The New York Times has published an article which is making some big waves at the moment, even though it does not contain any new information.
Microsoft sang a very different tune in 1991. In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.” Mr. Gates worried that “some large company will patent some obvious thing” and use the patent to “take as much of our profits as they want.”
For your reading pleasure, here is a larger fragment of the text which the author referred to.
PATENTS: If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this company has no need of any of our patents then the have a 17-year right to take as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can. Amazingly we havn’t done any patent exchanges tha I am aware of. Amazingly we havn’t found a way to use our licensing position to avoid having our own customers cause patent problems for us. I know these aren’t simply problems but they deserve more effort by both Legal and other groups. For example we need to do a patent exchange with HP as part of our new relationship. In many application categories straighforward thinking ahead allows you to come up with patentable ideas. A recent paper from the League for Programming Freedom (available from the Legal department) explains some problems with the way patents are applied to software.
of our profits as they want.”
Here is an older article on this issue:
[Richard Stallman:] …Thanks to Mr. Gates, we now know that an open Internet with protocols anyone can implement is communism…
…Mr. Gates’ secret is out now–he too was a “communist;” he, too, recognized that software patents were harmful-until Microsoft became one of these giants…
This is all self explanatory, is it not? Microsoft chooses as a weapon what it used to detest, denounce, and fear. Hypocrisy knows no bounds. One might argue that Microsoft has been a passive cogwheel in the evolution of the flawed USPTO. But many would beg to differ.
A report published by an EU task force on intellectual property claims that small businesses benefit from a patent system, despite lacking almost any participation by the small business community.
Instead, the report, titled IPR (intellectual property rights) for competitiveness and innovation, was written up almost entirely by large corporations and the patent industry.
The report does note objections from the likes of patentfrei.de and Sun Microsystems, which were recorded at some length in the report. But this does not appear to have impacted the conclusion of the report in any way
Jean-Pierre Laisne, of ObjectWeb, an open source software community, said that he found the report useless: participants were told that all their contributions would be recorded but at the end only those of Business Software Alliance and Microsoft were used.
So, we should now know who has become the biggest fan of spurious patents. We also know that the voices of small businesses get ignored.
In another new article from the New York Times, which was published over the weekend, Microsoft’s ties with the Bush administration (the context being antitrust) get a mention, but that is really beside the point. The main messages here is that legistlation is written by the wealthy, to server the wealthy, and to make them more wealthy.
There are other items on patents which are worth mentioning. The first one argues that software and algorithms are a form of art more than they are a science. Thus, patents of this kind are bound to give exclusive ownership to culture, creativity, and expression.
Merriam-Webster defines “art” as: “The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” It defines “engineering” as: “The design and manufacture of complex products.”
Whether these patents are valid or not, one must not forget that no specifics have been disclosed. Neither do we know if patents were truly counted, nor do we know whether they have any substance at all.
Speculation runs amok, ranging from a boundless greed and loathing in the corporate culture at Microsoft (from the top down) to scaring FOSS developers and users into submission by the threat of a legal sword of Damocles hanging collectively over their heads. But this is all theory and speculation — great fodder for discussion, but nothing concrete.
A lot of hot air, no doubt.