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Software patents policy (draft)
This is a draft based on discussions on -discuss, founders list and with some lawyers.
As a general thought, there's no black/white answer, it's all in a flexible, updated risk understanding, taking and management.
Again, this is a draft, and will likely stay as such. Anyway, this policy is open to revision at any needed time with relevant arguments.
- List of items to know/check
- list of questions to decide
Software packaging, distribution
Basically, the question is: "What is the risk for Mageia to package/distribute software covered by software patents?"
To be able to answer this question, we need to know more: for Mageia to be sued for a patent covered piece of software, that requires:
- that a territory (where Mageia distributes it) is subject to a software patent law (Europe isn't);
- that in such a territory, a software patent is registered (as valid, truly inventive, non-expired, with no obvious prior art);
- that even in such a territory, Mageia is meaningful for a patent holder:
- above the radar line (noticeable);
- has enough money in stock (so a trial would have at least some incentive);
- or presents a significant prejudice to him;
At worst, as an association, only the "moral person" would be at risk as long as decisions about that are collective, nothing more.
A (strong) take: Mageia to state that it considers software patents as illegitimate (not to confuse with copyright, clearly key).
And that's fine in Europe, and that makes a clearly distinctive feature from other distributions.
So the answer is "likely low".
About Europe, it's important to note that European law does not recognize the validity of software patents as such, however some get registered through the European Patent Org. SP law in Europe is a war of positions right now. So we may as well not only decide on "what is" but "what we want it to be" (question is not "can we?" or not; question is "what do we want/expect?").
That's still an issue in other countries for mirrors to redistribute Mageia. For two reasons:
- mirrors in US for instance, may feel threatened, not sure to host such a mirror, without the possibility to filter out patented bits; however, did such an issue really appeared?
- patent law may not be valid everywhere, and this very patent registered here may not be valid there (even if software patents are recognized, as such, as valid). So distribution would be dependant, for each patented piece of software, on the set of places that recognize it as valid. Not only a nightmare, it's just practicably unmanageable (the shared/common subset of all laws defined in the world approaches an empty group).
For that, we will set a "tainted" repository holding software that is dubious according to European and US law.
It simplifies how we manage "claimed patented software": we just can not update our medias/packages on every new claim that such piece of code in "core" is patented and should then be moved to "whatever-dubious" media (and the other way around).
This policy does fit the core/nonfree/tainted media layout we're going to use (see Mirrors policy). As such, "tainted" is more here to ease/protect redistribution/mirroring than to "protect" Mageia as such.
That's an imperfect medication too (provided it will not cover strictly patented software, and provided that there may be, at some point, patented-covered software into core anyway).
Q&A for comments
Feel free to open questions here for review of this draft.
Note that Ubuntu has at least 10 (maybe 18) mirrors in the U.S., which carry potentially patent-threatened software. (Their description of their repositories seem to indicate that such software is included with non-free software, in their Restricted and Multiverse repositories.) Since Ubuntu is well-funded, it would be reasonable to assume that that they would be a target for patent claims, but they don't seem to have any problems.