Archive for November, 2012

Good “End Software Patents” video – not by us

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

There’s a good anti-software-patent video on YouTube (in WebM video format):

Despite the name it has no connection to us but it’s a very good 2 minute video explaining some of the problems of software patents.

For anyone who’s thinking of making a similar video, here are some ideas:

  • Software developers that reuse ideas shouldn’t be portrayed as “immitators”. Reuse of ideas is often essential for compatibility. A person developing a new word processor might find the Microsoft Word format ridiculous but if their software can’t read and write the documents that exist then it won’t be a useful word processor so they’re required to reuse certain ideas.
  • In another situation, reuse of patented ideas is also often accidental, even unavoidable. With hundreds of thousands of software patents, it’s impossible to check if all the ideas in your software haven’t been patented. So this isn’t immitation either.
  • The GNU project and the free software movement have been the most outspoken campaigners against software patents, so it’s unfortunate that the video only talks about “Linux” (instead of GNU/Linux) and “open source”.
  • Software development shouldn’t be presented as a “market”. For pharmaceutical development, we can talk of “markets” because the market is the only system that mass produces pharmaceuticals. For software, crucial software development is done by hobbyists, user groups, and other non-market groups. A software market does exist, and we should remove economic barriers to entering that market, but we also have to remove economic and legal barriers which block non-market groups from developing software. (See: Why software is different)
  • The airplane and Newton examples at the end are good, but it would be better to avoid likening software patent problems to hardware patent problems. Hardware is more like pharmaceuticals. Mass production of airplanes is only done by markets (hobbyists exist but patent holders have little reason to attack people that only make a tiny number of airplanes). Highlighting problems with patents in general is good to make people question the foundation of the patent system, but harm in the airplane industry doesn’t necessarily make the point that patents are bad for software.
  • And one minor point: it’s not necessary to wholly endorse pharmaceutical patents. Maybe some changes in pharmaceutical patents would also be good for society. Maybe the 20 year term is too long? Too short? Maybe the term should begin when the medicine has been approved for public use? Maybe patents are harming the health system because they give pharmaceutical companies an incentive to push new, patented, profitable medication even in cases where existing, non-patented medicine is better? I’m no expert on pharmaceuticals, so I wouldn’t feel confident in giving pharmaceutical patents a blanket endorsement, especially without mentioning that the effects differ between rich and poor countries.

Stallman: completely shielding software instead of exempting it

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Richard Stallman’s latest article on software patents suggests that instead of a law excluding software from patentability, we need a law saying “that developing, distributing, or running a program on generally used computing hardware does not constitute patent infringement.

This would achieve the same goal as a software exception but avoids the difficult problem of drafting a text which classifies patents as “software” or “non-software”.

For an example of how this is workable, he refers to 35 U.S.C. Section 287 (c), which was written in 1996 to shield surgeons from patent risks.

If you have ideas for how this could work best, please feel free to write them on the relevant wiki page: