Thursday, April 14, 2005

Anti-patent discussion in ZDNet

There is some descriptive prose in ZDNet under the title "The patent poison spreads."

From the article:

Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad — or software developers. None but a madman would consider writing programs these days. The activity itself remains mostly harmless, but it's becoming increasingly impossible to hack through the mutated jungle of intellectual-property law without fear of being eaten by feral lawyers.


Thus, even under the GPL, open source development doesn't just enrich the free software community, it feeds back into more traditional business models. If you don't want it free, you're welcome to pay. Other open source licensing models are even more liberal — BSD imposes next to no restrictions on commercial or open use of code — if that's what you want.

Patents break this model. IBM has released hundreds of them to open source developers, which is a welcome commitment. But that means the code can never go into proprietary form: IBM would have to make its patents available to anyone to do anything for that to work, at which point the patent might as well not exist. Even with the best will in the world on all sides, patents are fundamentally incompatible with the essential traffic in ideas that keeps software progressing.

Without a wholesale reform of the law and the introduction of a protection regime designed to fit the unique nature of software development, we will lose the freedom to innovate. What that reform should be is open to debate: that it is needed, is not.


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