Alexander Leidinger

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Con­tacted by a lawyer regard­ing MP3

A while ago (end of August 2009) I was con­tacted by a lawyer because of my par­tic­i­pa­tion in the LAME-project. It was about the MP3-patents. They searched an expert wit­ness for a case.

I had the impres­sion that it is about the inval­i­da­tion of at least parts of one of the patents. Maybe they have a client which was sued for infringe­ment. Unfor­tu­nately for them I have absolutely no clue what is inside the MP3-patents (I am/was tak­ing care about the “glue” in LAME) and the phone call we had was just some hours before I went into hol­i­day. I referred him to two other devel­op­ers of the LAME-project which not only should have bet­ter knowl­edge about the parts the lawyer is inter­ested in, but also where prob­a­bly not in holiday.

We also had a lit­tle chat about patents in gen­eral, and my opin­ion was that soft­ware patents are not that use­ful. In the IT world 3 years is a lot of time, tech­nol­ogy is already over­taken by new devel­op­ments most of the time after this time. When assum­ing that devel­op­ing some­thing new depend­ing on some tech­nol­ogy seen at another place takes at least about 1 year (do not hit me because of this rough esti­ma­tion with­out spec­i­fy­ing the size of the project or the qual­ity require­ments), a soft­ware patent which is valid longer than 5 years is more than enough in my opin­ion. Any com­pany which was not able to make some money with it dur­ing this time made some­thing wrong, and block­ing the com­pe­ti­tion because of this is not really a good idea from my point of an user of tech­nol­ogy. As an user I want advance­ments. And as an open source devel­oper I try to pro­duce my own advance­ments when I can not get them from some­where else. In this light soft­ware patents are not doing good for the “advance­ment of the human race”.

The lawyer did not try to con­vince me to the oppo­site. Either has was too polite, did not care about it, or he silently agrees. He  told me he wants to stay in touch with me in some way regard­ing Open Source and patents. I did not object to this.

As I was curi­ous about the state of this, I con­tacted the lawyer about it, and the cur­rent out­come is not bad. Pre­vi­ously a lot of tries (by other lawyers in the same Ger­man court) failed to fight against the par­tic­u­lar patent. This time the court did not fol­low his pre­vi­ous rul­ings but told that this issue needs to be inves­ti­gated again (at least this is how I under­stand this — beware, I am not a lawyer). Maybe we can see a result this year.

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