Patent Policy Public Face

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[edit] Policy regarding patent-encumbered material and Qi-Hardware's public face

This page is about the use of material affected by patents owned by others. For Qi-Hardware's policy regarding (not) subjecting our own innovations to the patent system, see here.

[ extend this to cover copyrighted material as well ? ] [ formalize terminology, making it clearer but more boring to read ? ] [ definition: who/what are affiliates ? ]

[edit] Quick summary

To minimize the risk of getting Qi-Hardware, Sharism, or distributors into trouble with patented material, please follow these guidelines:

  • do not place material covered by actively enforced patents (see below) on projects, Wiki, forum, or mailing lists hosted by Qi-Hardware.
  • do not post links to such material, or links to places where links to such material prominently feature.
  • do not post instructions for circumventing the above restrictions.
  • if you find any such material on Qi-Hardware or the #qi-hardware IRC channel, or suspect something may cause problems of this nature, please notify XXX.

At the moment, we mainly have to worry about audio and video codecs, such as MP3, MPEG4, and H.264.

[edit] What is this about ?

Patent owners can use legal means to attack people and companies infringing on their patents in various ways. Possible targets include not only those producing infringing devices but also those importing, distributing, and selling them. E.g., the patent owner can request that shipments of such products be confiscated by customs.

A product is also considered to infringe if it doesn't do so directly, but if it can be shown that it is intended to produce an infringement with it. E.g., if you sold an MP3 player without software but had a link to the player firmware (with the patent-protected MP3 codec) on your Web site, a court would probably still find you guilty.

It is therefore important that Qi-Hardware and affiliated organizations stay clear of things that could produce this sort of problems.

Proper handling of patented material is also an indicator of quality as it shows that the project is serious and cares about not exposing those affiliated with it to risks. This in turn can help to bring new members and companies aboard.

[edit] Which patents should we worry about ?

While it is impossible to eliminate all risk of infringing on some patent (and even then, a lawsuit that's ultimately "won" can be ruinously costly), there are areas in which problems are much more likely than in others.

One particularly bad area are audio and video codecs. MP3, MPEG4, and H.264 are all unsafe to touch.

As new patents may surface, previously quiet patent owners may become feral, and as Qi-Hardware may expand into previously untouched minefields, more items may have to be added to this list.

In general, we're very small fish and hardly worth the effort to hunt down and suck dry, which can safe us from the more outrageous claims. But then there's no telling what a particularly hungry shark may go after.

[edit] What actions are dangerous ?

An obvious way to invite trouble would be to ship and sell a device that includes patented material. Therefore, distributions installed on the device must be "clean".

Similarly, if there is a distribution that contains such offending material, Qi-Hardware cannot host or officially endorse it.

The same goes for patches or instructions to add patent-encumbered functionality.

Links to offending material are usually considered to be equivalent to the material itself. What degree of linking is safe and what degree is not, is open to interpretation. E.g., a link to Google, would be fine, even though you can find all sorts of things via Google. A link to Google with instructions to type a specific search expression would probably be unsafe. A link to a site with a list of links to MP3 codecs would be unsafe.

All this applies not only to "official" content but also to user-provided content. E.g., if someone posts a link to such problematic material, this post would have to be removed from the archives.

[edit] What are the places to be careful about ?

Basically anything that's publicly visible. Besides the products themselves, this includes:

  • any material in projects hosted on or affiliated sites,
  • the Wiki,
  • the forum,
  • the mailing list,
  • the #qi-hardware IRC channel, which is publicly logged.

[edit] Where is it safe ?

Sites that are not affiliated with Qi-Hardware are free to do or say whatever they like - the risks they incur are all theirs.

Also, potential infringements are only relevant if they relate to products of Qi-Hardware. E.g., it would be okay to mention - good or bad - examples of other companies in a discussion about patent avoidance.

Note that, if a site that previously didn't host problematic content starts to prominently feature such material, it would be necessary to remove any links.

[edit] What about my freedom of speech ?

It would be impractical and undesirable - in many ways - to try to censor every posting or IRC message before it even reaches the logs or archives. The IRC channel doesn't even use infrastructure provided by Qi-Hardware and thus has its own rules.

However, material that reaches the archives (including the IRC log hosted by Qi-Hardware) has to be screened and offensive material has to be removed in a timely manner. Also, if such material were to appear there all the time without any action being taken to dam the flood, this would also increase the risk of legal conflict.

By being considerate in what you upload and post, you can help to make the moderation work easier and protect the companies participating in the Qi-Hardware project from harm.

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