Subject: Re: Patent-based dual-licensing open source business model
From: "Ben Tilly" <>
Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2006 15:12:00 -0700

On 9/13/06, Lawrence Rosen <> wrote:
> What is the difference between buying a Dell computer and then downloading
> Linux, as opposed to buying a Dell computer preconfigured with Linux? The
> honest answer is: The second alternative offers us an opportunity for a
> commercial license under patent law, without worrying about bit-for-bit
> analyses or derivative work complexities. Dell is making money on that deal;
> in our view, so should the author of the software and the inventors of its
> embodied patents. :-)

I've stayed out of this discussion, but that paragraph epitomizes why
I do not consider this free software, and why I expect projects like
Debian to actively avoid these patents and any software based on these
patents.  (Whether or not their guidelines have considered this case.)

One point of using free software is relative licensing simplicity.  As
long as you're not trying to become non-free software, you can use a
bundle of free software in pretty much any reasonable way and not
worry about any gotchas.  Of course the ideal doesn't quite meet that,
for instance I can't take Linux code and cut and paste it into BSD
code, but it is fairly close for practical purposes.

For instance someone can take a distribution like Debian, make some
custom modifications, and give it a catchy name like  Linspire.  I am
then free to pre-install that on computers that are being sold by
Walmart.  While I have to check that my custom modifications are OK, I
don't have to go through the entire software base to see if there are
any hidden gotchas, if Debian has done their job there won't be.  That
wouldn't be true if Debian included anything covered by this patent.

Since the Debian project cares about this use case, I'm willing to bet
that they won't accept any software covered by this patent.  How
they'll figure it out under their guidelines I don't know, but they
are sure not to accept it.


PS Also note that the idea of actively using patents in any way will
cause many in the free software world to start foaming at the mouth
and showing other signs of being unreasonable.  But you knew that.