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More about software patents

Posted by: Steve Hamm on July 01, 2005

I sure got knocked around by TechBeat readers for my pro-patent posting last week. Thirty people say I’m an idiot. The folks at Red Hat, the leading distributor of Linux software, were much kinder. They sent me a note to tell me about the stand they’ve taken on patents. They agree that software patents have their place, but they want to make sure the process isn’t abused to the detriment of collaboration. I can endorse that.

Red Hat has a three-prong intellectual property initiative:

Fedora. This is the free version of Red Hat Linux. The company had been running it as an internal project, but will now release it by creating the Fedora Foundation, which is much like the Mozilla Foundation that manages the Firefox browser project. Red Hat will continue to provide money and engineering to the project, but hopes to gain more popular support for the project by setting it free.

Government policy. It's trying to reform government patent policies in the US and Europe--making requirements for getting a patent more stringent.

Software Patents Commons. Red Hat is working on creating a software commons based on Larry Lessig's Creative Commons idea. It wants to encourage collaboration by sharing rights that are under copyright.

Sun President Jonathan Schwartz mocks Red Hat for opposing patents because it doesn't have any. (In fact, it has a few.) Red Hat doesn't deserve his abuse.

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Reader Comments

Jonas Maebe

July 1, 2005 01:02 PM

I did not say you were an idiot, only that it's not a battle between open source and Microsoft. And I also mentioned the fact that there is no macro-economic evidence that suggests software patents are beneficial overall (really, search for it, and try to find a list which is half as long as the one on

I apologise if you think such suggestions are not "kind", but I think think the suggestion that we in Europe should just put up with software patents based on one or other unsubstantiated gut feeling is not very kind either.

olivier van droogenbroek

July 2, 2005 04:09 PM

software development demands huge investment, there is no reason not to protect such an investment. software by their very (technical) nature belong to the field of patents. patent law in Europe is strongly influenced by competition law. competition law even supersedes patent law. the software directive can have serious anticompetitive effects due to the fact that copyright's origins are with artistic works. the structure of copyright is not fit for software. really, before you start shouting, take some time to try and understand the differences between the US and EPO patent systems. Europe is not the US and the draft directive does not change that.


July 5, 2005 10:58 PM

To be ill-informed does not make one an idiot and idiocy is certainly not the right word to describe all of those who have been advocating this enormous extension of scope of patentability: There are the relative few who do so because they would benefit directly, such as large patent portfolio holders, Patent Attorneys and "IP companies". There are the ignorant, who easily fall prey to naive ad populum arguments and are tempted by the sheer power a patent can confer. Then there are those who are aware of the purpose and fundamental principles of the patent system, and of the evidence and analysis Jonas Maebe refers to, but regrettably do so anyway.

What is common to all these advocates of software (and business method) patents is that where their arguments have been something more than mere crude repetition of disinformation and slogans, they have often been entertainingly preposterous concoctions of fantasy, fabrication and fallacy. It's been a while since I submitted anything to crank dot net, but I recently noticed that they do actually have an economics section and I'll be keeping an eye out for something suitable. I'm sure it won't be the site though ;-)

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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