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Thu Apr 10 16:58:53 CEST 2008


Bill Gates and other communists
February 15, 2005, 3:55 AM PT
By Richard Stallman

When CNET asked Bill Gates about software patents, he shifted the
subject to "intellectual property," blurring the issue with various other

Then he said anyone who won't give blanket support to all these laws is a
communist. Since I'm not a communist but I have criticized software
patents, I got to thinking this might be aimed at me.

When someone uses the term "intellectual property," typically he's either
confused himself, or trying to confuse you. The term is used to lump
together copyright law, patent law and various other laws, whose
requirements and effects are entirely different. Why is Mr. Gates lumping
these issues together? Let's study the differences he has chosen to

Software developers are not up in arms against copyright law, because the
developer of a program holds the copyright on the program; as long as the
programmers wrote the code themselves, no one else has a copyright on
their code. There is no danger that strangers could have a valid case of
copyright infringement against them.

Thanks to Mr. Gates, we now know that an open Internet with protocols
anyone can implement is communism.
Patents are a different story. Software patents don't cover programs or
code; they cover ideas (methods, techniques, features, algorithms, etc.).
Developing a large program entails combining thousands of ideas, and even
if a few of them are new, the rest needs must have come from other
software the developer has seen. If each of these ideas could be patented
by someone, every large program would likely infringe hundreds of patents.
Developing a large program means laying oneself open to hundreds of
potential lawsuits. Software patents are menaces to software developers,
and to the users, who can also be sued.

A few fortunate software developers avoid most of the danger. These are
the megacorporations, which typically have thousands of patents each, and
cross-license with each other. This gives them an advantage over smaller
rivals not in a position to do likewise. That's why it is generally the
megacorporations that lobby for software patents.

Today's Microsoft is a megacorporation with thousands of patents.
Microsoft said in court that the main competition for MS Windows is
"Linux," meaning the free software GNU/Linux operating system. Leaked
internal documents say that Microsoft aims to use software patents to stop
the development of GNU/Linux.

When Mr. Gates started hyping his solution to the problem of spam, I
suspected this was a plan to use patents to grab control of the Net. Sure
enough, in 2004 Microsoft asked the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force)
to approve a mail protocol that Microsoft was trying to patent. The
license policy for the protocol was designed to forbid free software
entirely. No program supporting this mail protocol could be released as
free software--not under the GNU GPL (General Public License), or the MPL
(Mozilla Public License), or the Apache license, or either of the BSD
licenses, or any other.

The IETF rejected Microsoft's protocol, but Microsoft said it would try to
convince major ISPs to use it anyway. Thanks to Mr. Gates, we now know
that an open Internet with protocols anyone can implement is communism; it
was set up by that famous communist agent, the U.S. Department of Defense.

With Microsoft's market clout, it can impose its choice of programming
system as a de-facto standard. Microsoft has already patented some .Net
implementation methods, raising the concern that millions of users have
been shifted to a government-issue Microsoft monopoly.

But capitalism means monopoly; at least, Gates-style capitalism does.
People who think that everyone should be free to program, free to write
complex software, they are communists, says Mr. Gates. But these
communists have infiltrated even the Microsoft boardroom. Here's what Bill
Gates told Microsoft employees in 1991:

"If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of
today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would
be at a complete standstill today...A future start-up with no patents of
its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose."

Mr. Gates' secret is out now--he too was a "communist;" he, too,
recognized that software patents were harmful--until Microsoft became one
of these giants. Now Microsoft aims to use software patents to impose
whatever price it chooses on you and me. And if we object, Mr. Gates will
call us "communists."

If you're not afraid of name-calling, visit (the Foundation for a
Free Information Infrastructure), and join the fight against software
patents in Europe. We persuaded the European Parliament once--even
right-wing MEPs are "communists," it seems--and with your help we will do
it again.

Richard Stallman is president of the Free Software Foundation as well as
chief GNUisance of the GNU Project. 

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