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04.09.08

The Passionate Fight Against Software Patents Continues

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, Law, Microsoft, Patents, Red Hat at 8:22 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

This post contains a collection of news items which provide insight into the latest on this topic.

Bilski and Software Patents

We mentioned Bilski the other day and soon afterwards we saw Red Hat's response to it. There are several other interpretations and the following article, “software patents could be killed off for good”, is probably worth pointing out.

TWO ADVOCACY ORGANISATIONS, the End Software Patents (ESP) and the Free Software Foundation (FSF), have filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s (CAFC) rehearing of the In re Bilski case, set to be heard on May 8, 2008. This rehearing could have significant implications and mean the death of software patents.

As you can see, the ESP is involved. In fact, it has just put up this press release in its Web site and so has The Free Software Foundation. The ESP is backed by many large companies, so it can hopefully lend a muscle to this fight. Groklaw wrote an article about Red Hat’s involvement and it’s very law-savvy.

I thought you might like to understand what is going on, as best as I can explain it. Here’s the ACLU brief [PDF]. Red Hat’s announcement indicates that it is asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to consider something dear to your hearts, whether or not, or to what degree, patents should be allowed on software, and its brief explains to the court the damage that software patents are doing to Open Source software.

For those wishing to explore this further, the articles above ought to help a little.

Patenting Objects

In the face of desperation over the state of the patent system, Béranger wrote this good item. It truly makes it all seem rather outrageous.

The plastic bowl and the patent attorney

[...]

It means that you shouldn’t be worried only about the possible patents infringed by the (open-source or not) software you’re using, but you should also be paranoid about whether some object you’re merely using (and you have paid for it!), such as your laptop or a plastic bowl or whatever else (a simple cardboard package as the ones used by Amazon.com is covered by 7 or 9 patents, don’t ask me what for!) is not infringing a patent.

Maybe it’s time to stop suing companies for alleged patent infringements in the software they use, and we should tell the lawyers that they could sue instead for the pegs, chairs, tables, office stationery, door knobs, lavatories and wash basins the company is using without verifying whether the manufacturer is not (even unknowingly) infringing a patent. They’re still valid patents for almost anything nowadays, especially in the United States.

The Lobbyist Epidemic

As we have repeatedly stressed here, formation of the law boils down to politics and wealth, not science. The rules are typically made by those who can afford to make changes without contradicting the constitution (or by stepping just around it, sometimes making amendments).

Watch Microsoft doing its thing.

Microsoft Corp. spent $9 million in 2007 to lobby for immigration and patent reforms, tax credits and cybersecurity among numerous other matters.

The software company spent $4.2 million in the second half of 2007 to lobby the federal government, according to a disclosure form posted online Feb. 13 by the Senate’s public records office. It lobbied on government purchases of software, including electronic health products, cybersecurity for critical infrastructures, high-speed Internet issues, online advertising and free trade agreements.

For further information about Microsoft’s attitude towards software patents, see these recent takeaways from Brad Smith's presentation at OSBC 2008. There are other reports about lobbying, which has become an industry worth billions of dollars.

John W. Thompson, chairman and CEO of Symantec, used part of his keynote address Tuesday at RSA 2008 to announce the merger of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance and the Information Technology Association of America.

Again, it’s worth stressing that Red Hat just recently announced that it would fight software patents. But what are its chances against several multi-billion-dollar companies that almost literally sponsor congress members (affecting not just in the US)? Can David defeat Goliath? How about several Goliaths working synchronously?

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