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Patents Software

End Software Patents Project Comes Out Swinging 205

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the amicus-populorum dept.
Linux.com is reporting that the End Software Patents project is launching several new initiatives to help drive support for their cause. Among the new methods are a web site, a report on the state of patents in the US, and a scholarship contest promising to award $10,000 "for the best paper on the effects of the patentability of software and business methods under US law." "The project is being launched with initial funding of a quarter million dollars, supplied primarily by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Under the directorship of Ben Klemens, a long-time advocate of software patent abolition best-known for the book Math You Can't Use: Patents, Copyright, and Software, the project is being supported by the FSF, the Public Patent Foundation, and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC). One of ESP's goals is to enlist support from academics, software developers, legal experts, and business executives. Its initial supporters show that the project is already well on its way to building such a coalition."
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End Software Patents Project Comes Out Swinging

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  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @09:42PM (#22613196) Journal
    Since software is just "pushing buttons" to make new code, there is nothing new...

    How is that different, really, from patenting "real" items. After all it is just "chiseling wood" or "forging metal" into a new shape...

  • FSF and RMS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @09:45PM (#22613212)
    Whatever you think about RMS and FSF you have to agree that getting rid of software patents would benefit everyone, globally in the software industry. From the commercial hardware vendors, all the way down to the hobbyist BSD developer.

    I can't wait for it to happen in the states as I predict it will also trigger the fall in the few countries that also allow software patents.

    From a Linux desktop standpoint alone it would finally allow for built in support of DVD, MP3s, etc. Some projects such as GIMP won't have to work around patents to get the features they want built in. Open source driver support might increase..

    Even from a closed source perspective Microsoft wouldn't have to worry about getting sued and having to purchase massive amounts of patents to defend itself. They could focus of providing a better user experience without restrictions that patents encumber you with.

    Everyone wins... apart from the lawyers..
  • Lobby groups (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Snatch422 (896695) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @09:50PM (#22613232)
    The software patent lobby is huge even if they are underreported on. Just think about Amazon and how they defend obvious software patents. There are so many patent holders out there right now that have so much to worry about that despite this new organized effort to reform I fear it will not totally solve the problem. There would be "grandfather" software patent clauses or something I would bet...
  • by webmaster404 (1148909) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @09:52PM (#22613246)
    No, the basic arguments aren't just that but they are so general its hard not to avoid them. Think about a patent of a method of making a vacuum cleaner, its a new idea it should be patented, thats fine, but how about a "machine that uses suction to clean" as a patent with little evidence that you even have one made, the second one represents most software patents of say "a method to download songs onto a hard disk to be played back at a later date" where there are very few "true" software patents that aren't held by patent trolls or monopolies.

    In short, I can get a patent for making a vacuum cleaner (minus prior art and such) but most software patents try to patent "a cleaning device using suction" and many of them decide to then go for "a *insert adjective* device using suction" and "a cleaning device using *insert word here*". And that is what makes software patents different.
  • Re:FSF and RMS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by webmaster404 (1148909) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @09:56PM (#22613264)
    I agree with you. And those that say "software patents help the industry" are totally wrong. If it weren't for SW patents we would have less of a monopoly and stagnation of software because every one would be on equal footing and the community projects (Linux) could use the same things as the commercial projects (Mac and Windows) legally.
  • Re:FSF and RMS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:04PM (#22613304)
    There are two more winners. A lot of companies do cross licensing agreements of patents so company A can use company B's stuff and there is no worry about infringement.

    What this does is that any company not in the patent cross licensing network gets forced out of business, and any innovations they do have on a work that is claimed to be patented end up being able to be used by the holder.

    Last, there are companies out there who buy obscure patents looking for something that related so a company's mainstay. The small company then sues the large company. Almost always, this is settled secretly for lots of money before it goes to court. Even if the patent is questionable, the larger company is on the defensive because if for some reason it does get upheld in a court, its the end of their business.

    I used to have faith in the patent system, where people who were infringing were doing so deliberately, similar to people who made counterfeit software boxes. Now, the barrier for tripping over some obscure patent is so low, almost any company is at risk.
  • by mlts (1038732) * on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:09PM (#22613338)
    Perhaps we should go back to the old method of patenting stuff that was done in the early days of the patent office. Every patent application needs a working prototype to be sent in with it. This case, if someone patents warp drive, the USPTO better be getting a flux capacitor via UPS.

    Of course, this has its issues, a manufacturing process would be hard to send a prototype of, other than perhaps the before, during, and after stage.

  • by rumblin'rabbit (711865) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:11PM (#22613344) Journal
    Never said it was a good or bad thing. But if the goal is to only disallow "software patents" then this proposal seriously overshoots the mark.
  • by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @10:56PM (#22613586) Homepage

    Since software is just "pushing buttons" to make new code, there is nothing new...

    No, that's not the argument.

    The argument used to justify any patents is that they promote progress. Our experience with patents in the specific case of software is that they actually hinder progress. Therefore, in order to promote progress, software patents should be abolished.

  • Re:FSF and RMS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday March 01, 2008 @11:28PM (#22613710) Journal

    I think everyone with an ounce of sense will agree that:

    • Europe makes software
    • There was plenty of software written in the U.S. prior to 1981.

    What does this tell us? Most of Europe doesn't allow software patents, and the U.S. didn't prior to 1981, so clearly patents were not a necessary incentive for companies to innovate in the software space. Q.E.D.

    Further, software is the only field that is protected by both patents and copyright. That's simply unreasonable, and there is no good reason for this to be the case. Drop one. We need to tell the corporate software world that if you don't mind giving up copyright protection, you can keep your patents. I dare say not a single company will choose that route, as copyright is a far more valuable tool for corporate software manufacturers.

  • Re:FSF and RMS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slashqwerty (1099091) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @12:05AM (#22613812)
    I mean, if we get rid of drug patents, AIDS research isn't going to go away, but there's sure going to be a lot less of it.

    Can you be sure of that? Most basic medical research is financed with government funds. Pharmaceutical companies generally finance only the last step of the research. That is, they do the testing necessary to bring a promising drug to market. Certainly if pharmaceuticals didn't handle the last step other sources would open up--likely more government funding. If that were the case it seems likely to me many more drugs would be studied including many that pharmaceuticals wouldn't bother with.

    One also needs to factor in roadblocks to research when scientists hide their work until they can file for a patent. And consider the extra costs researchers encounter when they have to pay royalties on patented research techniques and patented source materials.

  • by sssssss27 (1117705) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @12:54AM (#22613952)
    I think it would be a far simpler solution if patent examiners just enforced the rules already in place, that is you aren't allowed to patent ideas. Then you wouldn't be able to patent "A program that translates text from one language to another" but instead would be able to patent the code that does do that. Obviously you would have to release your code so other people can learn from and build upon it, which is why you get protection. Isn't that the whole point of the patent system? If you expose your trade secrets we grant you a limited time for a monopoly on it.
  • Analogy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dreamchaser (49529) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @07:44AM (#22614990) Homepage Journal
    Patenting software is akin to patenting a recipe for food. It's all done within the framework of something that's already been invented (cooking or computing).

If it happens once, it's a bug. If it happens twice, it's a feature. If it happens more than twice, it's a design philosophy.

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