06.23.11

The Linux Foundation Needs a Rethink About Software Patents Stance (Currently Represents Multinationals, Not GNU/Linux Users/Developers)

Posted in Finance, GNU/Linux, IBM, Kernel, Microsoft, Patents at 11:00 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Jim Zemlin

Summary: The stance of the Linux Foundation resembles that of the OIN and Peer-to-Patent, which makes it a peril to real progress in the fight against software patents

OIN and LF (Linux Foundation) are tightly related entities whose position on patents we wrote about a few years ago. Not much has changed since then, except that we have a lot more evidence to validate and solidify this relationship this year (the older post is from 2008).

Those who have followed this site for a while would probably know that we are sceptical of the OIN because rather than abolish software patents it is validating a strategy of getting more software patents to ‘cancel out’ those of enemies of GNU and Linux (more of the latter). Peer-to-Patent takes a similar approach in spirit. We have just found out that Peer-to-Patent liaised with patent lawyers. Are they wasting students’ time and legitimising patents? Read the following from a UK-based patent lawyers’ blog:

Last week’s Peer-to-Patent (P2P) seminar, organised by the IPKat and kindly hosted in Olswang LLP’s cosy rooftop nest in Holborn, is gone but not forgotten. For one thing, this blog is privileged to have some notes from one of those present, Dr Roger J Burt (a European and Chartered Patent Attorney with huge experience of software-related patents).

[...]

There is a particular hope that university students, particularly computer science students for the present pilot, may take part and benefit from learning about the patent system and how it works”.

What a silly idea. If anything, British students need to be taught to reject the patent system and antagonise companies that lobby for software patents. These companies are enemies of their prospective occupation. They are monopolising the field and reducing the number of available jobs in computer science. We were even more saddened to see Jim Zemlin closing his latest interview with the following brow-raising statement:

Zemlin: I think we were speaking around patent reform. I think everyone in the tech industry related specifically to software would like to see a higher bar in terms of quality for patents issued around software because the lack of quality leads to a lot of needless litigation.

The problem is not “quality for patents issued around software”, the problem is “patents issued around software,” right? The head of the FFII interprets this as “Zemlin of LinuxFoundation a supporter of swpats [software patents]” and given the OIN’s approach, it is not exactly shocking. Both the OIN and the Linux Foundation are a bit like front groups for large supporters of Linux, especially the big companies that engage in kernel development for their own benefit. If the LF is a front to software patents proponents like IBM and like Intel, then we need to reassess our take on the LF’s position regarding patents, not just the OIN’s position (which we never truly supported, with exceptions). IBM’s Rob Weir tweets about fake patent 'reform' which goes under the nose of the IBM veteran-led USPTO (Kappos):

Fascinating congressional patent reform bill debate on CSPAN.. Debating first-to-invent versus first-to-file

That’s not the reform we should focus on. The real reform people want and need would stop monopolies like IBM from getting ‘ownership’ of algorithms. Let us remember that IBM and Intel — not just Microsoft — are behind the push for software patents in NZ — an important subject at this moment because US-based Web sites try to impose their power upon the kiwis, e.g. by claiming “widespread criticism of proposed exclusion and examination guidelines”. This is an utter falsehood. The only criticism comes from US-based giants, their few partners in NZ, and patent lawyers. The population of NZ rightly retests the idea of software patents in this country. To quote the part that is true:

The future of software patents in New Zealand remains in doubt following an almost unanimous rejection of a proposal to exclude computer-implemented inventions from patentability in a recent public consultation.

Let us hope it stays this way. Patent cartels would just love to validate their monopolies in NZ, which would in turn put NZ-based programmers in a position of needing permission from the US to just write simple computer software, however original.

Software patents never made sense, but they made a lot of money for those who produce the least. To insist on the burial of existing software patents (in the US) is not to be armed revolutionists or rebels; it’s just the only rational, progressive thing to do. Developers like yours truly are being assaulted with sanctions so that monopolists can improve their profit margins.

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7 Comments

  1. NotZed said,

    June 23, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Gravatar

    “Both the OIN and the Linux Foundation are a bit like front groups for large supporters of Linux, especially the big companies that engage in kernel development for their own benefit.”

    I’m confused. They’re not ‘a bit like front groups’. They are openly and obviously front groups for big business. That is what they were always for and the only reason they exist.

    ‘foundations’ are just another name for lobbyists, they are created to perform marketing in their members interest. And given that the linux business is such a BIG business, that’s whose interest any ‘linux’ foundation would lobby for.

    twitter Reply:

    You could say the same about the Free Software Foundation but it would not be correct. Foundations should be independent and pursue the goals and interests of their members and the FSF does a good job at that.

    A defense of software patents would be an insult to Linux Foundation members that would harm the organization’s credibility. The Linux Foundation is supposed to promote Linux and standardization. Software patents are a direct threat to both and the Linux Foundation should reject them. There is a broad consensus opinion among developers that software patents should not exist. Even Bill Gates knew it was a bad idea. Roy is right to call the Linux Foundation on this and to hope for a credible response.

    The “first to file” rule should be tracked because it would make the already insane USPTO even worse. “First to file” legitimizes idea patents by allowing people to file without first making a working device, aka an invention. This promotes lawyers at the expense of actual inventors in a system that has already left the tracks in that direction. First to file moves the US closer to official government monopolies on business methods that some big business favors. If you want to know what that does for innovation, study the history of the USSR.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I don’t think my post was rude, was it?

    twitter Reply:

    I don’t think so. You have tied things together in a way that is rational and the concerns are legitimate. PJ probably wishes that you had made your arguments about Novell more forcefully.

    The Linux Foundation has taken a defeatist and ineffective stand on software patents in the past.

    Q. I think software patents are evil. Shouldn’t we focus on eliminating them instead of trying to help the USPTO improve their approval process?
    A. No, that’s beyond the scope of this project, which is about how to handle problems presented with the status quo given that software patents aren’t going away anytime soon. The USPTO must implement whatever the US legislature dictates — they have been assigned the daunting task of reviewing software patent applications and issuing patents when legal requirements have been met. Faced with problems finding prior art, they contacted IBM and reached out to OSDL and others in order to get help in doing their job better. Whether or not you’re a fan of software patents, everyone can agree that the state of issued software patents is not good. By developing ways to help the USPTO find prior art, and making Open Source Software more available as prior art, fewer software patents will issue. The project’s basic goal is improving accessibility to the very creative, innovative code developed by the open source community as a source of prior art. Everyone wins, proprietary and open source developers and businesses alike, because fewer bad patents are issued.

    There are so many software patents out there that even a complete stop of new ones would make little practical difference. All of them are patents on ideas, methods and math and should be eliminated, as members of the Linux Foundation have advocated.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I am not sure to what extent Andy Updegrove speaks for the Linux Foundation (it’s his blog post) and I am not sure it is one of his clients anymore (Microsoft too became his client, whereupon for all I can say he stopped criticising the company).

    Microsoft Florian actually told me that he liked this post as one of the items I can agree with him on is that the Linux Foundation harbours some software patents proponents (then again, they also help fund the FSF).

    twitter Reply:

    My point was not that Andy speaks for the Foundation, it was that the Foundation should speak for Andy. Approval of software patents, as can be seen in the frequently asked questions, is a minority opinion and it is strange that a few proponents would be able to set policy.

    Florian would know about patent proponents, especially when they ape his own talking points. I’m sure the people paying him would be happy if all of the organizations associated with the Linux foundation would vanish. I’d rather those organizations made up their mind to get rid of software patents instead.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    He uses this for another angle — to insinuate that FOSS has patents (thus the name FOSSpatents IMHO) and that it should therefore be subjected to extortion using software patents. He legitimises unjust taxation, even by patent trolls.

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