Re: The GIF format as intellectual property (fwd)

Michael Johnson (
Tue, 10 Jan 1995 01:47:46 +0100

Kee Hinckley writes:
>[For those on the cc list, who may not have seen the news, Compuserve and
>Unisys have decided to charge royalties for all software that uses GIF.
>This being based on Unisys' patent for LZW compression, and (I assume)
>Compuserve's copyright on the image format. The licensing agreement is even
>worse than the royalty.]

I was alarmed when I first heard about this too, but fortunately it is NOT
EVEN REMOTELY TRUE! As evidenced by the following mail file from Tom Oren of

>From: Tim Oren <>
>Subject: LZW/GIF flap on RISKS
> [A longer message from Tim is floating around the well. This one seems
> quite succinct, and helps to clarify further the situation discussed in
> RISKS-16.69 and .70. PGN]
>Because the RISKS list gets pretty wide distribution, I wanted you to know
>that the original posting contains some pretty serious misinterpretation of
>a messy situation. Briefly,
>- CompuServe is asserting no proprietary rights in the GIF spec, and couldn't
>even if we wanted to, since it has long been openly published.
>- The LZW algorithm was incorporated from an open publication, and without
>knowledge that Unisys was pursuing a patent. The patent was brought to our
>attention, much to our displeasure, after the GIF spec had been published and
>passed into wide use.
>- We found it necessary to take a license to the patent from Unisys, and
>since a number of our developers had used GIF in good faith, we also
>negotiated a pass-through license for their benefit. Clawson has
>distributed parts of this license, with a poor interpretation, outside of
>its original context, which was to developers of CompuServe-related products
>alone. GIF is included in this license because we are unable to pass
>through a general license to practice LZW.
>- It is not the intent of CompuServe to attempt to enforce proprietary
>rights in GIF against users or developers, including those of Web
>technology. We cannot and do not speak for Unisys' intent in this matter.
>- Having and transmitting GIF images is not an infringement of the patent,
>since 'practicing' LZW means running code which accomplishes the compression
>of the graphics.
>Tim Oren, Vice President, Future Technology CompuServe, Inc.