Summary: A day before Software Freedom Day (SFD) we remember the harms software patents cause to everyone’s freedom and give some news about the subject
THOSE who care about their freedom should do something to abolish software patents this Software Freedom Day (tomorrow). SCO is over as a threat because its remaining assets are being sold, according to techrockies.com. We covered this last night.
This morning we found what we were going to describe as a “very good article from Adam Bolte” and only moments later Peter Brown (FSF) dented “Great article by Adam Bolte” (the similar wording is coincidental). The article is titled “The Threat to Software Freedom” and it is a detailed summary of key points, e.g.:
Why are software patents any more of a problem than patents in other fields? There is far more to be said about that that can be covered in this post. The End Software Patents wiki is essential reading—or at least skim the bits you’re interested in; there are bound to be sections you’ll find of interest, and contributions are most welcome. There’s also an excellent downloadable video documentary called Patent Absurdity on the subject.
Software patents are a bad idea in general, but they are especially bad for free software. While all software might have an equal chance of infringing on a patent unintentionally, it can be a lot harder to detect in a proprietary application. That is to say, detecting certain patent infringements easily would require source code access.
Even if you’re found out later to infringe on a patent, the owner may forgo taking immediate action, instead waiting until the infringement is as widespread as possible so as to maximize potential court awards. The GIF format, for example, was in widespread use before patents associated with it became an issue, regardless of whether the delay in litigation was deliberate or not.
The other kind of patent problem we have is the MPEG LA kind. It’s the kind that occurs when companies try to create standards based on patents they own, so that they can reap the benefits of licensing software that interoperates with those formats for a hefty price. We’ve seen this problem in the past with MP3, but the current hot topic is H.264.
H.264 is certainly (and unfortunately) more commonplace today than WebM due to a large head start. If H.264 were to win the HTML5 video-format war, it’d mean that it would be impossible for free software browsers like Firefox, Chromium, and Konqueror (which shouldn’t allow for freedoms to be restricted by patents) to have native video support. Given the popularity of some of these browsers, it appears that WebM or Ogg Theora are the only formats that could possibly win in the long run, but still Apple and Microsoft will try to drag the H.264-only versus WebM/Ogg Theora-only war on indefinitely. By being able to pay for patent licenses on behalf of their user base, they have unfair leverage over free software competition that they intend to milk it for all its worth. Once again, web developers lose.
The president of the FFII tweets:
Knowledge4Litigation: litigation is so crucial for the future of Europe: http://ur1.ca/1n3ec
Zuck: “an attempt to prevent lock-in by Microsoft Office in [MA]…, but one of the first communities to object was the disabled community”
OOXML is an example of patented “standards” (pseudo-standards that are actually proprietary).
This week’s best example of the harms of software patents happens to have come from Google. Cecilia Kang from the Washington Post plays along with the anti-Google lobby and AstroTurf by connecting Google being harassed by software patents (more in [1, 2]) to antitrust actions led by Microsoft and its allies. There is hardly any connection between one and the other.
The Boston-based firm also filed a separate suit against Google saying the company infringed on Skyhook’s patents for the software, a technology that allows advertisers to serve up ads based on a user’s precise location.
That’s a rubbish patent case. Nobody ought to defend Skyhook’s action given the absurdity of these software patents. Speaking of which, IBM’s latest rubbish patent gets rubbished in TechDirt right now:
theodp writes “Thirty-three years ago, the Choose Your Own Adventure series of kids books was introduced. But that didn’t stop the USPTO from granting IBM U.S. Patent No. 7,784,069 for Selecting Divergent Storylines Using Branching Techniques, fancy lawyer-speak for choose-your-own-adventure movies. Nice to see the USPTO recognize purported patent reformer Big Blue for its ‘invention’ – never mind that there’s already an app for that!”
As we’ve argued before, IBM should get rid of software patents, but it is too dependent on the patent office which it uses to monopolise some areas. This has gone on for many decades. Google too should help end software patents, but it doesn’t. █