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August 12, 2006

Happy free GIF day!

typical clipart gif image

It's worth noting that at midnight last night the last U.S. patent on the GIF image format expired.(*) If you were around during the early days of the online world, you may remember the brouhaha when Compuserve discovered that both Unisys and IBM held patents over the already hugely popular GIF image format. Unisys in particular was not shy about enforcing their patent, demanding royalties from anyone that displayed GIFs or made software to create GIFs. This led to a flurry of lawsuits and counter-suits, and to a call for a creation of an alternative, royalty-free image format, now known as PNG.

It's also worth noting that even though the GIF patent controversy caused a great deal of Sturm und Drang back in the day, patents do expire (after 20 years in the U.S.), and the innovation protected by the patent becomes free for all. Contrast this with copyright law, which has had a disturbing trend of longer and longer effective periods... long enough to be effectively forever.

(*) The Free Software Foundation knows of one more, foreign, patent on GIF still in effect. That one is scheduled to expire this fall, on October 1st.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at August 12, 2006 08:02 AM

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