Wherever possible I produce open source software under the GPL license.
Trying to solve the problem by contracting with an insurance company
failed: Such risks are not insurable.
In 2000 my client was notified by EADS Dornier GmbH that his software (my module) violated patent EP 0218109 given to Dornier and that the client was to pay a licensing fee.
Let me remark that such a map CD consists of the valuable map data and a small piece of software to display the map on a windows PC. The valuable map data on that CD is copyrighted by the "Landesvermessungsämter" in Germany, not by EADS Dornier and the client did not use any software developed by Dornier, so this was purely a patent issue and had nothing to do with copyrights.
The claim of that patent is in a few words that every display of a map on a computer is patented by Dornier if the digital map has been created by digitizing the films that were created to print the map on paper, no matter how it has been done and which software is used. So the patent claims the easiest way to digitize a map, no high invention.
After numerous consultations it became clear that while the patent might be invalid, difficult and expensive lawsuits would have to be fought to invalidate it. The necessary lawsuits would have been so expensive that the small client company could not have afforded them and the client was anxious to release their software to the market on a timely basis, so the client decided to pay a licensing fee of 10,000.00 € for a 3 year license to Dornier, even if there was potentially no need to do so.
Since I also did not want to risk a lawsuit for the GPL release of the software, I decided to abandon the idea of the open source release. For that reason there is still no way available to display such a map on anything else but a Windows PC. Since the open source release was also planned to be a form of marketing for me, I have been financially damaged.
Since the patent is applicable no matter whose software is used to create the map image files, the Landesvermessungsämter cannot overcome the patent by using another piece of code on the CD, that means the patent makes the German government dependent on EADS Dornier.
Meanwhile in 2004 I heard that the Landesvermessungsämter offered the map data to a second company in .tiff format, and the second company now releases a second CD with a different file format. One supposes they were probably upset that Dornier made use of their map data to extract dubious patent license fees. If the patent would have been valid (and not invalid as suspected), then the Landesvermessungsämter would not have been able to do that.
I have also heard that the EADS Dornier software now uses a different file format, so the open source release would no longer display the maps on a GNU/Linux or Mac/OS machine.
In 1995 it became publicly known that the well-known LZW compression algorithm is patented by Unisys and IBM and Unisys started to exploit the patent. Analyzing the technologies involved I found that the ZOO and ARC file formats used the LZW algorithm. Since only very few clients were willing to buy an LZW license from Unisys, maintenance of the software was no longer interesting, and so I ceased to market the already-developed technology any further.
Then I tried to obtain the patent license from Unisys, but failed: Due to the special nature of the software component being "redistributable," Unisys asked for every client to individually obtain a license with a minimum payment of 1,000 US $ and quarterly reporting of copy counts and revenues to Unisys. The fact that the product price planned was just 150 US $ and that other competitors offered comparable technologies for that price were not factors in Unisys's consideration.
As a consequence I tried to obtain a license for a program to convert the original GIF images to some other file format that does not use LZW compression so the license required would avoid the "redistributable" problem. Unisys answered that this would only be a clearly deliberate act of circumventing that patent and continued their request for 1,000 US $ per customer.
As a result I had to throw away a product that was already 80 % complete.
Years later I read on http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/gif.html that most lawyers consider the Unisys patent to be limited to LZW data compression, not data decompression. Unisys simply claims that their patent also covers decompression, and this claim has simply never been tested in a court of law. So there was no basis for them to call for licenses of even one cent, let alone the 1,000 US $ per customer that they sought. Unisys wasted my efforts of several months for no reason. Other competitors who simply ignored the Unisys claim were able to collect revenues without any problem.
Obviously dealing with patents is a matter of risking a lawsuit and dealing with it as soon as it happens. This is a strategy that is affordable for big companies, but too risky for small and medium-sized enterprises with limited capital, which make up about 80% of German employers.
The Unisys patent especially entailed a lot of unnecessary consulting time. For example clients buying a software module for 70 € would have to discuss matters for half an hour on the phone regarding the fact that they didn't know what to do about the patent involved -- and in the end the clients would still have no security. Other cases dealt with implementing workarounds for a patent which we knew was very unlikely to be valid, but which forced us to act since we didn't want to risk producing 100,000 CDs with software on which a patent was claimed, however dubious.
Years later I read a description of exactly the same method of index retrieval developed and patented by IBM in 1998 on http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/enable/site/bi/evi.html. If this is now patented, my capability to market my own work from 1993 are now limited.
This example illustrates how patents can devalue work already performed, and demonstrates that in a software patent regime software developers are compelled to patent every little thing they invent, and to check all new patent claims published by the EPA, causing a lot of extra work, costs for patent lawyers and reduced efficiency.
Developments such as Linux by Linus Torvalds, BSD from Berkeley
or Windows from Microsoft could not be repeated in a world populated
software patents. Microsoft also started off as a small company,
but at a time when software patents were not an issue.