Sunday, April 11, 2010

I'd rather discuss patent issues than LinkedIn lists (updated once)

My previous post stressed that the two pledged patents with which IBM threatens Hercules are important (in terms of whether one can trust them) and unimportant (because there are 171 other patents with which they threaten) at the same time.

But I didn't think my LinkedIn contact list was "important" until I saw this BoycottNovell piece focusing on a contact I recently added to my LinkedIn list: Erika Mann, a former Member of the European Parliament and now Executive Vice President of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

As long as people try to sling mud at me, that's one thing. Once people start talking about contacts on a platform like LinkedIn, where the contacts one makes are (at the most) shown only to those on the contact lists of the two connecting people, semi-public things are catapulted into the blogosphere for no legitimate reason, other people than me are affected and things are generally getting out of hand. More importantly than that, BoycottNovell's speculation is fundamentally flawed, as I'll explain quickly.

I had actually mentioned in my press roundup on Wednesday a BoycottNovell comment that said "SHAME on IBM" and thought at the time that they were now going to focus on the issue itself. I took note of a more recent comment on their site that "IBM deserves some scrutiny", although the addition "but not too much" makes little sense to me.

Today's BoycottNovell story on this matter has the headline: "Florian Müller Seemingly Connected to CCIA (Microsoft Proxy)" The summary, correspondingly, claims that "Müller set up his anti-IBM blog when he got connected with CCIA’s Executive VP, who works with Microsoft"

Further down, BoycottNovell says:
One thing that came up some time between March 22nd and March 29th is that Müller added a LinkedIn connection to Erika Mann, CCIA’s Executive Vice President and head of CCIA’s European office (Microsoft and CCIA work together [1, 2]). That was just before he started to attack IBM like he also attacked Oracle some months ago (along with the GPL). He even created a new blog for this purpose

Now the facts:
  • I have known Erika Mann not just recently but actually since 2004. Then-FFII President Hartmut Pilch and I met her in fall 2004 in the European Parliament's Brussels building and discussed the then-ongoing legislative process concerning software patents with her. She was an MEP from 1994 until 2009.

  • On November 9-10, 2004, the FFII held a conference in Brussels on "Regulating Knowledge: Costs, Risks and Models of Innovation". One panel of that conference was chaired by Erika Mann, who was then the chairman the European Internet Foundation (EIF), whose members already then included IBM as well as Microsoft and many others. There was an EIF event on software patents in the evening of November 10, 2004, thus after the closing of the FFII's conference, and Erika Mann invited all participants in the FFII event to attend her conference as well. I found this FFII mailing list announcement of her participation, also mentioning the EIF event. That week I was a speaker at both conferences (FFII and EIF). There are countless witnesses so that no one can ever doubt that fact and therefore my long-standing contact with Erika Mann.

  • I participated in several more EIF events in the following years that focused on patents and other intellectual property rights issues.

  • In 2007, the European Parliament made a resolution on the future of professional football (soccer) in Europe. Erika Mann was not a member of the lead commmittee (Culture & Education) but she is a soccer fan and took a personal interest in the related issues (which are predominantly antitrust issues, by the way). I defended the interests of my long-standing friends in the management of Real Madrid, the world's most famous soccer club, in this context. Two members of Erika Mann's staff in her constituency office in Germany were Real Madrid fans. We were in contact on this policy area as well, not just software patents.

  • After she left the European Parliament last summer, I tried to reconnect with her on LinkedIn. I found a profile but it only had one connection, so it looked inactive.

  • I didn't know she was now at the CCIA until I learned about it when she was quoted in media reports on TurboHercules' antitrust complaint against IBM, especially this IDG story on March 23, 2010.

  • I looked up LinkedIn again, saw that she had a profile there that was up to date and now had a number of connections (so unlike before, it was an active profile), and I reconnected.

  • By way of contrast, I had added two TurboHercules executives months earlier: Roger Bowler on November 28, 2009 and Bill Miller on January 26.

  • None of what I wrote on my blog was coordinated with Erika Mann in any way. Nor with any other CCIA official.

  • I can't see how the CCIA could be equated with Microsoft. Its members (here's the complete list) include, besides Microsoft, big Microsoft competitors such as Google and Oracle, other big players such as eBay, Fujitsu, Intuit, T-Mobile and Yahoo, and the FOSS community may take special note of the fact that Red Hat is a CCIA member as well. The notion of a group assembling members of this nature and stature being a Microsoft front is downright absurd. Otherwise BoycottNovell would have to rename itself BoycottRedHat ASAP.

Let's leave people's LinkedIn contacts alone. I have 290 connections there, including two or more who work for IBM by the way. A connection there means that people know each other. There are some people on my list whom I've never met in person, and some whom I haven't seen in many years.

So let's focus again on the enormous threat that IBM's patents - 99% of them unpledged - constitute to Free and Open Source Software. IBM has tens of thousands of patents, obtains several thousand new ones year after year and has now demonstrated that it's prepared to use them to protect its business interests against perfectly peaceful FOSS projects.

Yes, perfectly peaceful. IBM's defense clause was never triggered by TurboHercules, as I wrote earlier. And contrary to IBM's gross misrepresentation, IBM alleged an "intellectual property" infringement before TurboHercules ever said "patent", "intellectual property" or anything like it. That's something you can verify here. There were two IBM letters, the first one already asserted an infringement, and both of them have been made public.

Those are the real issues.

--- Update ---

On his website, Roy Schestowitz, the author of the BoycottNovell story, posted some follow-on questions to me that I will quickly address here:

I have just read your response. Therein, you don’t deny what I wrote (instead you attack straw men, e.g. I didn’t argue that you had not known Erika Mann beforehand).

The BoycottNovell piece didn't claim that there had not been any prior contact. However, I have explained why the LinkedIn connection was created only recently for reasons that make BoycottNovell's speculation about any factual context baseless.

"In fact, you dance around the issue just as TH danced around the question about its relationship with Microsoft (which was later made very obvious)."

The only issue I cared about was the insinuation that the timing of the LinkedIn connection and the timing of the blog indicated anything relevant to BoycottNovell's conspiracy theory.

"Be sure to follow the links and see my explanation of why Microsoft funds CCIA and Black in a very special way; don’t conveniently omit details, please."

I don't omit anything that's relevant but of course I have no reason to deal with utterly unconvincing conspiracy theories when I have actually explained, without knowing the internals of CCIA at all, that the mere fact of the membership of the companies I listed further above here already proves that CCIA cannot be equated with Microsoft. There are big, powerful, famous players in there, some of them fierce Microsoft competitors.

"So, Florian, are you in contact with TH and CCIA?"

Unfortunately, this question at this point (after I wrote this post originally, that is, everything above the word "Update") raises serious doubts about whether I can expect a minimum standard of reasonableness on BoycottNovell's part. I have answered both parts of the question, contact with TH and contact with CCIA, unambiguously in the upper part of this posting.

"Have you been in touch with Carina Oliveri?"

My LinkedIn list might also contain the answer to that question, but it's an irrelevant question because I have not denied in the original posting (see further above) the fact that I added two of TurboHercules' founders to my LinkedIn contact list months ago, so if I answered questions about additional TurboHercules people, it wouldn't add anything.

Even if it did add anything, none of that would change anything about IBM's conduct.

End of discussion as far as I'm concerned.