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FreeType Project Cheers TrueType Patent Expiration 203

FlorianMueller writes "The FreeType project celebrates the expiration of Apple's TrueType bytecode patents. The open source font rendering engine now has the bytecode technology enabled by default. The relevant code existed for some time, but the project felt forced to disable it and advise everyone not to use it due to patent encumbrance. The 20-year maximum of validity of software patents is long, but sometimes the stuff that becomes available is still useful. The Unisys GIF patent was an example. And anything open-sourced 20 years ago would also be patent-free by now (except for the code that has since been added)."
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FreeType Project Cheers TrueType Patent Expiration

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  • by JavaBear ( 9872 ) * on Monday July 19, 2010 @11:56AM (#32951888)

    Yes, in a business where most things are considered obsolete after 5 years, and ancient at 10, a 20 year patent life time is extremely excessive.

    It is sad to see that countries and regions (EU) who do not (officially) allow software patents, are working on legislation to enable them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:06PM (#32952024)

    The bytecode in question is about hinting and gridfitting (try Googling those terms): it tells the rendering engine (e.g. FreeType) how to scale fonts at small sizes so they look good. By default, FreeType just scaled text down, which can make it hard to read at small sizes and give blurry edges. Although it did make some efforts to guess what would make good grid alignment decisions, they couldn't used the wealth of information that some fonts' designers painstakingly design into their work by default. It's one of the reasons why fonts on Linux look like crap at small sizes, especially with antialiasing turned off. (Remember that Windows never had problems when fonts were just displayed as black and white!)

  • summary not precise (Score:2, Informative)

    by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:08PM (#32952044)
    The code would be under copyright, but patent free. Not the same things. That mean you would not be able to COPY the code snippet, but you would be free to make your own implementation.
  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:09PM (#32952052) Journal

    could not find their way around these patents for two decades

    Sure, there was a way around the patents: be incompatible with TrueType.

    That's how PNG was invented to work around the patents on GIF.

  • by quickOnTheUptake ( 1450889 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:10PM (#32952060)
    Not necessarily. What if there is one obvious way to solve a problem and it gets a patent? Ridiculous example: If someone had gotten a patent for "circular apparatus that facilitates low friction locomotion" there might not have been much to do but wait out the 20 years.
  • by nstrom ( 152310 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:12PM (#32952102)
    Here's a side-by-side screenshot of Linux font rendering with and without the now patent-free byte code interpretation: []
  • by jisatsusha ( 755173 ) <<sadako> <at> <>> on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:17PM (#32952170) Homepage
    There's this image [] (left without bytecode, right with) I found which has a comparison for a number of fonts, but the site mentions that other patches were also included, so it may not be entirely representative. Perhaps someone else can find a better example.
  • by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:19PM (#32952196) Journal

    Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Okay - consider this [] your correction.

    While what you say is true in the theory of how patents should work - it is not how it is applied today. People abstract a lot of the methodology to claim that their idea IS the methodology.

  • by petermgreen ( 876956 ) <> on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:43PM (#32952556) Homepage

    A big problem is it's very difficult to judge obviousness, something that would be obvious to someone who has spent some time working on the same problem won't nessacerlly be obvious to a patent examiner. After the fact it's even harder.

    Another big problem is those soloutions which aren't particularlly obvious but where there is only a very small number (sometimes only one) of good soloutions which are likely to be found eventually by multiple parties. Lightbulbs are a good example of this, both edison and swan came to the same conclusion on how to make a usable filament at about the same time independently.

    And a final big problem is cases where you have to use a patented method not because it's the only or even the best soloution to the underlying problem but because it's the soloution compatible with what everyone else is doing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:45PM (#32952578)

    And that's precisely why FreeType didn't include a "workaround". Since it would be tantamount to creating a whole new file format, what would be the point?


  • by Linker3000 ( 626634 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @01:23PM (#32953104) Journal
    Useful font stuff here: []
    I've just enabled byte code support on my laptop - makes a big difference.
  • by elmartinos ( 228710 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @01:51PM (#32953390) Homepage

    Here you can see a comparison with mouseover effect: []

  • by kriston ( 7886 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @04:14PM (#32955540) Homepage Journal

    Apple has a different philosophy comparted to how almost everyone else renders fonts on the screen. Apple wants it to be perfectly shaped, but that's not possible even on today's high-res screens (including the so-called 'retina' display on the iPhone 4), so not only do they anti-alias it, but they also use subpixel rendering, and they do it even where it doesn't make sense (like dead-center between scanlines). The result is not pleasing to me due to annoying, fuzzy artifacts on its fonts but it's pleasing to Mac and iOS fans.

    The closest way I get this effect using Freetype is by re-building the freetype library with the patented subpixels enabled. Note that this is not enabled by default in Fedora (because subpixel rendering is also patented) but it is enabled in Ubuntu.
    In ftoption.h, the option is:

    Then, specify "Slight hinting" which will use the really amazing Freetype autohinter (not the bytecode hinter) in the Appearance...Fonts...Details section. The option in fonts.conf (if you use it) is "hintslight" like this:
    <match target="font"><edit mode="assign" name="hintsyle"><const>hintslight</const></edit></match>

    This causes Freetype to endeavor to display the fonts a close as the actual font's metrics will allow, disregarding hints. Unlike Mac and iOS it will still try to avoid doing things that don't make sense like placing a line in the dead center of the space between scanlines on smaller point sizes. Ever since Apple started antialiasing everything I thought of it as a cop-out to really solving the problem of displaying fonts on the screen. I still think Microsoft had the right idea with Cleartype: make it look crispy perfect on the screen even if it is not perfectly shaped. Apple is an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

    I, for one, would like the option of using Apple's font renderer, heck, even Microsoft's, on Fedora or Ubuntu. Or, for that matter, Adobe's Cooltype, or the one that Sun's Java VM used to use from before it went open-source.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday July 19, 2010 @04:31PM (#32955808)

    Yep. If she's 18, and you're 38, you're a hero. However, if she's 17, and you're 37, you're a pedophile. American society makes so much sense.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller