05.28.21

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Old Talk by Dr. Richard Stallman About How Patents Work

Posted in Intellectual Monopoly, Patents at 5:42 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Video download link


Summary: Richard Stallman explains how patents work

Transcript:

[00:00]

RMS: These patents last for 20 years, starting from when someone applied for the patent. You see, the patent office issues patents in response to an application. Someone pays an expensive application fee and even more money to the lawyers who draw up the patent so that it will give him a lot of power, and if the lawyers have done this right the patent office sometime

[00:30]

later issues the patent, and the patent is an absolute monopoly on using a certain technical idea.

So the myth that people have is the idea that what is being patented is an entire product. They think that if someone designs a product he will go and quote patent the product unquote. That’s already a mistake.

[01:00]

And they will imagine that if his product was new that nobody else could possibly have patented it before, so he’s the only one who can patent it. And he alone will have a patent on this product. This is completely a myth, because patents don’t cover an entire product. Each patent is a monopoly on using a certain method, a technical method, and that method is probably

[01:30]

just a tiny part in a real product today in a field like software. So today, the situation we really face is that in the one software product there are thousands of different ideas and each of them might be patented by somebody else. So this myth of one patent per product gives people completely the wrong idea

[02:00]

of the system they are trying to think about. And this myth is used very effectively by the lobbyists in favor of software patents.

Another myth that they appeal to is the myth that software patents quote protect unquote the quote small inventor unquote. The lobbyists in favor of software patents are working for

[02:30]

megacorporations. So, when they say that this is good for small companies one must suspect that they are trying to pull the wool over our legislators’ eyes. In fact, the situation is that software patents are mainly good for the megacorporations. You see the megacorporations that are active in the software field get thousands of patents each

[03:00]

and they cross-license with each other, which means that they form a kind of exclusive club and they avoid the bulk of the problems of the system. Meanwhile, with all their patents they can attack anyone else when they want to and as a result, software patents give the megacorporations a certain amount of dominion over all software activities.

[03:30]

Now, another myth that these megacorporation lobbyists frequently cite is the idea that it’s just too hard to deal with anything if the laws are different between different countries. That’s like saying, well, if in your country I don’t need a bodyguard that’s too complex.

[04:00]

Please make me need a bodyguard in your country the same way I need it in that country and in that country. That way I can take the same bodyguard everywhere. There’s no sense in this idea. They can perfectly well deal with being free to write and distribute and use whatever programs they like. It wouldn’t cause them any trouble at all.

And another myth that they like to cite

[04:30]

is the idea that if the US has software patents, that proves it must be the right thing to do.

[audience laughs]

You’ll be amazed at how much mileage they get out of something so utterly absurd. Or they say, the US has software patents, if our country doesn’t offer software patents to our companies

[05:00]

then US companies will have an advantage. It’s actually just the opposite. Any country that doesn’t allow software patents is giving all the software developers and users in that country an advantage, which is that they don’t have to be worried about being sued because of how they wrote the programs they wrote or how someone else wrote the programs they use. They’re safe.

[05:30]

They have protection from patents. You see, every country has its own patent system. They’re all separate. So each country’s patent office issues patents that restrict what people are allowed to do in that country only. So US patents only restrict US companies and individuals and things that are done in the US.

[06:00]

And Canadian patents restrict things that are done in Canada, only. But everyone in the world can get a US patent. They don’t have to be Americans to get US patents. Canadians can get US patents. So Canadian companies can get US software patents and then attack us poor American software developers at home. We’re not safe anywhere.

[06:30]

[audience laughs]

But if Canada rejects software patents but then Canadians at least will be safe at home. No one in the world whether Canadian or American or anything else will be able to get Canadian software patents and sue poor Canadians at home. So in fact, the country that doesn’t allow software patents is giving its own citizens an advantage.

[07:00]

They could attack Americans but Americans couldn’t fight back.

[audience laughs loudly]

Now, most of the time when people describe the workings of the patent system they are people who have a vested interest in the system. Either they’re patent lawyers or they’re part of the patent bureaucracy or they

[07:30]

work in the patent department of a megacorporation. So they have a vested interest in making patents sound like a good system. And they do this in a particular way. The magazine “The Economist” once compared the patent system to a time-consuming lottery, because the effects of any given patent vary tremendously. I’m sure you know what the advertisements

[08:00]

for a lottery look like. They dwell luxuriously on the unlikely possibility that you win. And they never mention the overwhelmingly likely possibility that you lose. And in this way they contrive to give a misleading picture without factually lying. The publicity for the patent system uses the same

[08:30]

principle. The proponents of the system dwell lovingly on what it’s like to apply for a patent and get one, and they ask you to imagine that you’re walking down the street with a patent in your pocket and you can pull it out and point it at people and say, “give me your money”.

[audience chuckles]

So I’m going to try to counterbalance their bias by describing

[09:00]

what the patent system looks like from the other end of the patent barrel, what it feels like to be walking down the street knowing that at any time somebody could pull out a patent and point it at you and say give me all [your money].

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