Microsoft prohibits GPLed work via licensing of CIFS standards

Alessandro Rubini rubini at
Thu Apr 11 09:34:06 UTC 2002

> This is certanly different in the USA. At least there, patenting is 
> related to publishing. The purpose of filing for a patent is to make the 
> idea publicly known (versus to keep it a proprietary secret), with 
> simultaneous protection of the inventor (who otherwise might prefer to 
> keep his solution secret).

That's true. I think it's the same here, although I can't find
explanations of "why" laws exists in Italian jurisdisction (can't tell
of other countries). Unfortunately, patents don't appear in the Italian
constitution where I looked for such explanation. 

	BTW: I'm *very* interested in pointers to other constitutions where
	the idea behind patents is explained, I'll add them to my
	article (currently only in Italian, though we are translating it)
> Patents allow the inventor to publish his idea without fear of getting 
> ripped off, and allows others to build upon and improve on the idea. 
> Others can then file patents that refine or expand on the original idea.

This, though, only under license of the original inventor (italian law
1127/39, art. 5, as modified by law 198/96; can't tell about other

> So, patents are seen (at least in the USA) as a way to prevent solutions 
> from being kept secret, which serves the public as a whole.

True, but let me quote, again, Jonathan Shapiro:

  > 3. In software, the lifecycle duration is at most two years. The reverse
  > engineering cycle is also about two years. Patents are unnecessary.

His take on this issue is very illuminating. I include here the whole
quote, from a message to fsb at on Dec 13th 2000.

   I was interviewed extensively for an article in Johns Hopkins Magazine that
   will shortly be appearing. When it does I'll let people know where to find
   it. The particular context of the article is, of course, the impact of
   patents on academic research.
   How much of my comments will survive into the article is unclear, but here
   are some points I made to the interviewer:
   1. The concept of patent exists to advance the interests of the public, not
   the corporation or inventor.
   2. Whether you believe in patents or not, the patent lifecycle should be in
   line with the product lifecycle. A patent exists to allow the inventor a
   reasonable chance to follow through on their invention, not an unbounded
   opportunity to hold back the tide or hold the public for ransom. If the
   inventor cannot make good within one product lifecycle (as measured by the
   appropriate industry), they never will. There are always outliers, but
   patent duration must be decided on the "greatest good for the greatest
   number" theory.
   3. In software, the lifecycle duration is at most two years. The reverse
   engineering cycle is also about two years. Patents are unnecessary.
   6. In software, the public's interests are advanced by allowing ideas to be
   integrated. The entire purpose of patents is to balkanize ideas. Patents do
   not advance the interests of the public at all. Rather, they allow large,
   conservative companies to hold back progress in the industry by preventing
   others from introducing disruptive change.
   7. We've seen a number of examples where holders of software patents have
   used them specifically to hold up the interests of the public. There is a
   long list of software applications that started integrating cryptography in
   October, because that's when the RSA patent ran out.Unisys made an
   incredible mess out of GIF files when they started abusing their patent on
   Lempel-Ziv compression, and *that* patent isn't even valid! Mark Wegman
   (IBM) filed a prior patent on the same techniques.
   8. The patent office is unable to assess the quality of the applications, so
   they basically tend to trust the filer that the patent is innovative. The
   results are predictable. IBM, for example, holds a patent on table lookup.
   Demonstrating in court that one of these patents is bad costs the defendant
   a minimum of $250,000. This is enough that people settle rather than go to
   court. If you're a small company, this may be more than you have. The end
   result is that software patents have become a form of legally-supported
   extortion. The financial burden is on the wrong people. Combine that with
   inadequate patent evaluation and you have a real problem. Which we do.
   A couple of questions the reporter asked are potentially of interest. I've
   reconstructed the discussion, so the comments may not exactly capture the
   interview wording, but I think I've preserved the sense of the exchange.
   Q: What about drug patents? The drug companies have argued that these are
   absolutely essential to their profitability.
   [Me:] Let's test that. The drug companies are claiming that without patents
   they wouldn't make any money, right?
   [Reporter:] yes.
   [Me:] When were drug patents introduced?
   [Reporter:] around 1980 -- I'll check the year.
   [Me:] Were there profitable drug companies before 1980?
   [Reporter:] Yes.
   [Me:] And they made money without patents, right? There were a number of
   large, successful drug companies in the 1960's and 1970's.
   [Reporter:] Yes
   [Me:] So if those companies want patents, it's not about being profitable.
   That's an excuse. It's about being able to restrict advances in medications.
   Patents exist to protect the public. Are drug patents protecting the public?
   [Reporter:] But before patents, they used trade secrets...
   [Me:] Trade secrets aren't bad. What one person can discover and use,
   another can too, so long as repressive laws do not stop them.
   Q. So how long should software patents run?
   A. If we have to have them, I'ld personally argue for 18 months, but I'ld
   settle for two years.
   [Reporter:] But the lawyers are saying that it takes three years to fully
   file a patent, so they argue that anything less than three years doesn't
   make sense.
   [Me:]You really have to be careful when somebody with a vested interest --
   like a lawyer, or a drug company, or a Hopkins professor -- is talking. You
   need to ask "What is in it for them?" A patent lawyer isn't interested in a
   fair patent system. They are interested in higher legal fees and getting the
   best for their client. So here they are arguing "the beaureaucracy can't
   handle reality, so lets change reality." Does that make sense?
   Jonathan S. Shapiro
   Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science
   Johns Hopkins University

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