EditorsAbout the SiteComes vs. MicrosoftUsing This Web SiteSite ArchivesCredibility IndexOOXMLOpenDocumentPatentsNovellNews DigestSite NewsRSS

06.10.10

New Doctoral Thesis Explores the Effects of Software Patent Policy on the Motivation and Innovation of Free/Libre and Open Source Developers

Posted in Law, Patents at 5:46 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Effects of Software Patent Policy on the Motivation and Innovation of Free/Libre and Open Source Developers

Summary: The thesis of Marcus Manfred Dapp offers an explanation of why software patents are bad for Europe (and for any other continent/country for that matter)

THE following thesis [PDF] is being passed around the FFII at the moment. It was written in English and it covers a topic very relevant to this Web site. The conclusion is as follows:

This study offers a first empirical investigation into the effects of motivation and SWP presence on individual innovation behavior of FOSS developers. A new metric is proposed to measure individual innovation behavior based on code contribution types: in this scale, algorithm-based code contributions are rated more innovative than reuse-based contributions. In a separate analysis, the effect of motivation and SWP presence on reverse-engineering as a special contribution type is analyzed as well. Another new metric is proposed to measure SWP presence: instead of only considering the legal situation of a jurisdiction, the patent pressure within a software domain is also included. A survey was conducted to provide a new data-set for the empirical analysis.
Concerning the effects of motivation on innovation behavior, strong support can be reported for the following result: Above-average intrinsic motivation (joy and self-expression in code-writing) increases the odds for more innovative, algorithm-based code contributions, while above-average extrinsic (monetary and skills-related) motivation seems to decrease the odds. In connection with reuse-based contributions, the opposite relationship finds moderate support: Above-average extrinsic motivation increases the odds for reuse-based contributions, while above-average intrinsic motivation decreases the odds. The third result relates to reverse-engineering: None of the five motivational factors included in the analysis seem to explain why FOSS developers engage in reverse-engineering activities.
These results emphasize the role of motivation within the FOSS system. Particularly intrinsic motivation appears to not only keep this system alive and kicking, but more of it also seems to lead to more innovative contributions. Simply put: ‘Programming challenging new stuff is fun’. On the other side, it appears that reuse-based contributions with a lower innovation level – often needed for ‘the last mile’ before a program is end-user-ready – can be supported by offering extrinsic incentives. What still remains opaque from a theoretical point of view is the question why developers engage in reverse engineering. A broader analysis of motivational factors is needed here.
Concerning the effects of SWP presence on innovation behavior, the empirical results are less conclusive. Neither opponents nor proponents of SWP will find support for their positions that the presence of SWP decrease or increase respectively the odds for innovative, algorithm based contributions by FOSS developers. None of the three metrics used to capture SWP presence lends sufficient support to either side – be it positive or negative. Support, however, is found for a hypothesis related to reverse-engineering: stronger SWP presence attracts reverse-engineering based contributions by FOSS developers.
These results confirm several challenges for research as well as for policy-makers. Both continue to lack a broad, sound empirical foundation to discuss the effects of software patents on FOSS innovation.
For researchers, the challenges raised in this study are (a) to develop an easy-to use yet nontrivial metric to measure the presence of software patents empirically; (b) to quantify their effect on the FOSS system, helping policy-makers make better-informed decision. For future research, it would be useful to verify some of the links argued for in this study using other data sources. CVS logs have been used in the past for code contribution analysis. Maybe the innovation metric proposed here could be helpful in that regard.
For policy-makers in innovation and intellectual property policy fields the challenges are (a) to decide whether FOSS deserves a special case when debating software patents because of its unique way of producing software for the common good; (b) to continue treading carefully in the field of software patents before jumping to legislation. The FOSS market has reached a size where harm cannot be considered collateral damage as it may have in the past. Although the results have not shown systematic harm to the FOSS communities, there is still no empirical support that the traditional arguments in favor of patents do hold for the FOSS system – or software in general as some continue to argue.
Some limitations of the study deserve mentioning. First, taking the individual developer as unit of analysis ignores explanatory factors on project level that can also influence innovation behavior, such as project size and organizational structure. The larger a project is, the more elaborate its organization structure becomes, the more contributors tend to specialize in their contributions – up to a point where dedicated roles may emerge. Such a division of labor biases the measurement of individual innovation behavior. Second, it is impossible to investigate whether software patents caused projects to stop by only surveying ‘alive’ projects from SF as it has been done in this study. To obtain a complete picture, it is necessary to run a dedicated study on failed projects – even if the response rate will be very low.

No extraordinary claims are made, but it is clear that a correlation does seem to exist. If a legislator wishes to encourage software freedom and local production, then software patents would only act as a deterrent. They are detrimental.

Share this post: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Reddit
  • co.mments
  • DZone
  • email
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • NewsVine
  • Print
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Facebook

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one

8 Comments

  1. Jose_X said,

    June 10, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Gravatar

    Alright, software patents have not been enforced heavily against open source developers (part of the reason is that software patents are very indecent and more so when attacking open source developers, and also patent owners have not yet gotten enough courage to attack directly too much because of shaky legal ground and fear of backlash); however, it’s important for competition’s sake (and consumers’ sake) that commercial entities supporting FOSS also not be vulnerable to patents assuming that noncommercial FOSS got an exception.

    Does it make sense to protect the large commercial companies against competition from smaller commercial groups? When essentially all products violate many patents (as is the case for software), the big folks win hands down. I thought the patent system was to subsidize (if inefficiently) the small folk against the larger in a time where there were fewer education, collaboration, inventions, etc, and everything moved much slower (heck, there was no email, “overnight” snail mail, or even one-month snail mail in some cases)?

    Software patents abridge (US) First Amendment rights. Monopolies are stifling. The US law is extremely broken (eg, hurts progress much more than other saner implementations of patents would). Creating artificial scarcity (the concept of it) is likely a very bad deal for society especially when people can work side by side in competing solutions without taking away from each other (and actually feeding each other) except in minor indirect ways that are actually seen as a positive of competition (competition for talent and for consumers). ..However, it’s good to get more research support along the lines of measuring software patents’ potentially very very stifling effects.

    [See also http://www.unionsquareventures.com/2010/02/software-patents-are-the-problem-not-the-answer.php ]

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I thought the patent system was to subsidize (if inefficiently) the small folk…

    Someone once rebutted/corrected me by arguing that the patent office was designed to encourage publication of ideas in exchange for a temporary monopoly (so that ideas don’t die with their inventor who uses trade secrets).

    Jose_X Reply:

    If something brings in more money as a trade secret, then it will stay a trade secret.

    On the other hand, if the trade secret had marginal value, then the patent route is a blessing.

    But worse, patent authors want broad patents to maximize the gains from patents, and this leaves lots of room to keep all your implementation details a trade secret (assuming you even have implementation details since others might be doing a much better job than you in this area) AND still get the broad patent monopolies!

    Supporters of the patent system want legislators and the public to believe they have amazing trade secrets.. and that these will be divulged with patents.

    Hogwash.

    In any case, for software, the general functionality of something can be discovered through various degrees of achievable reverse engineering as a worse case, so society does not need to sell its heart, soul, and wallet granting patents.

    What is difficult to do is to master the totality of precise details necessary to interoperate acceptably with a large product. Software has many “moving parts” each of which generally requires a high degree of precision that is tough to achieve without an honest effort to achieve clarity and transparency by parties developing at opposite sides of interface points. Patents absolutely do not get this information from inventors. And those wanting to keep the trade secrets purposefully go out of their way to obfuscate and keep a moving target.

    On so many levels software patenting fails that it really is remarkable the staying power of these legal WMD.

    I hope Bilski brings some long-term sanity. Otherwise, lots of wasted effort and money will keep being poured into the WMD race.

  2. satipera said,

    June 11, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Gravatar

    I would encourage people to read this, it does contain some interesting points such as how the patent holders are not living up to their making information public side of the deal because of the way patents are described. This also makes me wonder why patent holders are allowed to enforce their patent rights then use NDA’s which completely go against the spirit of public disclosure required by patents.

    The author also goes into some detail about what should qualify as innovation in order to measure it. There is very little about the quality of patents and how and why industry players are enforcing and not enforcing their patents to achieve market dominance.

    The scope of the dissertation is actually very narrow. SW patents are just one of the motivations looked at in relation to FLOSS developers. The real damage being done by software patents to software development at the industry rather than individual level and the way it causes the distorted market to operate are outside its scope and the cause of disappointment.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Let’s remember that software patents are bad for small companies regardless of whether they produce Free software or not.

  3. Jose_X said,

    June 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Gravatar

    PJ wrote up a great piece here: http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20100522202326865#comments (warning: it is a bit long).

    What I got from this story is that, though it might take a while for bad laws to be repealed, the odds of it happening grow over time.

    I can look forward to being on the right side, even if the courts and legislators may take time to get the idea.

  4. Jose_X said,

    June 11, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Gravatar

    From the overview of the dissertation, it seems a result of the study was the confirmation that when the risks to create go up (when you can have your hard work made illegal), you are more likely to want to spend less mental energy while trying to achieve something more certain, which is the case when we reverse engineer. In reverse engineering, we are also sort of getting back at the unfair system.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Not much reverse engineering would be needed if standards were adhered to.

What Else is New


  1. Links 4/7/2015: Mostly (Geo)Political Catchup

    Links for the day



  2. Links 3/7/2015: KDE Applications 15.04.3, Ubuntu-Flavored Compute Stick

    Links for the day



  3. Patent Lawyers and Their Firms, Still Desperate to Protect the Status Quo, Manipulate the Media

    Patent lawyers are besieged by gradual tightening of patent scope and recklessly fight back (e.g. by saturating the media) to secure their revenue sources, derived from (and at the expense of) actual scientists and true market producers



  4. Amid Controversy, Political Scrutiny and Increased Media Pressure Željko Topić and Benoît Battistelli Allegedly Cancel Today's Trip to Zagreb (Croatia) Where Topić Faces Many Criminal Charges

    The Croatian press comments on the recent declaration from the Council of Europe and Topić's not-so-sterling status in his home country, where he is wanted for alleged crimes



  5. Microsoft Gradually Embraces, Extends, Extinguishes Linux Foundation as a Foundation of GNU/Linux

    By liaising with (or hijacking) existing members of the Linux Foundation, as well as by paying the Linux Foundation, Microsoft turns the Linux Foundation into somewhat of a Windows advocacy group



  6. Microsoft India Still Lobbies and Lies About Free Software in Order to Knock Down Policy That Favours Free Software

    Microsoft continues to bully Indian politicians who merely 'dare' to prefer software that India can modify, maintain, extend, audit, etc.



  7. Patent Lawyers and Corporate Media Nervous About New Patents Barrier/Reality (Less Patents on Software and Business Methods)

    The rich and the powerful, as well as their lawyers (whose job is to protect their money and power by means of government-enforced monopoly), carry on whining after the Alice case, in which many abstract patents were essentially ruled -- by extension -- invalid



  8. Translation of Pierre-Yves Le Borgn' Speech Against EPO Management and New Parliamentarian Interventions

    More political fire targeting the EPO's management, adding up to over 100 parliamentarians by now



  9. Links 2/7/2015: KDE Plasma 5.3.2, antiX 15

    Links for the day



  10. Links 1/7/2015: OpenDaylight Lithium, OpenMandriva Lx 2014.2

    Links for the day



  11. Munich Press, Münchner Merkur, Slams the Munich-based EPO

    Pressure on Benoît Battistelli to leave (or be fired) grows as the cronies whom he filled his office with have become a huge public embarrassment to the decades-old European Patent Office



  12. The Shameless Campaign to Paint/Portray Free Software as Inherently Insecure, Using Brands, Logos, and Excessive, Selective Press Coverage

    Some more FUD from firms such as Sonatype, which hope to make money by making people scared of Free/libre software



  13. National Insecurity and Blackmail, Courtesy of Microsoft

    British members of parliament (MPs) outsourced their communication to the number one PRISM company and they are paying the price for it; The US Navy's systems continue to be unbelievably insecure (Windows XP), despite access to the world's biggest nuclear arsenal



  14. Microsoft Keeps Shrinking

    As the era of shrink-wrapped software comes to an end so does Microsoft, whose effort to become a 'cloud' company with online operations has been miserable at best



  15. They 'R' Coming: More Microsoft Money for the Linux Foundation

    The problem with having Microsoft in a Linux Foundation initiative, the R Consortium



  16. Speculations About the EPO's Possible Role in DDOS Attacks

    Readers' views on who might be behind the attacks on this site amid confirmation that it's on the 'targets' list of the EPO



  17. Links 30/6/2015: Linux Mint 17.2, OpenMandriva

    Links for the day



  18. Techrights Confirmed as a Target of EPO Surveillance, With Help From Control Risks Group (CRG)

    Unveiling the cloak of secrecy from long-term surveillance by the European Patent Office (EPO) and a London-based mercenary it hired, bypassing the law



  19. Google's Fight to Keep APIs Free is Lost, Let's Hope Google Continues Fighting

    SCOTUS refuses to rule that APIs cannot be considered copyright-'protected', despite common sense and despite Java (which the case is about) being Free/libre software



  20. Patent Trolls in the Post-Alice World

    A round-up of news about patent trolls in the United States, some of whom are are doing well and some of them not as well



  21. DDOS Attacks Against Techrights

    Information about some of the most recent DDOS attacks against this Web site and the steps to be taken next



  22. The Patent System Not What it Used to be, Large Corporations and Patent Lawyers the Principal Beneficiaries

    A look at some recent patent stories and what can be deduced from them, based on statistics and trends



  23. After Intervention by the Council of Europe Comes a Detailed Summary of the Situation in the European Patent Office (EPO)





  24. IRC Proceedings: May 31st - June 27th, 2015

    Many IRC logs



  25. Links 28/6/2015: Manjaro Linux Cinnamon 0.8.13, VectorLinux 7.1

    Links for the day



  26. Williamson v. Citrix Online (at CAFC) Reinforces Alice v. CLS Bank (at SCOTUS) in Crushing Software Patents

    More patent news from the United States, again serving to indicate that software patents over there are getting weak (harder to defend in court or acquire from the patent office)



  27. Proskauer Rose LLP is Cherry-Picking Cases to Make Software Patents Seem Eligible Despite Alice v. CLS Bank

    Naming and shaming those who are trying to reshape the consensus despite a rather consistent pattern of software patents being rejected



  28. IAM Biased: How IAM 'Magazine' Glorifies Patent Stockpiling

    A look at the bias of one of the most overzealous sites for and by patent lawyers



  29. PATENT Act No Longer in the News... and That's Just Fine

    Putting the PATENT Act aside for the time being, for it has little or no impact on the really problematic patents



  30. The Latest Lies From Microsoft's PR Apparatus/Public Face, Mr. Nadella

    Having spread the outrageous lie that “Microsoft loves Linux” (whilst obviously attacking it in many ways), Microsoft's CEO (essentially Bill Gates' right-hand man) says Microsoft is “one of the biggest contributors to Linux kernel” (because of proprietary software it tries to contaminate it with while violating the terms of the GPL)


CoPilotCo

RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

CoPilotCo

Recent Posts