[Fsfe-ie] Flyers to hand out at Stallman's talks ?
david.ocallaghan at cs.tcd.ie
Thu May 20 11:50:46 CEST 2004
On Thu, 2004-05-20 at 09:23, David O'Callaghan wrote:
> I'm happy to help with drafting, but I'd like a starting point, if
> someone can point one out to me.
I've started a draft with only minor changes to the letter to Mary
Harney. It's available at http://www.cs.tcd.ie/David.OCallaghan/ifso/.
It's not really a leaflet, but it might be ok in two-column form.
I'm thinking in terms of a general-purpose document on the topic, so
this may not be much good for the people at RMS's talk, who will, I'm
sure, get a much more in-depth look at the issues. However, they might
like something they can pass on when people ask them "what's wrong with
Also, this doc doesn't really address Ian's comments about telling
people *how* they can oppose software patents. Perhaps a stock paragraph
about "contact your MEP" or a link to an FFII "get involved" page would
Anyway, please give me your comments on the following.
The Case Against Patents on Software
Irish Free Software Organisation
1 The Right to Write Software
For software to be competitive, it must allow it's
users to share data with other people. To do this, is
has to be able to read and write the files that
software users have created with the market leaders'
software. If companies are allowed to patent techniques
required for writing certain file formats,
compatibility could be made illegal. By rendering
alternative software packages useless, competition
would become a puppet show, and a lot of innovative
software would go unused.
In addition to data compatibility, software users
expect a certain level of functionality. If a new piece
of software is to enter the market, it must do the work
of the current market leader, plus something new. This
incremental or cumulative development style is how the
software industry has progressed, but if software
developers are prohibited from implementing widely used
features, new products will cease to be competitive.
Software already has "ownership rights" in the form of
copyright. Use of copyright is instant, free, and
doesn't interfere with other peoples work. In contrast,
patents would leave even independent software
development open to patent infringement charges.
An open letter from 14 notable European economists said:
``Unlike most complex technologies, the opportunity to
develop software is open to small companies, and even
to individuals. Software patents damage innovation by
raising costs and uncertainties in assembling the many
components needed for complex computer programs and
constraining the speed and effectiveness of innovation.''
The full letter is available at [key-1]
2 Free Software, also known as "Libre Software", or "Open Source"
Free Software is software that comes with royalty-free
permission to run, study, modify, copy, and
redistribute the software.
Since the mid-nineties, some businesses have been
building a new business model based on the fact that it
costs nothing to give people these rights, and there's
no barrier to entry into the market. These businesses
make money from providing software development services
such as writing extensions, customisation, system
setup, technical support, etc. and each new company
contributes to the pool of Free Software. The European
Commissions' Information Society Initiative recently
released a report on "Free / Open Source Software F/OSS",
``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'.''
Software patents are particularly harmful to Free
Software, more so than unfree/proprietary software
because Free Software cannot require per-copy
royalties, so Free Software projects find it virtually
impossible to get permission to use patented technologies.
3 The US Federal Trade Commission
In October 2003 the US Federal Trade Commission.made a
report on the US patent system. The report is 315 pages
and covers the system as a whole, with a 13-page
section specific to the patenting of software. In the
printed copy, this section begins on page "44" of chapter
3 (each chapter staring at 1), or page 153 in the
complete digital copy which can be found at [key-3]
>From the conclusion:
``Many panelists and participants expressed the view
that software and Internet patents are impeding
innovation. They stated that such patents are impairing
follow-on incentives, increasing entry barriers,
creating uncertainty that harms incentives to invest in
innovation, and producing patent thickets.''
The conclusion listed no redeeming qualities for
Software patents were introduced into the US in 1986 by
a court decision rather than any democratic legislative
procedure, and because the US was the first economy to
permit software patents, their decision was made
without the benefit of being able to study the effects
of software patents in other countries. The EU has the
advantage of being able to learn from their mistakes.
The US held the dominant position in the software
industry long before 1986, so the existence of software
patents in the US should not be construed to imply that
they benefit the industry. In contrast, we believe that
if software patentability spreads into Europe, it would
stagnate the industry in a manner which would benefit
only the very large software companies --- none of
which are European.
4 Support the European Parliament Rejection of Patents
Last September, we were pleased that Ireland's MEPs,
along with the majority of the European Parliament,
voted to adopt a set of amendments which would clarify
that software innovations are excluded from
patentability. For the reasons given above, we believe
it is clear that the introduction of legal software
patents would be disastrous for Europe's software
developers and software users, and we ask that you
support the decision of the Irish MEPs and the parliament.
Please contact the Irish Free Software Organisation[key-4] for
More information about the FSFE-IE