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FSF clarifies its position on patent litigationMatthew Aslett, January 21, 2008 @ 10:00 am ET
Q. When is a program not a program? A. When it is all the works ever licensed under GPLv3. Via the Software Freedom Law Center comes news that the Free Software Foundation has published a document clarifying its position on patent litigation related to the GPLv3 – specifically what constitutes a program under the GPLv3 for the purposes of patent infringement claims.
According to section 10, paragraph 3 of the GPLv3:
“[Y]ou may not initiate litigation (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that any patent claim is infringed by making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the Program or any portion of it.”
The new FSF document clarifies that in this instance the term “program” refers to a specific work that is licensed under the GPLv3, rather than all work licensed under the GPLv3.
“‘The Program’ cannot mean ‘all the works ever licensed under GPLv3′; that interpretation makes no sense, because ‘the Program’ is singular: those many different programs do not constitute one program,” states the FSF in its new document. “It does not speak to the situation in which a party who is a licensee of GPLv3-covered program A, but not of unrelated GPLv3-covered program B, initiates litigation accusing program B of patent infringement.”
If this sounds like the FSF has passed up on an opportunity to reduce patent infringement claims related to GPLv3 software you would be right, but as it goes on to explain, it has done so to avoid the use of broad patent retaliation.
“Since software patents pose an unjust threat to all software developers, all software distributors, and all software users, we would abolish them if we could. Indeed, we campaign to do so. But we think it would have been self-defeating to make the license conditions for any one GPL-covered program go so far as to require a promise to never attack any GPL-covered program.”
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