Capaigning against software patents

Niall Douglas s_fsfeurope at
Wed Dec 4 23:09:17 UTC 2002

On 4 Dec 2002 at 0:00, Xavi Drudis Ferran wrote:

> It's all too vague. I wouldn't try. Any number can be disputed.
> I think it's better to say SMEs are at risk, and then say over 70 % of
> workers in IT work in companies with less than 200 people (this is
> only counting coimpanies with more than 10 employees, and only for
> Catalonia in 2001, I'd like the figure for the EU, should be similar).

There are some very cheap ways to get accurate figures. One would be 
to send a short questionaire to software companies asking if they 
feel software patents will cost them (obviously you include 
documentation explaining them - preferably with a pro and con 

Obviously this would require some money for postage. It duplicates 
making them aware of the issue though, so it's well spent.

> This is not saying you are going to lose 70% of employment in IT,
> which is very hard to prove.

No better to say "70% of the top 100 european software companies 
think it will greatly increase costs". That can be proven to be true, 
and it implies the same thing.

> I don't think we'll get that luxury. As you said the other side 
> has deep pockets to make sure they prove otherwise. Also, 
> confusing concepts is their strategy, we should be accurate
> in contrast.

I didn't mean to lie - I meant to reformulate what we want to say 
with something proven that's close enough eg; above.

> > In the end, these guys are busy. If you leave them with just an
> > impression it could be a vote-loser, you're 50% there.
> Yes, of course. I thought that impression was a function of how many
> people complain...

No for most professional politicians that's not actually very 
important - you get a constant stream of complaint letters from all 
sorts of madmen when you're a politician. Every politician equates 
the economy with votes - it's the number one rule - and anything 
which hurts the economy (followed by hurting employment) immediately 
speaks "votes" to most politicians. Hence a letter from the CEO of 
Unisys counts for 1000 letters from ordinary people.

> We wrote a letter for Software companies but we finally didn't send it
> because it was too close to spam. Maybe paranoid, yes. It's not a big
> deal, and it's in Catalan only, but it's at

No point with small companies. Get the bigger ones, preferably ones 
which make campaign donations. Put it on official paper too with a 
letterhead - call it Alliance of European IT companies against 
Software Patents - ask if they'd like to become a signatory. Do not 
mention even once free software or Linux or even Unix.

> Ok, sorry. Maybe I was too sleepy. But for writing a letter I think
> it's not to much to ask to read some 10 - 15 pages. Otherwise we'll
> get lots of letters with unclear concepts which will be dismissed as
> uninformed, and we will appear just complaining without knowing
> anything about it. Which is by the way a classic argument of the
> proswpat people "SMEs are worried about swpats because they're
> uninformed, they need education. Computer professionals weren't taught
> software patents at Unviersity, that's why they don't like them". This
> is absurd, as Sweetman explained very convingly in Brussels, but it's
> what they keep saying. And sending letters which confuse patents with
> trademarks, or complain of patents invalid in Europe, or propose a
> shorter term for patents without much convincing arguments for
> changing or abandoning the TRIPS agreement is not as useful as some
> slightly better informed contributions. Maybe uninformed ones are
> better than nothing, but I don't really think I'm asking for so much.

Well if there's lots of calls for a whole multitude of changes, 
they'll suspend the motion and call for a EU commission to 
investigate matters. You'd need to be ready to get as many of your 
people in there as possible because you can be sure the opposition 
will. Getting famous people like Linus to volunteer is excellent, if 
their advisors have heard the name it works well.

> But now it is me who is telling people what to do, and that's wrong.
> So thank you for any efforts. This is just my way of doing it, nothing
> else.

Well I can be a bit direct sometimes. I don't mean to sound like I'm 
barking orders, but I was kinda hoping someone could say if the FSF 
is willing to provide some funds to make these ideas happen or are we 
completely broke?

If things pan out for me employment-wise next few months, you'll be 
seeing a lot more of me on this. If not well, I'll do what I can.

> > If I came across as telling people what to do, then that was not my
> > intention and I apologise for any offense caused. I've been
> > campaigning against software patents long before joining this list
> > with articles written on the matter and letters sent to the UK
> > patent office. I was merely applying what had worked well for other
> > popular protest movements, and hoping it to be a source of good
> > ideas.
> Thanks for all that campaigning. Could you send me or post URLs 
> for those aricles or letters?. Maybe I'll understand better with some
> examples, and maybe I can use your ideas. - this was actually an 
email I wrote to someone and wasn't I bloody surprised when it 
appeared on Contractor UK with someone else's name!!! :)

I have some stuff more on copyright at but it has a section on 
software patents. I'm real sorry I haven't finished the last two 
pages, they were going to knit together how all this is part of the 
master plan of the US multinationals to forever create a monopolised 
market in which the European software industry is forever relegated 
to a services role to the US (see why I hate the service model!).

> Some traditional criteria that IMHO should be reinforced is that of
> technicity (the Taube test, I think it's called). The idea is that you
> can only patent an invention if it is an invention, i.e. it gives us
> new knowledge on the use of controllable forces of nature. This means
> that if your innovation is only in the sphere of mind, a logical
> deduction, an intellectual achievement, like math, software,
> literature, bussiness models, rules of organization, social games,
> whatever, you may have a lot of merit, but the economics make it bad
> to grant a patent for that because you only need your mind, time and
> preexisting ideas for it, so that kind of innvoation will happen if we
> allow free exchange and reuse of ideas. If you needed laboratories and
> experimentation to verify your innovation works, because it is not
> merely a consequence of a formal system of some kind but a piece of
> matter and energy with physical properties and any formal model is
> only a model, not the invention, this is what requires expensive
> experimentation that might not happen without a patent (at least
> argueably). 

Hmm. I think patents are totally artificial anyway as is most of 
copyright and indeed IP. They should only exist or apply if it's more 
beneficial to the industry and society if they do. That would be my 
sole criteria.

> Another one is disclosure. If a patent does not show how to do
> something it shouldn't be allowed to claim (monopolize) that
> something. For inventions with software in it, this means a listing of
> complete source code for a
>  working program should be included with the patent description.
>  Otherwise
> you get people which only patent but don't even take the trouble of
> implementing the invention. 

Yeah that's a major problem. A lot of the software patents I've seen 
patent the idea with no regard to implementation eg; a communication 
medium between two information repositories - which could mean nearly 

I'd personally just ban all patenting of ideas. Techniques is 
something else, but IMHO it's all artificial and as such should be 
arbitrarily balanced.

> This is only common sense, but we need a clear codification in law of
> this (the only feasible) interpretation to stop the EPO from
> misbehaving (not really likely without reforming it) and to ensure
> that EU courts disregard wrongly issued EPO patents (more likely). Of
> course the Comission and Council proposals are trying to codify the
> EPO interpretation, in which a program for computer as such is some
> esoteric concept that does not include any software at all, so that
> all software is patentable.

The main point of the patent office is to vet for frivolous 
applications. Now I don't know if they can't get the funding for 
proper experts or whatever, but the EPO seems to have a lot of crappy 
patents and I'm not even an expert in most of the fields. Pushing the 
responsibility for validation onto the court system is a very 
inefficient and wasteful method of paying lots of lawyers to argue 
about technicalities in completely unproductive matters, so as you 
might guess I'm not IP happy despite my alternative business model.

> The reason of all this rant is that if you go to a politician and just
> ask him to vote on software patents to "just don't have them", he may
> well tell you he agrees but vote the Commission proposal, and then
> tell you it does not allow patents for software, just for "software
> with a further technical effect". You really have to ask for strict
> criteria, and that requires constructive alternatives to the directive
> proposal. 

I'm not good with acceptable alternatives - I tend to think in 
radical "replace the entire system" modes :(

> Luckily we have a very good one, the FFII counter-proposal. 
> PDF, better typesetting, included in a bigger dossier quite 
> convenient to give to politicians (although it's 80 pages or so)

That's a good document. I only skimmed over it, but it seems to be a 
good meaty reply for any enquires for more information.


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