Alan Cox Files DRM related Patent
January 19, 2007 Leave a comment
I've seen quite a bit of buzz about the patent application recently filed by Alan Cox. Here's the summary of the patent:
The present invention provides a technique for preventing the unauthorized use of a computer application, operating system, or other program without causing the loss of any information or data. Specifically, the technique of the present invention monitors a computer program for use that is not in compliance with acceptable terms. These terms may be defined, for example, through the use of a license agreement between the computer program provider and the user. When unauthorized use of the computer program is detected, any information and data is saved and the computer program and/or a portion of the computer system is disabled. The specifics concerning data that is saved may be determined, for example, by the computer program vendor or the user upon installation of the computer program. Similarly, a conventional “suspend to disc” operation may be utilized. The suspension of the computer program and/or a portion of the system may be maintained for as long as the violation exists, thereby permitting the user to, for example, renew any expired license terms. Once compliance has been reestablished, suspension of the computer program and/or a portion of the system is terminated and activities resumed. In situations where compliance is not reestablished, the data may be transferred to the user.
My interpretation is that it's a way for DRM to save data in the case of non-compliance, or to suspend the program until compliance is reached. Some seem to think this indicates Red Hat will go after Microsoft after Vista is mainstream. I can't conceivable see that to be the case. Issues such as prior art aside, that seems unlikely to me for two reasons. First, it's way outside the current operating parameters of Red Hat. They're not the kind of company I see going on a patent offensive. They get that software patents are inherently broken. Next, they can't at this point in their lifetime (young, small and growing rapidly with a sustainable business model) want to get into a legal battle with Microsoft, who has piles of cash and a legion of battle tested lawyers. So why the patent application? I'd say it's part of a plan that they've been building on for about two years now. The systematic buildup of strategic defensive patents, with the goal of amassing enough defensives to avoid being the target of a patent related suit. With Ballmer making thinly veiled threats, what choice do they really have. While they know the system is broken, that doesn't mean they don't have to play the game.