Patents Roundup: Patent Absurdity More Widely Understood, New Zealand’s Case Against Them Made Clearer, and Why Free Software Must Reject Them
Summary: The latest cases of patents intruding nations, interfering with economic sense, and turning Free/open source software into another monster
Today’s summary covers patents in general and software patents in particular. As predicted several years ago, software patents are pushing “open source” proponents to change themselves rather than fight back as they should.
The Economist Versus Patents
Patents make business sense to lawyers, but they rarely make business sense in general. Several famous economists, some of whom won the Nobel prize, are advocating the removal of patents (or at least some of them). The Economist has this new article which says that some patents do “more harm than good”. To quote just a part: [via]
George Church, a molecular geneticist at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer of whole-genome sequencing, is unpersuaded. Leaving aside the cystic fibrosis case, he says genetic testing benefits from incentives for innovation by luring in investors. He objects to the recommended reforms as “micro-manipulation of one small part of the patent system” that could have unintended consequences.
The film “Patent Absurdity” (mentioned already in [1, 2 3, 4]) is focused specifically on software patents and it received a lot of press coverage (more recently from Heise and eWEEK Europe). But another big battle over the issue actually takes place in New Zealand right now.
Software patents are a hot topic in New Zealand because they might be formally removed (explicitly excluded by scope).
The exclusion of computer software from a Patents Bill before Parliament is a step towards helping New Zealand become more innovative Labour MPs Lianne Dalziel and Clare Curran said today.
Later on, the same publication talks for patent lawyers, who of course want more patents of any kind.
InternetNZ is against software patents because it represents technologists, not lawyers.
InternetNZ (Internet New Zealand Inc) agrees with the Commerce Select Committee and Minister Hon Simon Power that software should not be patentable. InternetNZ outlined its position in a submission to the Committee in July 2009.
The New Zealand Computer Society polled its members and found that 81% supported the recommendation to remove Software from the Patents Act.
NZCS Chief Executive Paul Matthews said, “This is a big issue for the ICT sector. And whilst not scientific, this poll clearly backs up previous consultation showing widespread support from the ICT sector for the removal of software patents.”
We covered the views of NZCS in [1, 2, 3, 4]. It has been strongly against software patents all along. It’s usually a case of computer scientists versus lawyers who only pretend to serve them rather than tax them. Here in Europe we have this lawyers’ site promoting software patents a few days ago. They smell cash in more patent applications and lawsuits.
Although the UK and European patent offices have been granting patent claims that relate to computer programs for many years, a European Parliament rejected the proposed EC Directive on the Patentability of Computer Implemented Inventions (EC Software Patent Directive) in July 2006, which caused some controversy.
Corinne Day is a trainee solicitor who specialises in intellectual property law.
Well, Corinne Day should be focused on her field and not pursue what lawyers call “protection” with software patents. They pretend it’s a “protection” for software developers, but it’s really just protection of the lawyers’ way of life.
It is sad to find posts like this one from defeatists who are promoting “open core” and other such ideas (while occasionally denouncing the Free Software Foundation), listing Microsoft as part of “open source” and using this as reason to accept “intellectual property” like software patents (when it comes to “open source”, Microsoft is constantly changing what these terms mean using "promises" that it adds to software patents). To quote one portion of it:
In this future the notion of intellectual property will still exist, as will software patents (unfortunately). In this future, any software or services company, of any size, whether local or global has the opportunity to participate in the FOSS realm.
We must not accept software patents as they are incompatible with Free/open source software. The author is also using the term “intellectual property” rather than “copyright” and “patent”, which are separate and very different things. Free software relies heavily upon copyrights, but patents are antithetical to it. The use of the term “intellectual property” can also be found in this new post from OSS Watch. It’s part of the degradation we see among “open source” supporters, who turn it into another monster and encourage more of ZDNet’s typical FUD, which is debunked by The Source.
If anything, ”Open Source” is moving beyond “sexy” right into “required label”.
That label too is losing its uniqueness. The meaning changes and the OSI ought to fix this by intevening. █