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Legitimisers of Software Patents

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Summary: News about initiatives and companies that under the guise or true intention of promoting Free software actually promote proprietary software and software patents (with Microsoft "patent tax")

EVERY NOW AND THEN we politely name those players in the industry whose actions contribute to software patent entanglements and thus barriers to software freedom. The intention is not to provoke but rather to inform. So today we'll start by naming Peer-To-Patent again. It's hard to criticise the project, which takes a 'pragmatic' approach and has some inter-personal roots in Linux-friendly companies; we -- as well as others whose approach is similar -- have been critics of Peer-To-Patent because it is promoting "good" software patents, albeit passively. Groklaw seems to like Peer-To-Patent and their staff is always sending us E-mail, however we -- along with others like FFII and TechDirt -- are rather sceptical because valuable time of volunteers is being spent gardening the work of people who applied for patent monopolies on software. TechDirt says that Peer-To-Patent may be coming back; it's better than nothing at all, but there may be better ways (also better than OIN) to eliminate the problem. TechDirt starts by stating:



We've been a bit critical of the Peer-to-Patent program that was tested in the US a couple years ago. The idea -- which I appreciate -- was that certain patent applications would be opened up in a "crowdsourcing"-style, for the wider community to provide evidence of prior art. My problem with it wasn't the concept of involving others, but the idea that prior review during the application process would really be all that meaningful or useful in the long run. That's because it's often tough to get the necessary people to care about a bad patent or bad patent application until it's being used against them. So the incentives to keep swatting down bad patents just isn't that exciting. Second, the worst of the bad patents are ones that are asserted later, for something that seems completely different or unexpected, but which the patent holder claims violates their patent. It's tough to predict that ahead of time. Finally, the program only focused on prior art, not obviousness, which is an even bigger issue.

Yes, you could argue that such a peer review system wouldn't hurt, but it often felt like the program's backers thought it would solve most of the problems of the patent system, where I can only see it maybe helping out at the margins. That's why we weren't surprised at all to find out that the program had quitely shut down last year and almost no one had noticed.


Another player which is hard for us to criticise is Tuxera, which actually did bring some invaluable software to Linux (NTFS) before it signed a deal with Microsoft and started selling software patent licences rather than just software. Well, Tuxera's NTFS is coming to Macs now. It's not entirely clear what role Microsoft plays in it (if any) now that these companies are together in a patent bed.

There is another company called Likewise which helps sell Microsoft UNIX/Linux patent licences (Active Directory and the likes of it). Likewise uses the latest release of Ubuntu to sell its patent ploy again [1, 2], taking advantage of users who are not already familiar with Samba. "Likewise Integrates Alien Systems with Microsoft Active Directory" says this resultant article. For those who do not know, Likewise has roots in Microsoft and so does Black Duck, whose CEO will become part of an "open source" think tank (even though Black Duck is a proprietary software company). Black Duck is located next to Novell's headquarters and not far from Microsoft's other attempts to harm GNU/Linux from the inside (Cambridge labs), by means of fusion with software patents. To quote a new article:

Black Duck CEO Yeaton joins China open-source think tank



Waltham-based Black Duck Software announced last week that it had acquired open-source online resource Ohloh.net, an online directory of open-source-related software and people.


Ohloh is not open source, either. Like Black Duck, it only takes advantage of open source, just in the data sense. The products themselves are proprietary, but the data they get applied to is free/open source software source code.

“Apple is now devising software patents as path to an exclusive censorship mechanism.”Another company which loves to pretend that it is an "open source" player is Apple, even though software patents are a high priority at Apple and the latest outrageous patent raises a brow and makes many headlines (e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4]). To quote one article: "Apple has just been awarded a patent for what people are already calling 'anti-sexting' software."

It's still about restrictions at Apple because Apple knows best and it wishes to impose its beliefs/preferences on customers. Jobs has already spoken about “freedom from porn” and that's a classic example of where freedom comes to mean the exact opposite. Orwell once warned: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

Apple is now devising software patents as path to an exclusive censorship mechanism. Does society need restraint to be imposed by gadgets? Need it be a monopoly, too?

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