Summary: InternetNZ and other groups that actually represent New Zealand’s population speak out against software patents; Mozilla’s Robert O’Callahan offers words of wisdom
THE patent situation in New Zealand is an important matter because few countries other than the US and Japan actually accept software patents (although there may be loopholes). The “software patent debate rages on,” says this new report from IDG which quotes InternetNZ:
The question of software patents looks unlikely to go away soon, with significant lobbies forming on both sides and a wealth of comment in live forums, letters to the Minister by InternetNZ and the NZ Computer Society, in Computerworld’s own online comment space and on Twitter and Slashdot.
Official bodies and individual commentators are not easily letting go of an apparent reinterpretation of a Select Committee’s wishes regarding a clause excluding software from patent in the Patents Bill. In some quarters the argument is sliding over into one of openness in the legislative process and who truly represents the local ICT industry.
Committee member and Labour ICT spokesperson Clare Curran is uncomfortable with what she calls the “revisiting” of the clause. At last week’s OpenGovt2010 “unconference” she cited the incident as a good example of how the lawmaking process is sometimes less than open or transparent. She referred to “how legislation gets made and the discussions that go on behind closed doors” – discussions that should, she said, “happen in a more transparent environment”.
NZICT’s most prominent members are multinational ICT companies, like IBM and Microsoft – companies used to having their intellectual property stringently protected.
In its own letter to Power, InternetNZ has called for the “changes” in the Patents Bill on software to be referred back to the select committee, with an opportunity for further input by “those who originally made submissions”. Ironically, this would cut out NZICT, who did not make a submission. To get a representative point of view the committee may be forced to open submissions more generally.
The following text has just come from New Zealand’s Robert O’Callahan (Microsoft boosters quote someone as saying that he is “work[ing] for Mozilla full-time as an employee of Novell in New Zealand”). Although not a formal response from Mozilla, the following is worth quoting:
Mozilla produces the Firefox Web browser, used by more than three hundred million people around the world. Firefox is open source and is the result of a collaboration of a large group of paid developers and volunteers. In fact, Mozilla funds a team of paid developers in New Zealand working on core Firefox code; some key innovations in Firefox, such as HTML5 video, are the work of our New Zealand team. The work we do is some of the most highly skilled and high-impact software development to be found anywhere in the world. I write about software patents in my personal capacity as one of Mozilla’s senior software developers, and manager of our Auckland-based development team and also our worldwide layout engine team. I also formerly worked for three years at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center where I participated in the filing of several software patents based on my research.
The patent system was designed to promote invention and especially the disclosure of “trade secrets” so that others can build on them. Research casts doubt on whether it has succeeded at those goals (see an example), but even if it did, in software development — especially open-source software development — it is clear that no patent incentive is needed to encourage innovation and publication of our work.
Software development is uniquely able to have huge impact on the world because copies can be made available to users for free. If we had charged users for each copy of Firefox there is no doubt we would not be nearly as successful as we have been, either at changing the world or even at raising money — Mozilla has substantial revenues from “tie-ins” such as search-related advertising. The patent system threatens this business model, because most patent licensing arrangements require the licensee to pay a per-unit fee. This is not necessarily a problem for traditional manufacturing, where there is a per-unit manufacturing cost that must be recouped anyway, but it completely rules out a large class of software business models that have been very successful.
So basically, every coder is an inventor and all the inventions are published in the form of source code. This is not a statement from Mozilla, just an employee’s blog. █