[svlug] Broken camel's back; Pat. Pend.

Karsten M. Self kmself at ix.netcom.com
Mon May 27 21:01:24 PDT 2002

on Mon, May 27, 2002, Walter Reed (wreed at hubinternet.com) wrote:
> On Mon, May 27, 2002 at 04:30:56PM -0700, J C Lawrence wrote:
> > I would note that software patents are _NOT_ an inherently Bad Idea so
> > long as they are not abused.  What if RH granted an open license to the
> > use of their patents in any software if/as/when licensed under an OSS
> > compliant license?
> IMHO software patents ARE inherently bad. Patents are there to
> "protect" IP. If you don't need to "protect" anything, no sense in
> patenting it.  Think GIF (lzw) , RSA, xor cursor, 1 click shopping,
> etc. You patent things to prevent others from using that tech or to
> make money off others use of the tech.  

IMHO, software copyrights ARE inherently bad.  Copyrights are there to
"protect" IP.  If you don't need to "protect" anything, no sense in
patenting it.  Think WinXP, qmail, the APSL, Microsoft shared source,
etc.  You copyright things to prevent others from using that work or to
make money off others' use of the work.

IMHO, real property titles ARE inherently bad.  Real estate titles are
there to "protect" real estate.  If you don't need to "protect"
anything, no sense in gaining title to it.  Think Rockefeller Center,
Stanford University, the Winchester Mystery House, etc.  You claim title
to things to prevent others from using them or to make money off
others' use of the land.

My point:  property law (real or intellectual) draws bounds on
something.  It doesn't inherently specify the conditions for crossing
those bounds.  In the same way that a (public or private) park, a store,
or other lands may be open to access by persons other than the owner,
the GPL and other free software licenses allow access to works by those
other than the copyright holder, and suitable forms of patent licensing
could allow access to patented works by those other than the patent

    *** Under terms specified in the license ***

The GPL is an ideological license, and is drafted in terms that speak to
that ideology.  Other copyright licenses are drafted differently, to
different effect.  Similarly there are varying degrees of land and real
property access which may require positive or negative actions on the
part of those participating (e.g.:  communal or cooperative property may
require active maintenance, while a park may merely request you refrain
from actions annoying or harmful to others).

The kicker:  Patents need not be inherently opposed to free software.

If patent law and patents aren't going to disappear tomorrow (I'm
willing to bet large sums of money on this, and could use the winnings),
then an attack on the system needs to come from another means -- by
subverting it against itself rather than attacking it frontally.

> In the OSS world, we just don't have the resources to engage in a
> court battle to invalidate patents due to prior art or because
> something is obvious to someone in the trade. Software patents are
> deadly to OSS and can devistate small businesses.

As free software and its interests come to be represented by businesses
which _do_ have the means and interest to engage in such battles, this
story will change.  The free software world of 2002 is _not_ the FS
world of 1998, and isn't the FS world we'll have in 2003, when my 1998
quote will have met its deadline:

    In five years, OSS will have changed the commercial SW and IT
    industries beyond all recognition. 

    In five years, the commercial SW and IT industries will have changed
    OSS beyond all recognition.

(Made Sept 4, 1998, at the old InfoWorld Electric forums).

I consider Karen Shaeffer's comment in this thread, "This is not the GNU/Linux
community of a few years ago", to be independent confirmation ;-)


Karsten M. Self <kmself at ix.netcom.com>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
   How to unwedge / disable your X display manager login:
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