[Fsfe-ie] Patent letter #3

Ian Clarke ian at locut.us
Thu Jan 22 12:44:31 CET 2004

Just out of interest, http://3d17.org/ was designed to help with exactly 
this kind of thing - I know it needs a lot of work, but do you not find 
it usable?

If not, perhaps IFSO should set up a CMS or wiki?  I recommend 
http://quickcms.sf.net/ (another one of my crazy projects ;).


Ciaran O'Riordan wrote:
> I'm still up to my eyes in other projects, but here's a first draft of a
> patent letter:
> Comments welcome, nitpicking not necessary, full rewrite possible.
> Dear you,
>   I am writing to you on behalf of Irish Free Software Organisation
> (IFSO) regarding EU Directive COD/2002/0047 "on the patentability of
> computer implemented innovations".
>   On September 24th 2003, we were pleased that the plenary voted for a
> set of amendments which clearly exclude software innovations from the
> patent system.  We were particularly glad that this majority included
> all of the 11 Irish MEPs that voted.  I ask that Irelands
> representation on the Commission uphold the decision of the Irish MEPs
> and the plenary.  Below, I will outline why this position is
> imperative to protect competition and innovation in software and for
> the economy of Ireland.
> competition
> ===========
> For new software to compete with the market leader, it must be
> compatible.  That is, it must be able to read and write data in the
> same format as the market leader, and it must present a recognisable
> interface.  When software packages are not compatible, users of one
> software package become locked-in as the hassle of migration
> increases.
> The need for compatibility is currently a major problem in the
> software industry as market leaders change data formats regularly,
> thus making it hard for the competition to maintain compatibility.  If
> the market leader could patent a technique required to read or write
> it's data, competition could become all but impractical.  At present,
> anti-competitive practices can sometimes by tacked by the EU or by
> national governments, but software patents would introduce a legal
> tool for holding back competition, free from government regulation.
> Software already has legal protection in the form of copyright.
> Copyright law is a good fit because it costs nothing to use, requires
> no processing time, and it doesn't restrict others from independent
> development.
> Innovation
> ==========
> Software is very easy to develop because there are no material or
> legal restrictions on it's development at the moment.  This ease of
> development has made it possible for new businesses and even
> individuals to write highly complex software packages incorporating
> thousands of ideas.  Some will be new innovative ideas, but most will
> be known ideas, or ideas required for compatibility.
> If known ideas were to become ownable, individuals and new business
> would find it hard to write new software without infringing patents.
> The traditional incremental development of software would become a
> legal minefield, and many software innovations would never reach the
> market.
> Large businesses could also face endless law suits due to the massive
> number of ideas incorporated in their packages, and development would
> be slowed down as the software developers of these companies would
> have to split their time between development and researching patents
> so as not to leave the company open to such law suits.
> In some fields of development, it is hoped that the barriers created
> by patents will lead to new innovative solutions to problems (lateral
> innovation), but when trying to read or write data in an arbitrary
> format, there are many situations where only one technique can be
> used.  Thus, lateral innovation will not be encouraged, because it
> would be of no use.
> The Irish economy
> =================
> The revenue generated from patents will be distributed roughly
> according to how many patents each country owns.  Ireland is unlikely
> to own more than 1% of software patents, so 99% of patent royalties
> from Irish companies will be leaving Ireland, mostly going to the
> US.  This "patent tax" may prove too high for many small, medium, or
> new businesses, and would certainly be too high for individuals.
> Irish software developers will have to either license the patents or
> avoid them.  If they license, they will be maintaining a stream of
> royalties leaving the country.  If they avoid the patents, (something
> that is very difficult, or sometimes impossible) we will not be
> producing competitive software.
> The security of our government, industry, and citizens is increasingly
> dependent on software.  For this reason, Ireland must retain control of
> it's software systems, and it must be permitted to develop it's own.
> Learning from others
> ====================
> When the US ruled that software patents would be legal, they didn't
> have the benefit of being able to study how other economies handled
> software patents.  Recently, more than a decade after software became
> patentable, the US Federal Trade Commission have released a damning
> report on what effect they have seen with software patentability.
> [insert comment about FTC report]
> The US is seeing a new problem in the last three years in the form of
> IP Law firms, specialising in "monetising software patent assets".
> The firms buy unused software patents, and monetise their asset by
> sueing whoever they can.  The typical targets small businesses, ones
> that can't afford to defend themselves in court.  They can make a lot
> of money from sueing software development companies, and they face no
> risk because they don't development any software of their own.  Their
> business is legal in the US, but it is having terrible effects on
> software development.
> In contrast, the one software innovation that has produced the
> greatest social benefit in the last decade, is the World Wide Web.
> This is an unpatented innovation, which has fostered the highest
> levels of competition and innovation in the history of computing.
> Free Software, also known as "Libre Software", or "Open Source"
> ===============================================================
> Free Software refers to software that comes with the freedom to run,
> copy, study, modify, and redistribute.  Free Software cannot require
> that royalties are paid to a developer, but anyone can charge for
> services such as customisation, distribution, setup, and support.  The
> European Commissions' Information Society Initiative recently released
> a report on "Free / Open Source Software F/OSS", which says:
> ``On the provider side, F/OSS creates new opportunities for software
> and service providers, which may be a unique opportunity for the
> European software industry - somehow this may be a proverbial "second
> and last chance".''
> Because royalties cannot be required, Free Software developers would
> find it nearly impossible to get a license to use a patent.  Software
> patents could kill this new European software industry before it has a
> chance.

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