11.29.07

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A Reader’s Take on the Dangers of Software Patents and Microsoft’s Role

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Mono, Open XML, Patents at 4:01 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

An anonymous reader wishes to share his point of view.


The speech by Richard Stallman on software patents is the fundamental basics any software engineer should know when thinking about how damaging the patent system is to his/her job. As the speech explains, the mainstream discourses about how convenient and useful the patent system and how nicely it allegedly “protects” software, are crafted by parties with vested interests in the system (usually patent lawyers or patent office bureaucrats or big corporations with an army of lawyers and legal counselors).

”One of the things the speech warns about, is that patents that are in the pipeline waiting for approval are secret for at least 18 months, so I am sure that even if no patent covers MSOOXML yet, they have something prepared in case the format gets approved by ISO and gains adoption.“This speech puts the perspective on the view of a software engineer, so I think is fundamental that every FOSS software engineer/developer know it. Combine it together with these rebuttal by Pieter Hintjents to all the typical justifications by the mainstream to the patent system applied to software, and you have a formidable set of arguments to dismantle all the FUD being applied to software patents lately by the usual suspects.

In Stallman’s speech you find a very, very good portion on software patents that explains very clearly why is so important to avoid patent-encumbered format. The speech explains LZW (patented by Unisys) and how it was almost impossible to avoid breaching the patent since it was implemented in GIF. I would call it “the software patents for dummies speech”.

But this can be applied to any format. I am sure that MSOOXML and Silverlight are full of patents. OK, now keep this in mind because it is important that the engineers and developers ingenuously (or disingenuously) implementing MSOOXML or Silverlight or .mono in FOSS projects to know why this is a terribly bad idea:

One of the things the speech warns about, is that patents that are in the pipeline waiting for approval are secret for at least 18 months, so I am sure that even if no patent covers MSOOXML yet, they have something prepared in case the format gets approved by ISO and gains adoption. Once the patents are disclosed, people would already be locked-in, so Microsoft can sue around users and companies alike and cause much disruption.


If you have posts that you want to contribute, I’d be happy to receive and publish them (roy at schestowitz dot com).

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