International FOSS News – June 2014

United States Supreme Court Decides Two Important Cases in the IT Sector.

Alice v. CLS Bank:

ABC v. Aereo:

In June of this year the United States Supreme Court handed down decisions in the cases of Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International, et al. and American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.. These two cases, both of which have been discussed here in the past, are of particular interest to the IT sector.

Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International, et al.

In the first case, Alice v. CLS Bank the Supreme Court considered the question of the patent eligibility of software under United States law. While the Court did not go so far as to rule that computer-implemented inventions are necessarily patent-ineligible subject matter, the Court took a strong stance on software patents that may curb the glut of poor-quality software patents in the United States. The court has long held that abstract ideas and natural laws are ineligible for patent protection. In its Alice v. CLS Bank bank decision the Court made clear that claims to the generic computer-implementation of an abstract idea are equally patent-ineligible. In other words, the Court held that patents claiming an abstract idea followed by an instruction which effectively amounts to “apply the idea using a computer” are unpatentable. The patents at issue in this case claimed a computer-implementation of the abstract idea of intermediated settlement and although the patentee claimed its purport invention in a number of different forms using an array of technical jargon the Court determined that the patents were fundamentally abstract in nature. It remains to be seen how much the application of this precedential ruling will affect the outcome of patent infringement suites in lower courts.

American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.

The Supreme Court decided the second case, ABC v. Aereo, on far narrower grounds and it is unlikely that the decision will have widespread implications for the IT sector. ABC v. Aereo involved a copyright infringement dispute between cloud television service Aereo and copyright holders for broadcast television works. The copyright holders argued that Aereo retransmits television broadcasts of their works in such a way as to publicly perform those works. Aereo argued instead that as a cloud service provider it merely provides its customers with remote access to television receiver equipment. The Court’s decisions rejected Aereo’s argument and sided with the copyright holders. The Court found that, regardless of significant technical distinctions, Aereo’s business bears a striking similarity to the cable television companies that were specially targeted by the 1976 amendment to the copyright law. On the basis of this similarity the court found that because cable companies perform the works they retransmit, so does Aereo.

The Decision notes, however that:

In other cases involving different kinds of service or technology providers, a user’s involvement in the operation of the provider’s equipment and selection of the content transmitted may well bear on whether the provider performs within the meaning of the Act. But the many similarities between Aereo and cable companies, considered in light of Congress’ basic purposes in amending the Copyright Act, convince us that this difference is not critical here.

This suggests that the decision may be shaped to limit it precedential weight in cases other than those that involve retransmission of broadcast television signals. Accordingly the rest of the cloud services market may remain unaffected by the case.

Munich Completes Switch to Linux from Windows, Saves €10 million

In October of last year, the German city of Munich completed its decade-long task of migrating from Windows NT to a custom version of Linux dubbed “LiMux” based on the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution. The cost of both developing LiMux and rolling it out, according to the city, was €23 million, compared with the €34 million Munich estimates that it would have cost them to upgrade to a newer version of Windows, figures that Microsoft dispute. According to the city, the two major factors that account for the savings are licensing costs and hardware upgrades, both of which are no longer necessary because the freely distributed Linux operating system works well on the cities existing computers that newer versions of Windows are too resource-intensive for. IT costs would have been nearly identical, according to the cities estimates, and only 25 IT staffers are required to develop, roll out, and provide final support for LiMux.

The time-line of the switch, while delayed somewhat, was always intended to be a lengthy one, known as a “soft” rollout. According to the man leading the project, Peter Hofmann, “we planned a slow migration, carrying out the migration and the development of our LiMux client in parallel.” Along the way, Munich also cleaned up its IT infrastructure, which added years to the project but fulfilled the project’s stated goal of “quality over time.” Munich began by switching its employees to OpenOffice, an open-source productivity suit, and Hofmann reports that the training costs were the same if not lower than for a Microsoft Office upgrade noting that “the [user interface] in OpenOffice is much more like MS Office 2000 than the new MS Office.” 15,000 city employees currently use OpenOffice, and slightly fewer use LiMux, as some national-government-mandated software is locked in to Windows. Munich has managed to port or run nearly all other necessary software over to LiMux, which, while costing slightly more than porting the software to a newer Windows version, comes with other benefits.

“If you’re staying with Microsoft you’re getting more and more overwhelmed to update and change your whole IT infrastructure,” says Hofmann. The impetus for the switch came in 2002, when Microsoft announced that they would no longer support Windows NT, the system used by all 14,000 of Munich municipal employees. LiMux allows Munich not to be at the mercy of a single vendor while future-proofing its software infrastructure through the use of open standards that can be supported by anyone. In fact, the city has taken to providing system support in-house, which Hofmann says has allowed them more flexibility to implement the changes and patches that they feel are important rather than whatever is important to a third party. The city also receives support from members of the free software community. As Hofmann says, “The only downside is there’s no-one to blame when things do go wrong, but what’s the advantage of that?” Munich even handed out thousands of Linux installation disks to residents whose Windows XP system support were ended by Microsoft earlier this year and thus left vulnerable to hacking.

Google Adopts Samsung Electronics’s Knox Software for Android-L

At its June I/O conference, Google announced Android for Work, an integration of Samsung’s Knox technology with the Android Open Source Project. At the moment development is focused on the forthcoming Android L release but Google has promised to provide an update extending compatibility to devices running Ice-Cream Sandwich or later. Accounts differ on how similar Knox and Android for Work will ultimately be. However, the contribution of this technology unequivocally signals an increasing focus on bringing Android into serious enterprise environments by providing secured containers within the operating system to allow IT managers to protect and manage sensitive business data on users’ mobile devices. Samsung’s KNOX has been certified for high-level secure military applications and the introduction of these features in core Android project is an opportunity to spread these secure technologies further to a broader audience.

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