Open*Law: 2010 in review

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By nature of our interests and where open source commonly intersects the law, we post a lot about patents in the Law channel on And it's been an interesting year for patents.

In May, a verdict was delivered in favor of Red Hat and Novell in an infringement case based on bad software patents owned by "non-practicing entities." Rob Tiller's post on it, Total victory for open source software in a patent lawsuit, was the top article across for the year.

We also posted some of Michael Tiemann's testimony from that case. He clearly explained the key ideas around open source and even got a laugh out of us with his deft rejection of a thin comparison to Communism.

For several months in the first half of 2010, we waited patiently for the Supreme Court to issue a decision in Bilski case. It was hoped in many open source communities that this case, although about business method patents, would establish a limitation on software patents. When the court finally announced the decision on the last possible day, "Bilski Watch" ended, as did the hopes for clarification on software patents. But with the question left open, the Patent and Trademark Office invited public comment on its interpretation of the Bilski case.

The news was better for patents in biotechnology. Eben Moglen wrote for us about the federal district court that held invalid patents for testing genetic susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer. "Patients and their insurers have paid much more, and women and their families have waited crucial weeks longer than necessary for information relevant to treatment and potentially affecting survival," he wrote.

Internationally, we saw New Zealand reject software patents, and Venky Hariharan reported on derivative IP policy in India, where freely sharing knowledge is traditional and expected.

Back in the US, many iPhone and iPod owners were surprised to hear that there would be exceptions to the DMCA for jailbreaking or unlocking those and other products. But Simon Phipps explained why he thinks the iPhone jailbreaking decision is only temporary relief.

At LinuxCon in August, Eben Moglen gave a keynote on Doing What it Takes: Current Legal Issues in Defending FOSS. There's certainly still plenty of work to be done, and we'll be here posting about it in 2011. As Rob Tiller wrote in the aforementioned patent victory story, "And we know that attacks on open source based on FUD will not stand up when subjected to the light of truth."

We look forward to having you join us in 2011. And if you're interested in contributing to, please contact us.

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Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.

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