Subject: Re: Examples needed against Soft Patents
From: Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com>
Date: 20 Dec 2004 11:11:07 -0500

Norbert Bollow <nb@thinkcoach.com> writes:

> Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com> wrote:
> 
> > In short, free software currently exists on sufferance.  If Microsoft
> > chooses to unleash its full patent portfolio on free software, it will
> > significantly slow the development of many significant pieces of free
> > software, and will probably destroy some of them altogether.
> 
> This discussion overlooks the fact that there are significant parts of
> the world where software patents don't exist.  As long as this is the
> case, neither Microsoft nor any other corporation will be able to
> completely destroy any significant pieces of Free Software.

Granted.  But if the EU adopts software patents, then software patents
will exist in the US, the EU, Japan, and Australia.  If there is an
all out patent-based attack on free software in those countries, free
software development will be crippled for some time.  Yes, there is
free software development in other countries, but only a relatively
small percentage.

> If someone asserts a patent which can be worked around, Free Software
> projects will often be willing to "go the extra mile" so that their
> software can be legally distributed as Free Software even in those
> countries which have a totally broken legal system.

Ideally, yes.  Of course, some patents can not be worked around, the
most obvious example being the patent on public key cryptography
(which has now expired).  A logical followon to a Microsoft patent
attack on free software would be for them to patent certain algorithms
required to parse their documents, thus removing Microsoft
compatibility from OpenOffice and friends.

You are correct that I was overly apocalyptic in my note.  But I think
you are overly optimistic in yours.

Ian