Unisys's recent offer to only allow the free use of non-commercial,
non-profit freeware GIF applications is unacceptable. In reality
they would never have been able to effectively collect such royalties.
They are simply making this offer to try and reduce the amount of
criticism they are receiving on the net. They hope to keep the GIF
file format alive and thus maximize the collection of royalties
resulting from its use in commercial applications.
Unisys knows there is nothing unique about the LZW algorithm, and its
incorporation in the GIF file format is nothing more than a historical
accident. Unisys has played no part in the creation of the Web, yet
they seek to tax people who wish to access it. The value of the GIF
file format is the result of network externalities, not in any way the
result of the intrinsic value of the LZW algorithm.
Unisys's most recent statement also contains serious ambiguities:
It is not clear if it applies to the use of not for profit
GIF tools (such as Mosaic) in a commercial environment
Unisys says it "does not require licensing, or fees to be paid"
under certain limited circumstances. It is not clear that this
is the same thing as a royalty free license to use the patent
under those circumstances. Could this requirement be changed in
the future? And what would this assurance be worth if Unisys
opts to sell their patent to a company like Refac that specializes
in acquiring and litigating patents.
January 15, 1995
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