Delivering a talk titled "Patent defense for FOSS developers" at the 11th Australian national Linux conference in Wellington, Tridgell, who is best known for creating Samba and rsync, provided a walkthrough of some basics which needed to be learnt by all developers.
Before he got going, he cautioned those assembled that he was not a lawyer.
Buying time with patent lawyers was difficult and expensive and hence, "patent defence starts with developers, and a patent attorney is there to validate and guide software engineers," he said.
Additionally, one could not expect a patent attorney to look at a mass of code and understand it quickly. "You are the coder, you know all about the spaghetti you create," Tridgell (below, left) said.
He agreed that it was tough to get started as one had to learn to read patents, "and not merely the abstract".
Wasn't it dangerous for coders to read patents? "Some companies discourage employees from reading patents but most of the arguments for this attitude do not apply to FOSS," Tridgell said, answering his own question.
Elaborating, he explained that the majority of FOSS projects would die if they were hit with just one patent claim; they did not need to die more than once to disappear off the face of the earth.
Hence, he said, one would be better off stepping through the minefield and avoiding the mines, rather than putting on a blindfold before stepping into the minefield.
As to the type of defence, Tridgell said non-infringement ("we don't do that") was the best. Prior art ("done before") was tricky while invalidity ("you can't claim that") was almost impossible.