The point is that the patents weren't enforced early on, but then after the mp3 format was being used everywhere they suddenly started charging money and threatening people with lawsuits. I never heard anyone claim that their patents weren't valid just because they didn't enforce them immediately.
There's the other option: distros doing nothing at all about it. In which case, many users could still find about such a workaround.
If it's assurance you want, then maybe effort is better spent at developing solutions for making possible infringement invisible or at least untraceable. That effort earns you more in the long run, considering the other proposed solution is finding alternatives to encumbered technology every time the issue comes up.
Unfortuantely it's slightly different cases since the smoking pot thing is a criminal case and the patent is a civil case. And for criminal cases you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, something that does not exist for civil cases. Now I don't know exactly how this would be treated by a US court but here in Sweden we have had at least two civil cases of the "I hear you can smoke pot in Amsterdam" type (the Pirate Bay case and a case where someone posted links to hockey matches in a discussion forum [the provider didn't protect their streams with username/password and relied simply on obscured URLs]) and both cases was a win for the copyright holder.But I imagine it's tough to prove any intent to enable infringement as long as you clearly state it's illegal in the US and merely point to a 3rd party howto or package. It's just as enabling as saying "I hear you can smoke pot in Amsterdam".
As far as distributions go, I think that they don't want to even get close to do something that can be seen as illegal regardless of how silly you and me think that the patent system are or how little risk they have of getting sued (even a tiny risk should be enough for them to want to avoid it all together).
The thing is that they don't have to sue so they don't have to present any evidence, they simply send you a letter demanding that you pay them $1000 or else they will sue you for $1000000 and there is numerous examples of people that pay without even knowing if they really where guilty or not (there is a Danish film company Zootropia that made more money with these letters than they had with their movies).I assume they still need some evidence. Otherwise they'd just go about suing every poor fellow. Besides, I'm not so sure how common such litigation against end-users is, even in case of copyright infringement.
The only viable solution to me is to abolish the software patents. Fortunately we still have won every battle in Europe so far but who knows how long before they sneak it through the backdoor somehow, ACTA seams like a good candidate for that.
So, is there any talk of this being included in Mesa? Looks like a major piece of the puzzle, but the legal issues could muzzle it.
Hopefully this will make it in sooner rather than later, when everyone's moved onto some other texture format and we're back to square one again.
Patents, copyright, and trademarks are lumped in as "Intellectual Property" but they are very, very different things, and the rules that apply for one do not at all apply for another.
Trademarks can be lost if they are not enforced. Sort of. Kinda. A little.