Subject: Re: GIF/LZW patent
From: "Ben Tilly" <>
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2006 23:28:07 -0700

On 9/26/06, Lawrence Rosen <> wrote:
> I've been on both sides of software patent wars. Take it from a bruised
> warrior, none of these battles has ever been as contentious or as difficult
> for free software as derivative work analysis surrounding the GPL. Patents
> are just descriptions of technology, after all, and it's usually not rocket
> science. Some of you are grossly exaggerating the difficulty of
> understanding, and if necessary designing around or possibly invalidating,
> software patents in the areas where you are writing advanced software.

The reason that derivative work analysis surrounding the GPL is so
contentious and difficult is that the GPL is set up to pressure people
into acting in accord with a very specific political agenda.  If you
don't have an agenda and are into free software, just use a BSD
license and there is no contention at all.  (Unless someone else
accuses you of infringing on them.)

> I happen to believe that patents can work FOR open source in much the same
> way that copyright was supposed to. Even better, if we do it right. Just the
> opposite result if we continue to close our eyes to the reality of software
> patents.

Please explain what you mean by "FOR open source".  Do you mean for
the goals of the FSF?  Or for the goals of the FreeBSD project?  If
you mean the latter, then removing both copyright and patents would
succeed admirably.  If you mean the former, then attempting to use
patents that way when they were starting would have drawn return fire
from all affected proprietary companies, and I think the FSF would
have lost that battle badly.

> I'll be blunt about it: If we didn't have copyright on software and only had
> patents, we'd be much better off. At least then monopolies would be based
> upon innovation instead of mere writings by armies of programmers of mostly
> me-too code. Programmers would be rewarded for being innovative, and the
> rest of us could otherwise copy and reuse any non-patented or off-patented
> software we wanted, regardless of who wrote it. That's how intellectual
> property works in every other area of technology! Wouldn't that be a better
> world?

I believe the chilling effects from patents outweigh the incentive
they add.  Doubly so in any immature technological field.  Triply so
when you consider how long patents last.  And infinitely so when you
consider how fundamentally broken the patent office is.

Copyright has also been extended well past the point of diminishing
returns.  But for all of its flaws and complications, I'm a lot
happier with copyrights than patents.