/en-us/red_hat_enterp...

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