Gnome wins the battle against the patent troll

The Gnome Foundation settled the dispute with Rothschild Patent Imaging (RPIL), RPIL agrees not to sue Gnome further for any intellectual property infringement. RPIL also signed to an undertaking to that effect.

In the last week of September 2019, Rothschild Patent Imaging (RPIL) filed a lawsuit against the Gnome Foundation. The case was filed under Title 35 of the United States Code for the infringement of the patent and violation of the intellectual property rights of the RPIL. They claimed that Gnome's Shotwell Photo manager, infringed the patent titled “Wireless Image Distribution System and Method,” being number 086.

What is Shotwell photo manager?

Shotwell photo manager is a personal image organizer in a Gnome environment. It imports photos using the libgphoto2 library, written in Vala. The library provides the bindings in Python, Java, C, Go, Rust, Ruby, and various other languages.

Shotwell can access and import photos and videos from a digital camera. It provides several editing features such as eliminating red-eye, crop, adjust the color balance. It can group the images, videos by date, supports tagging and allows the user to upload them on Facebook, Flickr, Piwigo, and YouTube.

The claim by RPIL

In ROTHSCHILD PATENT IMAGING LLC v/s GNOME FOUNDATION, the plaintiff claimed that they own the patent for “Wireless Image Distribution System and Method.” The image organizer software of Gnome, Shotwell Photo Manager, violates the mentioned patent 086 owned by RPI

The method for image capturing device work comprises receiving several photographic images. The images can be filtered based on a theme, topic. Then transmitting them to another device through wireless. Thus violates the patent of RPIL.

Let us pause for a second; we have been using these features for long in other platforms. Like receiving a bunch of photos on the phone, filtering them based on a topic or theme, and transmitting them wirelessly to someone else’s mobile device, say lightroom in Macbook.

RPIL is a perfect example of a patent troll. And the patent is an ideal specimen of a patent that should not have been granted. The patent intends to protect the intellectual property that did not satisfy two criteria for granting a patent - “novelty” and “inventive step.”

The settlement

On 20th May 2020, RPIL and Gnome Foundation have come to a settlement. In this walk-away settlement, the plaintiff and defendant both agreed not to carry on the legal proceedings. The plaintiff further agreed to an undertaking to not to sue the defendant for any patent held by Rothschild Patent Imaging. Both Leigh Rothschild and RPIL agreed to grant release to any software licensed under Open Source Initiative Licenses. This includes the entire patent portfolio of Rothschild and any such software that forms a foundational portion of the infringement allegation.

Neil McGovern, Executive Director for the GNOME Foundation (The defendant), said, “I’m exceptionally pleased that we have concluded this case. This will allow us to refocus our attention on creating a free software desktop, and will ensure certainty for all free and open source software in future.”
Leigh Rothschild said that he is happy to settle the matter amicably.

But this poses a grave question should the patent 083 was rightly granted in the first place? Should not the patent office be more careful while granting patents? It is high time for the patent office for introspection to save an organization from loss and put a halt to innovation.

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