Linux Defenders call for prior art to counter MS patents

There's something about patents that infuriates a certain class of software programmer. I know because I used to be one: In 1987, I took part in a picket outside the Cambridge, Mass. offices of Lotus Software, chanting anti-patent, anti-copyright slogans ("Copyrights for look and feel! Let's go reinvent the wheel!") in response to Lotus' against Paperback Software and Mosaic (no relation to the browser) for programs that resembled Lotus' 1-2-3 spreadsheet application but cost less. As a fledgling programmer at MIT, I thought the idea that a company could legally own the look and feel of a program was as absurd as telling me I couldn't think about data structures.

I've since altered my position more in favor of companies -- and the people who comprise them -- who spend years developing a popular application, only to see cheap or free knockoffs eliminate their potential rewards. Nevertheless, I can still appreciate the slow-burn anger of the , a group of open-source advocates who want to stamp out what they feel are "poor quality patents." Specifically, they mean three file-management patents that Microsoft has used in a lawsuit against GPS maker -- a lawsuit that as well as TomTom, claiming parts of TomTom's Linux operating system violated the patents.

CNET's Ina Fried has required to follow the story. In short, Linux Defenders are looking for prior art -- file management code that predates Microsoft's claimed dates of invention, which could therefore invalidate the patents.

A bunch of Linux geeks looking to stomp a Microsoft patent is nothing new, but this time Linux Defenders have the endorsement of Red Hat's legal team. Wednesday morning, Red Hat's lawyers explained in a tidy blog post that is thankfully short on legalese. Executive summary: "The most useful prior art is art dated more than year before the filing date for a patent, but prior art dated anywhere in the year before the patent's filing date is still helpful."

To the Tuxmobile!