[linux-elitists] lawyers, vim, software patents

Don Marti dmarti@zgp.org
Sat May 12 01:51:45 PDT 2001

Weasel lawyer alert: I just got a letter from a Mr. Steven G. Schulman
of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP (which stands for Losers,
Lawyers, and Parasites) asking me to join their stupid "shareholder
class action" lawsuit against Red Hat. I can smell the boiler room on
this cheesy direct mail -- it's not even a proper lawyer envelope, it's
a cheap Walgreen's envelope with an Avery label. Anyone who joins their
class is an asshole. Hope Red Hat beats this and Schulman goes back to
chasing investment banks or ambulances.

I'd like to look at people's .vimrc files for an LJ piece; if you have
anything particularly cool in yours, please post it and I'll give you
appropriate credit if I use it.

Now for some fun stuff -- a posting from RMS about why priorart.org is a
bad idea. (If you're jonesing for more from him after reading this, try

And the Federation for a Free Informational Infrastructure's
point of view on prior art databases is here:
http://swpat.ffii.org/stidi/gacri/indexen.html Basically, their argument
is that prior art should still be published -- but in a reliably
timestamped but not easily searchable way. (Dead-tree-based magazines,

So -- can anyone give a reason why priorart.org should exist, if all it
does is help turn your published idea into a patent thicket?  Here's
the Stallman thing.

----- Forwarded message from Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org> -----

Date: Fri, 11 May 2001 23:42:05 -0600 (MDT)
From: Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org>
Subject: Re: [Freesw] priorart.org
To: Bernard.Lang@inria.fr
Cc: kmself@ix.netcom.com, fsb@crynwr.com, freesw@conecta.it
Reply-To: rms@gnu.org

There are major problems with priorart.org.  Actually, two
problems--one tactical, and one strategic.

In the US patent system, if the PTO looked at certain prior art and
decided to issue the patent anyway, the court is supposed to presume
the PTO was right to regard that prior art as insufficient.
But if the PTO was unaware of the prior art, then the court can look
at it with an unbiased eye.

As a result, prior art is more effective against patents if the PTO
does not know about it.  For potential patent victims to inform the
PTO about prior art is a self-defeating project.

The effect of this is worse than you might think, because of the way
the PTO uses prior art.  The question they are suppose is, "Is this
idea unobvious given the known prior art?"  But their threshold of
"unobvious" is so low, that in practice the tiniest difference from
the known prior art is enough excuse for them to issue a patent.  The
courts are much more likely to apply a sensible definition of
"unobvious", if they are not blocked by a prior PTO decision about the
same prior art.

Then there is the strategic problem.  I have seen publicity associated
with this activity, and it serves as an excuse to whitewash the system
of software patents.  The publicity suggests that we could live with
software patents, if only we "work to make the system function" in
this way.  It encourages people to think that the only problem in
software patents is when non-novel ideas are patented, and that
software patents on new ideas (some brilliant, most pedestrian) are
ok.  And that will undermine the efforts now under way in Europe to
prevent software patents there.

Organized efforts to collect prior art could be useful if they avoid
these two problems.  But if they have these problems, they can easily
do more harm than good.

----- End forwarded message -----

Don Marti              "I've never sent or received a GIF in my life." 
dmarti@zgp.org            -- Bruce Schneier, Secrets and Lies, p. 246.
http://zgp.org/~dmarti/        (Free the Web: http://burnallgifs.org/)

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