[linux-elitists] Re: [IRR] Greg Aharonian: software should not be protected by copyright

Eugen Leitl eugen@leitl.org
Wed Dec 15 00:03:58 PST 2004


----- Forwarded message from Justin Mason <jm@jmason.org> -----

From: jm@jmason.org (Justin Mason)
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2004 15:00:19 -0800
To: <somelist>
Subject: Re: [IRR] Greg Aharonian: software should not be protected by copyright 

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Alan Wexelblat writes:
> What can patents do?  They can protect you doing something (shield) and
> they can allow you to stop someone else doing something (sword).  From an
> open source perspective, shield patents are good, particularly if they're
> licensed on a no-fee basis.  This is what W3C opted for, and I think it is
> working reasonably well (*).
>
> However, it's cumbersome, as patents for each invention have to be
> licensed, potentially separately to each implementor.  You can't just
> blanket license, except by government fiat.  Even if the license is free
> there's an added administrative overhead.

You can't?  that's interesting.

It does appear that defensive patenting by open source foundations is
on the cards, alright.  It may be the only option, if things carry on.

> Now let's assume a sword strategy.  This is being practiced aggressively
> today by a number of "boutique" firms that are going around buying up all
> the patents they can find and suing everyone in sight.  This hasn't done
> much more than irritate a few people and driven a bit of patent-busting
> and prior art search.  I don't see how the FSF taking this approach would
> have made any difference.

You're entirely overlooking "chilling effects", as the EFF refer to the
side-effects of the DMCA.

I myself have avoided implementing one feature in a piece of OSS software
I wrote, which would have infringed on an IBM software patent -- and from
reading various authors' weblogs and journals, I know there are more

Raph Levien avoided implementing several patented font-hinting systems in
Ghostscript, for example. Font hinting is a good one, actually.  I believe
Linux has finally moved towards Windows- and Mac-quality desktop font
hinting, but this took several *years* of development -- I recall finding
a web page a couple of years back with patches for freetype which added
patented hinting techniques, and obviously those were never distributed by
any of the large linux vendors or non-vendor distributions.  Instead they
were always "patch and build it yourself if you care to infringe the
patent".

However, now, it appears something got into the freetype distro as
packaged by Debian -- my fonts are much more nicely hinted, looking a bit
like the "after" screenshots on the illegal-patches page I saw years ago.

- --j.
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Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a>
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