Bonum Certa Men Certa

Software Patents Hinged on Money and Political Influence

"That weekend Gates and Noorda met in the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge at San Francisco Airport. Gates barely took time to say hello before he reiterated his interest in a corporate marriage. "There was only one stipulation," says Noorda, "Gates told me, That DRI thing has to go."' Ballmer confirms this, but says the reason was that it was clear to Microsoft that a merger with Novell would never get government approval if it included the purchase of Microsoft's only MS-DOS competitor. But when Noorda raised the possibility that Washington might block a merger anyway, Gates replied, according to Noorda: "Don't worry, we know how to handle the Federal Government.""

Source



Bill Gates was born to a wealthy family of diplomats and lawyers. The fragment above is intended to draw your attention to this fact (or remind you of it). Lobbying has become an incredibly worrisome phenomenon. In the United States alone there is multi-billion-dollar lobbying industry which does a lot of damage to the stability of the system. See this recent video of Larry Lessig who discusses such severe issues which he calls "corruption" [1, 2, 3].

In the past, the lobbying industry worked in the shadows, but newer disclosure rules revealed its extent and impact. As a contextually-related plug, consider the following set of eye-opening quotes:



There are serious dangers in allowing affluent lobbyists and their funding sources to write laws and change rules 'on behalf' of everybody else. Even Europe has woken up to realise that this infectious disease has entered Brussels -- an issue that was raised by BusinessWeek just a couple of months ago. Based on a new article, here is where software patents come into play:

MEPs on Thursday launched the thorny debate on tightening rules covering the thousands of EU lobbyists in Brussels, with an initial discussion showing deputies in favour of defining the term "lobbyist" as broadly as possible but shying away from the 600-page rulebook that defines and confines lobbyists in the US.

[...]

For his part, Mr Stubb says he is not out to demonise lobbyists, whose activities have come to light recently during the ferocious lobbying on legislation that took place during the development of the chemicals, services and software patent laws.


Some time ago, in the midst of a conversation I was having, I saw the term lobbyist synonymised with "legalised bribery". The main issue is that prevalence makes this almost acceptable. It's a case of "everyone else is doing it, so I might as well join in." Here is an article from Friday:

Tech Group Expands State Lobby Efforts



High-Technology Trade Association Boosts State Lobbying Program With Funding, Personnel

[...]

The group represents about 2,500 companies, including Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and Dell Inc., in the software, telecommunications, computers, semiconductor and other sectors. It announced the plans Thursday.


The leader of this pack isn't of much interest here. It's more about the scale of this phenomenon, which probably proves to be more powerful than the Internet, i.e. the 'public voices'.

A few days ago, in Davos, Bill Gates attempted to rename "predatory capitalism" or "extreme capitalism" (as Richard Stallman calls it) "kinder capitalism". Having seen Microsoft's handling of a charity, this seems like an awful lot of spin. Matt Asay had more to say about this plea for love:

There are other reasons that open source fits Mr. Gates' call for a "kinder capitalism." The point is that the open-source revolution Mr. Gates has long fought is the single-best answer for building global (IT) economies, just as it's doing in Europe right now according to the European Union.

You should try giving away open source as part of your foundation, Mr. Gates. You could undo much of the wrongs you've done the world's IT economy.


As we mentioned the other day, Gates' charity is sometimes used to battle free open source software. Dumping techniques are being labeled "charity". But let us get back the main point.

As Larry Lessig states in the video cited above, he may have been chasing the wrong problem for many years. He had all the right answers. Just as it's accepted by non-monopolies (including older days Gates) that software patents do not make sense, Lessig explains that copyrights and global warming issues are trivialities. These are not being resolved because of greed and the likes of this characteristic.

The issue goes deeper beneath the surface and it needs to be addressed effectively by identifying those who legislated for the USPTO, for starters. As the articles below show, legislation on software patents around the world is still a political question that is overwhelmed and stomped by money. The same goes for the Novell deal and ISO, apparently. These are not purely-technical questions.

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