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03.03.10

Patents Roundup: Benjamin Franklin Would Have Disliked Patents, Tim Bray Leaves, Patents Kill, Ridiculous Software Patents Named

Posted in Bill Gates, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Google, Oracle, Patents, SUN at 7:33 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis

Summary: This post presents a roundup of patent news (mostly software); it is intended to show the lesser-known truths about patents — the ones which lawyers do not want people to know

Ghabuntu has just done some exploration around Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America.

It turns out that, just like Thomas Jefferson, Franklin would have rejected patents and advocated Free software. It is often being argued that software patents are unconstitutional, but that’s another matter that won’t be discussed today.

Here is what Ghabuntu found:

This pamphlet had a good effect. Gov’r. Thomas was so pleas’d with the construction of this stove, as described in it, that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declin’d it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.

An ironmonger in London however, assuming a good deal of my pamphlet, and working it up into his own, and making some small changes in the machine, which rather hurt its operation, got a patent for it there, and made, as I was told, a little fortune by it.

Here is an older link on the subject (from one year ago). It’s titled “Ben Franklin, the first Open Source advocate” and it says:

Benjamin Franklin is known in American history as a founding father and a inventor. One interesting fact is that he did not approve of patents. Martin Streicher of IBM points out in his article of 10 tips for sensible systems administration that Benjamin Franklin would more than likely approve of Open Source software.

One of our favourite entrepreneurs is Tim Bray, who had the guts to complain about Microsoft’s corruption [1, 2, 3]. After his recent rants about patents, Bray decides to leave Sun/Oracle.

“Just resigned from Sun/Oracle,” he wrote a few days ago. “Not currently looking for another job.”

Patents are not only harming software by the way. Glyn Moody, who wrote a book about the dangers of genome patents, shows this new report about removal of generics using patent provisions.

Aside from pharmaceutical patents, the other key IP provision in the free trade agreement relates to geographical indications (GIs). These allow certain regions to claim an effective monopoly right on delicacies such as Champagne or Parma ham that are synonymous with them. According to Brussels sources, over 200 GIs will be covered by the agreement with Peru and Colombia.

In previous posts we explained why this is the death knell to a lot of people [1, 2]. This is genocide by patents. Speaking of which, the effect of the Gates-funded Monsanto is similar. It causes deaths rather than save lives and we wrote about the subject in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Monsanto is a company whose business model depends on patents relating to life (biology as a private property of a person). GM Watch asks, “Have we seen Peak Monsanto?”

Is it possible that we’ve reached Peak Monsanto?:

Low commodity soybean prices, attractive premiums, and rising prices for genetically modified soybean seed are leading American farmers to plant more acres of non-GMO soybeans this year.

Representatives with soybean associations, universities, and grain buyers all say that demand for non-GMO soybeans is growing, leading to more non-GMO acres.

Genetically modified Roundup Ready soybeans have taken an increasingly larger percentage of U.S. soybean acreage each year since their introduction in 1996, reaching 92 percent in 2008.

Bill Gates supports this colonisation of land and food. It’s about creating a crops monopoly, using intellectual monopolies (patents).

TechDirt has this new item which says that “It’s The Execution That Matters, Not The Idea” and the item happens to cite a former (but famous) Microsoft employee who seemingly argues against patents.

There have been lots of players who have come and gone, and there are at least a dozen players in the space today. And it’s not because they all “took” the idea from this guy, but because lots of people recognized that it’s an idea that makes sense. Kickstarter is certainly getting a ton of press these days, but that’s mostly because of some top notch execution on its part.

This leads us to the next area, which is software patents. No less than twice in recent days we wrote about Facebook’s controversial software patent [1, 2], as well as the company’s relationship with Microsoft and apparently the company’s patent troll too (Nathan Myhrvold). Here is another good analysis of why Facebook’s behaviour should be seen as hostile.

I wonder what is Facebook’s strategy here. They could simply be looking to stifle competitors. The obvious result of this is that they will probably attempt to get licences from some prominent social networks and the aforementioned open source projects. In the longer run, this could be used to become the only name in social networking. Not good news at all.

Google is also a foe when it comes to software patents. Mashable covers Google’s new software patent on location-based advertising. This is ridiculous, but it is not truly a farce like today’s USPTO.

That patent itself focuses on making sure businesses can better target their ads based on location information so that they can do things such as price arbitration (e.g. figuring out prices for items near you and getting the best deal). It also deals with the user interface and defining geographic areas.

Will Google obey or least consider the suggestions from many people who want Google to set its new codec free? Or use Ogg Theora in YouTube? As this new post emphasises, this is a top issue when it comes to Free software and patents. GNU/Linux depends on it.

Patented multimedia codecs, however, are a little different from proprietary drivers and firmware, for reasons discussed in my first post on the topic. There are people–for example, a commenter on a previous post named markit–who remain passionately opposed to the use of restrictively licensed codecs and can make well reasoned arguments to support their stance, particularly since fully functional GPL-friendly equivalents are available for multimedia codecs.

The arguments against the use of patented codecs are not without merit. By using formats like MP3 and MPEG-2 rather than GPL’d alternatives, users perpetuate dependence on proprietary software, which is antithetical to the Ubuntu philosophy.

The obvious response to such arguments, of course, is that while it would be nice to use only patent-free codecs, that’s not a realistic goal for most people. You can’t send .ogg files to Windows users and expect them to know how to open them, and you won’t have many friends if you refuse to accept data in non-free formats.

Google’s harmful policy on patents withstanding, can the company prove to be helpful to Free software by weakening or gradually eliminating H.264? Let’s hope so.

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