> Nope, sorry for the confusion. I was trying to say that there are not
> many commercial entities that both work primarily with and support free
> software, and are also pro software patents. At least, I can't think of
> any.
> So the situation is quite different from proprietary software vendors,
> whereby you have companies who want software patents, and companies that
> don't. In the free software world, seeing software patents as a bad
> thing is much more black and white.

Ah, I see. But then I don't really agree with the logic. I agree that there
aren't really any free software companies that support software patents.
But they aren't the ones who will be opposing this -- it will be the
proprietary software companies who don't want free software companies to
have an edge on them.

I'm sure I could come up with a few examples if I tried, however the
> threat is certainly there. We've seen Sony go after GeoHot (albeit using
> DMCA law). We've seen Blizzard shutdown the FreeCraft project (albeit
> using Trademark law). If patents are a way in which companies can attack
> an individual they see as a threat, they surely will.

Yep, I agree with that too. And that's further more reasons why these
companies won't let this go.

Sure, they might see free software as a serious threat, but it will be
> much harder for them to argue.
> As a quick example, they would need to prove that someone or some group
> who may very well write free software only to benefit humanity, that may
> have no intention or means of making money from it, should be subject to
> patent law. Patent law is supposed to be about innovation and business
> competition, neither which necessarily apply to free software authors.

The argument could be made (and I don't, of course, agree with it, just
playing Devil's Advocate):

"Patent law is to encourage innovation. Innovation costs money. We invest
money in research under the condition that we can make money from our
invention, without competition, for 20 years. We cannot allow these
hobbyists to rip off our ideas and then compete with us at zero cost. That
will mean we have no incentive to invest money in further research."

In other words, they can argue reasonably convincingly that free software
is just as much of a threat to innovation as commercial competitors. Then,
add in the argument that free software is not just hobbyists, but also
includes commercial competitors (like Android). You basically have the full
strength argument for why the patent system is needed in the first place.
Any argument that will convince lawmakers that free software should be
excluded from patents will have to be a fundamental argument against the
patent system in general; I am sure they will not see any distinction
between commercial entities using free software licenses and commercial
entities producing proprietary software.

What I've been trying to say throughout this whole discussion is that,
while patents are awful for our community, I don't see a very strong link
between patents and free software. Any argument in favour of the patent
system can be applied equally to free or proprietary software. Any argument
against the patent system can be applied equally to free or proprietary
software. It doesn't make sense in my mind to say "patents should not apply
to free software," any more than it would make sense to say "parking meters
should not apply to cars that have been custom built by the driver." Either
you think parking meters are a good thing and should apply to anyone who
parks in a spot, or you think parking meters are bad and everyone should be
able to park for free. It has nothing to do with the conditions under which
the car was built.

You could go on to make similar arguments against hosting companies, OS
> distributors, ISPs, etc. Harm these companies for using or distributing
> free software due to software patents, and you harm all the small free
> software authors too.
> I could go on, but I don't think your argument has merit anyway since
> it's basically just saying "Don't worry about this potential for huge
> injustice in the system, because I don't think it will be abused since
> patent holders don't want to look bad". :)

Well I'm not trying to defend patent holders. I want to get rid of patents.
I'm saying that a) free and proprietary software authors have equally much
to gain by removing patents, and b) I doubt you will find it any easier to
convince lawmakers to get rid of patents in free software as you will to
convince them to get rid of patents entirely.

Yes, there are lots of harms to free software authors by having software
patents. But they are just as harmful to proprietary software authors. A
startup who wants to build a photo-sharing platform (and doesn't
necessarily want to make the source public, because they want a competitive
advantage) may be sued by a troll who has a patent on photo sharing, and go
out of business. The net result is we don't have any photo sharing (since
the troll isn't actually providing a service, just suing). That's bad for
innovation, and bad for the industry. Those cases are just as important as
free software cases, in my view.

Of course, this is a free software discussion group, so perhaps the
argument to that is "why should we care about someone who isn't releasing
their source code?" "Why don't we just look after our own people?" Fair
enough, but I'm saying that if you want to fight against X, the best thing
you can do is gather up as many people who will be threatened by X and all
fight together, even if you disagree with those people about other things.
Nobody would ever win a battle against X if all of the various interest
groups who oppose X all decided to start their own little campaign to
protect their interest group from X and did not care about any of the other
interest groups. United we stand, yada yada yada.

To show how silly and divisive that logic is, say that there is a web app
community, and they get fed up with getting sued all the time for violating
every little one click or embeddable object patent. So they team up to
fight software patents. And we, in the free software community, say "yes!
We need to get rid of software patents!" But then, these web app authors go
to the government and say:

"We need to put an end to patent trolls suing us for web content. So we
propose a law which says that patents cannot be used against web
technologies. After all, the web is a source of rich innovation and it is
being harmed by patents."

So due to a lot of pressure, the government goes and makes such a law.
Patent suits can still be used against other types of software, just not
web technologies. I would consider that a loss for all software developers,
because not only have we reinforced the legitimacy of software patents, we
have now lost a large chunk of the argument for why software patents are
bad. Wouldn't it have been better if the free software community, the web
developers community, and any other community that had an interest in
fighting patents, all got together and made a global argument over why
patents are bad, rather than each trying to secure small patent exemptions
for their special interest?
Free-software-melb mailing list

Reply via email to