05.27.10

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Lawyers Love Software Patents, Developers Do Not

Posted in America, Free/Libre Software, Law, Patents at 1:36 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The worship of Mammon

Summary: The latest examples of lawyers lobbying for software patents and the latest updates about the Bilski case

IT has been almost a month since we last addressed the situation of software patents in New Zealand. As we showed several times before, lawyers from New Zealand are very consistently promoting software patents over there, as opposed to developers (with the exception of multinationals like Microsoft).

We are still seeing the same trend this week. Guy Burgess, who describes himself as “a lawyer with an IT background practising in New Zealand,” has just published this article without disclosing his stake in the matter. The headline is revealing: “Protecting IP in a post-patent environment” (the word “IP” as a substitute for “patents” and “protect” instead of “monopolise” or “block” is what solicitors often do).

Recently the Government announced its intention to adopt a select committee’s recommendation to “exclude software from patentability” – that is, to ban software patents. Where will the ban — if implemented — leave local software developers’ ability to protect their intellectual property?

How will the removal of software from patentability, if confirmed, affect the ability of local IT firms to protect the intellectual property in their software?

Patent WatchTroll, a crass lawyer and loud proponent of software patents, is waiting for the Bilski decision. He wishes to patent software not because he develops any but because he is greedy and like many other lawyers he makes money when people patent their software or sue someone else who develops software.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, who is this system for? Do we want a patent system that defends lawyers’ income? Or is it better to assume that the patent system exists to encourage science and technology (as it existed before leeches arrives at the scene)?

The FSF, which represents developers rather than lawyers (the latter have all sorts of guilds), has sponsored a film which was watched over 100,000 times. It continues to receive a lot of attention, but whose attention exactly?

In the month since its release, the Free Software Foundation funded documentary film about software patents and the Bilski case, Patent Absurdity, has been viewed more than 100,000 times. But are the people we most want to influence in the debate seeing it?

The End Software Patents campaign is looking to identify the 200 people who are most influential to the software patent debate in the US, and are working with the well known venture capitalist and anti-software patent blogger Brad Feld to send a copy of the documentary film to them in the postal mail.

End Software Patents director, Ciaran O’Riordan said, “We’re looking for the key people in US patent politics, the software patent critics inside the big companies, the professors who support patents but might see why software doesn’t fit that system, and anyone else that might consider giving our position some support when the post-Bilski debate erupts.”

There are some uncounted views in places such as film festivals. Here is another example:

FDL Movie Night: Patent Absurdity – How Software Patents Broke the System

[...]

Patent Absurdity takes a look at software patents, and makes what may seem to some to be radical points: That patenting software hurts innovation and harms inventors and consumers

Mike Melanson writes about Brad Feld's plan to mail this video to influential people (post sponsored by Microsoft, ironically enough).

If you have been working in the startup industry, then you may already be well aware of what venture capitalist Brad Feld calls “a massive tax on and retardant of innovation” – software patent litigation.

In his blog post this morning, Feld points to the circular court battles of companies like Apple, Nokia and HTC and the “ridiculous nature of software patents” as reason enough for all members of the startup community to take an interest in this topic.

Forbes has this to say about In Re Bilski (software is hardly mentioned):

As the Supreme Court issues its last decisions before the end of the spring session, intellectual-property lawyers have been asking: Where’s Bilski?

This is the case that may deliver a knockout blow to business method patents, those patents that everybody from free-software zealots to conservative Republicans love to hate. Inventors Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw wanted to patent a novel method for hedging against weather-driven changes in energy prices, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office wouldn’t even give them a hearing. The Supreme Court is expected to uphold that brush-off, and the big question is whether it will do so in a way that eliminates forever dubious patents like the infamous government monopoly Amazon.com obtained on one-click purchases.

Daily Finance says:

Legal Briefing: When Can You Patent Math? Supreme Court Must Decide

[...]

One of the most eagerly watched cases pending before the Supreme Court is Bilski v. Kappos, which will shape the scope of patent law in profound ways. Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw created and sought to patent a way of using complex math to hedge against demand-driven commodity price risk — for example, helping a school system cope with heating oil prices spiking because an extra cold winter creates unusually high demand, or helping a fuel dealer handle the opposite situation. The Bilski/Warsaw idea is a “method of doing business by evening out risk among those in an ongoing economic transaction,” as SCOTUSblog put it.

Subscription is needed to access some other articles on this important subject [1, 2] that may define the legality of Free software in the United States and Europe. Lawyers’ sites have a special affinity for paywall (or “pay firewalls” that shut out opposition to their echo chamber).

The final decision is imminent. Let’s hope that Bilski’s patent is nullified along with software patents (although the latter may be open to doubt/debate, depending on one’s judgment).

How far should we let patents go? From the news:

Synthetic life patents ‘damaging’

A top UK scientist who helped sequence the human genome has said efforts to patent the first synthetic life form would give its creator a monopoly on a range of genetic engineering.

Professor John Sulston said it would inhibit important research.

US-based Dr Craig Venter led the artificial life form research, details of which were published last week.

Some people want patents on clothing (watch out, knitters). It’s an endless trap which requires economic analysis. Economists say that the harms of software patents outweigh the perceived benefits, but that’s not the story lawyers would tell. They hardly belong in this debate due to vested/conflict of interests where betterment of science gets excluded.

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