[Gdal-dev] MapTech / BSB Legal Issues

Ed McNierney ed at topozone.com
Wed Sep 10 20:17:05 EDT 2003

Frank et al. -


It is dangerous to speculate without good legal advice and specific
precedents.  Having been a CTO for several companies and involved in
several IP issues (as a techie, not a lawyer), I will say that outside
of patent protection the way most companies protect their intellectual
property is through copyright and trade secrets.  If the secret is
disclosed, SOMEONE made a boo-boo.


I've never bothered with the format, but your BSB page describes a
patented algorithm that has been "reverse engineered".  It's usually not
necessary to reverse-engineer a patented process, because the patent
itself explains it.  But if it's patented, you can't use it without a
license from the patent holder - as in the Unisys LZW patent, for
example.  Everyone knows how to implement it, but you need a license to
do so legally.


EFF might be a good start, but a good legal opinion from someone is
needed here.  Applying "similar" cases is often very unhelpful and
misleading - the EXACT nature of the copyrighted materials, the specific
claims (all of them) in the patent, etc. are all relevant to whether
MapTech's claim has merit.  That's very hard for a non-professional to
determine, although it's VERY easy for a non-professional to engage in
exuberant speculation <g>.


-          Ed


Ed McNierney

President and Chief Mapmaker

TopoZone.com / Maps a la carte, Inc.

73 Princeton Street, Suite 305

North Chelmsford, MA  01863

Phone: (978) 251-4242  Fax: (978) 251-1396

ed at topozone.com


-----Original Message-----
From: Jack Varga [mailto:jvarga at boulder.net] 
Sent: Wednesday, September 10, 2003 7:38 PM
To: gdal-dev at remotesensing.org
Subject: Re: [Gdal-dev] MapTech / BSB Legal Issues


EFF is the place to pose this excellent question.  My belief is their
request is without merit.  A friend and 3rd year law student
specializing in IP concurs but is digging further.  Curious though, was
it truly a "request" or an order for cease and desist?  If it was the
former, chances are their attorney's have already told them to ask
nicely as there was not much recourse otherwise.  

I would simply take your original mail (include a reference to
http://www.maptech.com) and forward to one of the following...

Fred von Lohmann, EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
fred at eff.org <mailto:fred at eff.org?SUBJECT=> 

Wendy Seltzer, EFF  Staff Attorney (Fair Use & Intellectual Property)
wendy at eff.org

Jason M. Schultz, EFF Staff Attorney (Intellectual Property / reverse
jason at eff.org


ask at eff.org

...to let them decide who to forward it to.

The entire staff's bio's are at

Relatedly, one of the counties here sells certain data (parcels and
address enhanced street center lines) for $.50 (US) per arc, exported to
shapefile.  They say that purchasers are constrained legally to "not"
make the data available to other parties, including web applications.
However, the information contained within those shapefiles (i.e.,
coordinate info) is essentially public domain. You can't copyright
coordinate info, so how do the likes of GDT, NavTech, etc., keep their
data proprietary and protected, yet useful?  

Has anyone run across similar scenarios?


Frank Warmerdam wrote:

GDAL Users, 

I have been contacted by Maptech and I have been requested to remove the

web page where I talk about the BSB file format, and provide source code
reading it. 


They seem to be claiming that the BSB file format is copyrighted by
though it wasn't my understanding that a file format could be
I am not prepared to comply with their request until they can provide
sort of supporting information indicating they truely have "ownership"
the file format and that it is illegal for applications to support
that file format for the purposes of interoperability. 

Maptech has not requested that anyone stop using the code I distribute; 
however, any firms interested in minimizing any possible downstream
concerns may want to proactively drop use of the BSB driver from their 
GDAL builds. 

To that end, I have added a "--without-bsb" configure option on Unix.
add this option when configuring GDAL and no BSB related code will be 
included in your builds.  On Windows I added a line to the nmake.opt 
file related to BSB support.  If the nmake.opt file does not declare 
the BSB_SUPPORTED macro then BSB support and source code will be omitted

from the build.  The changes went in this afternoon and should appear 
in tonights nightly snapshot. 

For those who are not aware, the BSB format is a compressed raster
used for distributing government nautical charts from a number of
including Canada and the USA. 

While for me the BSB format is if no great importance, it is important
me to be able to write my own code to read file formats.  For that
I don't want to immediately cave in till I get some more information on 
whether their claims have any validity. 

I am interested in any pointers folks can provide on precidents related 
to copyrighting file formats, or suggestions of an inexpensive 
intellectual property attorney.   Even a student lawyer would help!  I 
don't want to break the law, but I don't want to be give up if I am not.

Best regards, 

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