Linux desktop org GNOME Foundation settles lawsuit with patent troll

Shotwell case ends with Rothschild Patent Imaging backing off for good

Updated The GNOME Foundation has settled a US lawsuit brought against it by Rothschild Patent Imaging, complete with an undertaking by the patent assertion entity that it will not sue GNOME for IP infringment again.

In a so-called “walk away” settlement, Rothschild Patent Imaging (RPI) and the open-source body are discontinuing their legal battle that began in October last year. RPI sued for alleged IP infringement of one of its patents by the GNOME photo-organising tool Shotwell, marking the first time a free software project had been targeted in that way.

In a statement at the time, the GNOME Foundation said RPI “offered to let us settle for a high five-figure amount, for which they would drop the case”, something it said would be “wrong” to do. The open-sourcers thus countersued RPI, aided by lawyers from New York law firm Shearman Sterling who agreed to work on the case for free.

Neil McGovern, exec director of the foundation, said in a canned statement today: “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.”

Not only did GNOME score a settlement with RPI that halted the lawsuit altogether, it also received an undertaking to prevent it being sued again for patent infringement by RPI (with the caveat that the software in question is open source). That settlement covers a bundle of around 100 patents, we are told.

GNOME described RPI as a “patent troll” – as Reg readers know, patent trolling consists of a so-called non-practising entity buying patents and then charging licensing fees for using the patent’s contents, often much higher than would otherwise be expected.

Although GNOME was not willing to comment further than its official press statement, Amanda Brock of British open-source org OpenUK did manage to ask McGovern about the settlement terms.

He told her: “Apart from the cash, the original offered settlement would only apply for this single patent, only for GNOME and would be confidential! Instead, we now have coverage for over 100 patents, and patents that Leigh Rothschild may come to own in future.”

McGovern also told Brock that the open-source community “managed to raise over $150,000 from over 4,000 individual donors” to fight the case, adding: “One of the strengths of the community is how passionately we care about what we do, and how we rally around each other when there’s trouble.”

Pro-Linux IP consortium the Open Invention Network (OIN) said of the result: “OIN is heartened to see the result that GNOME’s leadership and its legal team were able to negotiate on behalf of GNOME and the broader OSS community. I am hopeful that the visible support of OIN and the OSS Community was helpful in enabling the beneficial result. Well done.” ®

Updated to add
In an article comment on this story, McGovern said: “For those asking about payment, I can confirm we paid RPI and Leigh Rothschild a grand total of $0.00 for the settlement.”