[TUHS] Why BSD didn't catch on more, and Linux did

Theodore Ts'o tytso at mit.edu
Thu Feb 8 05:49:57 AEST 2018

On Wed, Feb 07, 2018 at 12:27:34PM -0500, Clem Cole wrote:
> I fear, you are ​falling into an error of thinking about UNIX as the *source cod*
> *​e from Murray Hill* as opposed the* intellectual property *->* i.e.* an
> *implementation* *vs,* *the ideas* of how to build the a computing system.

So what exactly were they claiming?  An interface copyright on
open(2), creat(2), etc.?  Were they they trying to claim that the
concept of an inode was at trade secret?  How the Bourne Shell worked?
How to implement a virtual memory subsystem?

The very first version of POSIX 1003.1 was released in 1988.  This is
four years befure the AT&T lawsuit.  So between the ideas found in
say, Multics, and those things which were promulgated in an
international standard --- which included AT&T representatives ---
exactly what would be covered under Trade Secret law?

> ​  It is these two acts together that the court said, meant that AT&T could
> not longer claim trade secret - they licensed it AND they told people about
> it.

That's basic Trade Secret law.  That's *not* a new and novel law that
the court was promulgating.  It's a basic legal principle taught to
undergraduates --- at least those who take "IT Law for Managers"
offered by the MIT Sloan School :-).  (I always tell students that I
am mentoring that you they should strongly consider taking a basic
legal class and learn enough about accounting to read a balance sheet
and income statement).

More to the point, Trade Secret works differently from Copyright or
Patent.  If Alice reveals to Bob a trade secret under an NDA, and Bob
reveals it to the world, Alice can sue *Bob* for gazillions.  But if
Bob publishes the trade secret in a Usenix ATC paper, and Charlie
learns about it from said Usenix ATC paper, and there is no NDA
between Alice and Charlie --- Alice does *not* have the power to sue
Charlie regarding the trade secret.

Hence, the concept of "AT&T mentally contaminating the world" is
simply not how Trade Secret law works.  And that is a reason why the
wise I/T manager might have to trade off using Trade Secret (where
protection lasts as long as you can keep it a sekrit) versus Patent
(where the protection survives even after it is publically disclosed
--- and you do have to disclose it --- but the protection is

						- Ted

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