Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Red Hat's AMQP+XML Patent Press Release

Red Hat has finally come out with a statement on the AMQP Patent (USPTO 20090063418) application. I have written about this already, prior to the press release coming out.

First of all, the people who are the most rabidly angry about this are other AMQP leaders (leaders of other projects, members of the AMQP Working Group). This isn't a case where (to the best of my knowledge) Tibco is coming out and saying "don't trust those crazy AMQP people, look, they've got patent issues too!" Rather, this is a bunch of people who feel quite betrayed by someone they wanted to view as a positive member of the community who shared similar desires and goals to the rest of the community. FUD doesn't apply here, as those of us with legitimate concerns are hardly going to be spreading FUD about the thing (AMQP) that we are really pushing for.

Next, the Patent Promise and Estoppel issues notwithstanding, the AMQP working group is a mixture of commercial and open source vendors. Red Hat's Patent Promise only applies to Open Source vendors. Given that AMQP, in order to be a success at all, must attract support from commercial vendors who have no safe harbour under the Red Hat Patent Policy, this patent has the ability to poison the entire community. This is a key part of my original argument, and there's been no response from Red Hat on this.

Finally, let's take one paragraph which is, quite frankly, fictitious:

Although there have been some recent questions about one of our patent applications relating to the AMQP specification, they appear to originate in an attempt to spread FUD. There’s no reasonable, objective basis for controversy. In fact, the AMQP Agreement, which we helped to draft, expressly requires that members of the working group, including Red Hat, provide an irrevocable patent license to those that use or implement AMQP. In other words, even if we were to abandon our deeply held principles (which we will not), the AMQP Agreement prevents us from suing anyone for infringing a patent based on an implementation of AMQP specification. Moreover, our Patent Promise applies to every patent we obtain. Red Hat’s patent portfolio will never be used against AMQP, and Red Hat will support any modifications to the specification needed in future to verify that fact.

The factual inaccuracy here comes from the fact that the AMQP Agreement covers an irrevocable patent license for any patents necessary to implement the specification. AMQP XQuery Exchanges aren't part of the single document AMQP Specification. Therefore, the AMQP Agreement doesn't factor in. Therefore, this patent is not subject to an automatic grant. Remember, this patent doesn't cover AMQP itself (and nobody's ever claimed that it does). Rather, it patents a quite obvious extension to AMQP. That's the problem: it's extension rather than core.

The only way around this at the moment given the licensing of the AMQP specification would be to add XQuery-based Exchanges to the AMQP specification (make it core rather than extension). However, since most work on the AMQP specification is to make it smaller and focus on standardized/interoperable extensions, this isn't a great solution.

In short, not impressed with the response. I didn't expect more, but this isn't a great state of play for those of us who care about efficient, vendor neutral message oriented middleware.

I am aware that the AMQP Working Group is working within themselves to try to resolve this situation, and I wish them all the best luck in that!

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