Subject: Re: New angle on the patent problem
From: shapj@us.ibm.com
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1999 11:33:03 -0400

Oops -- meant to send this to the list:

>    Brian> Perhaps the license change could be done as an experiment.
>    Brian> If the change killed the growth of GPL acceptance, it could
>    Brian> be revoked.
>
>No.  The "patent-poison-pill" license is only good if it is (a) viral
>and (b) widespread.  That combination makes experiments essentially
>impossible: people who adopt this kind of license are betting the
>future of their software.

Hang on.

The *current* state of affairs is that GPL'd software (I'll use GPL here, but I
think any widely used viral license --free or not -- will do) can be killed by a
patent.  There exists, at present, no protection against this.

In practice, those companies engaging in patent extortion (er, um, I mean
"enforcement" of course) do not appear to be free software companies.  Indeed,
wielding patents -- except as a means to enforce the terms of the free software
license -- would be counterproductive for free software companies. [One might
want to word the poison pill to permit patent enforcement where the remedy is to
honor the free software license rules retroactively.]

Adding the "patent poison pill" provides some protection, but as far as I can
see has no downside to the producers of free software.

Thus, I fail to see that there is any marginal cost to incorporating this
provision.

If incorporated, however, I would suggest that it be tried in GPL.  It's
particularly powerful there, as *everybody* uses gcc, and a lot of people are
using Linux.

Somehow, in the course of the discussion, I managed to miss the specific wording
proposal.  Could some kind soul email it to me?

Jonathan S. Shapiro, Ph. D.
IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
Email: shapj@us.ibm.com
Phone: +1 914 784 7085  (Tieline: 863)
Fax: +1 914 784 7595