Subject: Re: Boycott Amazon! [ Long ]
From: Jonathan Ryshpan <jon@dnai.com>
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 11:02:32 -0800

There's been quite a lot of discussion about patents in FSB lately.
Here are my own thoughts, which I sent to RMS about a month ago in reply
to his posting about the Amazon "one click" patent.  I have appended to
this some follow up correspondence.

If the discussion takes too much FSB bandwidth I am willing to revive
the league-activists mailing list (if I can) and administer it until at
least (say) the first day of spring 2000.

		Jonathan Ryshpan <jon@dnai.com>

		For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and 
		long words bother me. -- Winnie the Pooh


 To:       Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org>
 From:     Jonathan Ryshpan <jon@dnai.com>
 Cc:       League for Programming Freedom <league-activists@ai.mit.edu>
 Subject:  Re: Boycott Amazon! 
 Date:     Mon, 13 Dec 1999 13:33:12 -0800

 Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org> writes:
 >                Please do not buy from Amazon
 >
 >Amazon has obtained a US patent (5,960,411) on an important and
 >obvious idea for E-commerce: the idea that your command in a web
 >browser to buy a certain item can carry along information about your
 >identity. ...

 I've noticed a lot of this nonsense lately -- it's in all the papers, even
 the SF Chronicle.  It seems to me that the problem is multifold:

 (1) When a new field of knowledge reaches the stage of being ready for
     commercialization, patents are submitted for techniques in the field
     which are obvious to those skilled in its art, but which are not
     obvious to the clerks at the Patent Office.  This produces a rush to
     patent the obvious before the field becomes well known.

 (2) The situation is made worse by the fact that the patent business is
     dominated by patent lawyers, who want as much to be patentable is
     possible.  Since they work mostly filing patents, rather than figuring
     out why they ought not to be filed, this is their professional
     responsibility.  Also the more patents, the more business for them,
     whether or not the patents are valid.  The interests of the public are
     not represented in this arena.

 (3) The problem is not limited to software or business methods.  My
     favorite example is a patent by Texas Instruments on the idea of
     encoding key presses on a keyboard by a single chip microcontroller.
     For a long time (possibly now) it was permitable to use a single chip
     microcontroller for any purpose other than keyboard encoding, and
     keyboard encoding could be carried out by any method other than a single
     chip microcontroller (say by a microcomputer whose memory is located in
     a different chip).

 (4) The intellectual climate of this age in this country favors the
     unlimited expansion of intellectual property.  The owners of
     intellectual property are mostly owners of media, whose position both
     as part of the media and as rich people or institutions makes it
     possible for them to put forward with great force the ideas (We think
     false ideas.) that intellectual property greatly encourages the spread
     of knowledge and technology, and rewards ingenious and hard working
     people, helping the United States and its citizens particularly much.

 (5) The situation vs. the Internet and Internet commerce will probably get
     worse fast.  The US keeps patents secret till they are granted, and the
     processing period for Internet related patents is ending right about
     now.

 What can be done about this:

 (1) Software patents are particularly harmful to companies that produce
     open source software.  Open source software can be inspected easily to
     find patent infringements.  This isn't true for closed source software.

     It might be possible for patent holders to claim to be able to inspect
     closed source software to see if there are patent infringements.  This
     would create disputes between owners of software patents and owners of
     copyrights for closed source software.

     "When thieves fall out, then honest men have their day."

     I would argue further that a company that claims a software patent
     ought to make all its sources public, so as to put it on a par with
     vendors of open source software.

     The vendors of open source software -- RedHat, SuSe, VA Linux, etc. now
     have the cash to defend their positions in the courts, and are darlings
     of the media.

 (2) An institution ought to be founded to hold patents and to only allow
     them to be shared by companies that release their patents to writers
     of open source programs without fee, and (possibly) that make their
     own programs open source.  With the intellectual resources of the open
     source and academic communities, it should be possible to find a
     number of such patents, possibly even including a zinger like
     the Amazon patent or the patent on having a link from your web site to
     another, which pays you a fee for each reference.

     "Don't get mad, get even".

 It's a pity that the League for Programming Freedom doesn't seem to be in
 business any more, now that its services are needed more than ever.  I'm
 posting this to the LPF mailing list, just to see what will happen.

 BTW: I plan to do my Internet book business with Barnes and Noble and/or
 Borders and/or Cody's.


 To:       Jonathan Ryshpan <jon@dnai.com>
 From:     Pierre Sarrazin <sarrazip@sympatico.ca>
 Subject:  Re: Boycott Amazon!
 Date:     Mon, 13 Dec 1999 18:30:51 -0500

 Dixit Jonathan Ryshpan <jon@dnai.com> (1999-12-13 13:33):
 	[...]
 > It's a pity that the League for Programming Freedom doesn't seem to be in
 > business any more, now that its services are needed more than ever.  I'm
 > posting this to the LPF mailing list, just to see what will happen.

 I am the webmaster for the LPF website. That is pretty much all there
 is left concretely of the LPF. If enough committed volunteers are
 ready to form a new staff with a defined agenda, I would be glad
 to continue to help with the website for example.

 -- 
 Pierre Sarrazin <sarrazip@sympatico.ca>


 Note: The URL of the LPF website is: http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/
       (http://www.lpf.org is the Libertarian Party of Florida)


 To:       Jonathan Ryshpan <jon@dnai.com>
 From:     "Rich Hilliard" <rich.hilliard@isis2000.com>
 Cc:       rms@gnu.org, league-activists@ai.mit.edu
 Subject:  Re: Boycott Amazon!
 Date:     Tue, 14 Dec 1999 17:16:31 -0500

 I like your analysis up to your proposal (2); I have two problems with this.

 First, using the patent system doesn't defeat the patent system. Although,
 given recent trends, maybe I'm being too idealistic, and this is the best
 we can do. Second, as much as I like free software (open source), I'm not
 convinced about mixing the two issues.

 That said, the free software movement currently has growing economic and
 cultural presence that is an advantage on this matter. An idea I've been
 thinking about lately has a different twist: given the terrific shortage of
 programmers, a widely publicized program that would allow programmers to
 state, "I won't work for a company that holds software patents," might have
 a noticeable effect.

 I too have been wondering if anything was happening with LPF lately, and
 sent rms and jaffer a note to that effect. I'd like to help get something
 going again.
 --
 Rich Hilliard
 Director of Architecture
 Integrated Systems and Internet Solutions, Inc.
 150 Baker Avenue Extension, Suite 105
 Concord, MA 01742
 rh@isis2000.com
 +1 978 318 0000
 and
 Secretary, IEEE Architecture Working Group
 [http://www.pithecanthropus.com/~awg]


 To:       "Rich Hilliard" <rich.hilliard@isis2000.com>
 From:     Jonathan Ryshpan <jon@dnai.com>
 Cc:       Pierre Sarrazin <sarrazip@sympatico.ca>
 Subject:  Re: Boycott Amazon! 
 Date:     Tue, 14 Dec 1999 17:09:30 -0800

 Rich Hilliard <rich.hilliard@isis2000.com> writes:
 >I like your analysis up to your proposal (2); I have two problems with this.
 >
 >First, using the patent system doesn't defeat the patent system. Although,
 >given recent trends, maybe I'm being too idealistic, and this is the best
 >we can do. Second, as much as I like free software (open source), I'm not
 >convinced about mixing the two issues.

 I'd like to agree with you; but I think you *are* being too idealistic.
 I'm not convinced that the patent system as such is a good idea.  But many
 people are so convinced.  The additional problem, that the PTO has made a
 mess of it by granting unwarranted patents needs to be dealt with.

 >That said, the free software movement currently has growing economic and
 >cultural presence that is an advantage on this matter. An idea I've been
 >thinking about lately has a different twist: given the terrific shortage of
 >programmers, a widely publicized program that would allow programmers to
 >state, "I won't work for a company that holds software patents," might have
 >a noticeable effect.

 I don't think it would be possible to hold the line here.  Eric Raymond,
 has blessed RedHat, and VA Linux, among others, for mixing open source with
 proprietary software.  

 Which is why I wrote "Don't get mad, get even".

 >I too have been wondering if anything was happening with LPF lately, and
 >sent rms and jaffer a note to that effect. I'd like to help get something
 >going again.

 I have the following from the LPF webmaster, 
 Pierre Sarrazin <sarrazip@sympatico.ca>:

 >I am the webmaster for the LPF website. That is pretty much all there
 >is left concretely of the LPF. If enough committed volunteers are
 >ready to form a new staff with a defined agenda, I would be glad
 >to continue to help with the website for example.

 I've asked him for the URL of the LPF website, but so far no response, and
 I haven't searched for it either.  I'm still waiting for a reply from RMS.

 Maybe this is a good time to revive the League.



 To:       rich.hilliard@isis2000.com
 From:     Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org>
 Cc:       jon@dnai.com, league-activists@ai.mit.edu
 Subject:  Re: Boycott Amazon!
 Date:     Thu, 16 Dec 1999 15:32:59 -0500

 If you would like to help get the LPF active again, please contact
 dmarti@zgp.org.  He has been contributing some initiative lately,
 so he could be a nucleus for more.


 To:       jon@dnai.com
 From:     Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org>
 Subject:  Re: Boycott Amazon!
 Date:     Fri, 17 Dec 1999 15:04:16 -0500

     >If we were talking about free software, though, I would agree with
     >you.

     I *am* talking about Free (Libre) software.

 Ok, but I don't want to talk about free software under the term "open
 source".  That term is associated with Eric Raymond's movement, and I
 want people to know that the Free Software movement is something
 different.

 So you put me in a difficult position when you ask me questions which
 refer to things like GNU as "open source software".  If I participate
 in the discussion on those terms, I am in effect agreeing to be included
 in the other movement.  I would appreciate it if you would not do that.

     More to the point, do you see any prospect of carrying out any of the
     points of action, which I've reproduced below for your reference?  Is
     there any prospect for reviving the LPF?

 The LPF can be revived if people volunteer to do the work to make
 it active.  Don Marti has started doing some work, so you won't be alone.

     >    It might be possible for patent holders to claim to be able to inspect
     >    [non-free] software to see if there are patent infringements.

 I am sure it is possible, once a court case is going.  More precisely,
 the court could appoint someone to review the source code under NDA;
 the plaintiff itself would not gain access to the trade secrets of the
 defendant.

     >(2) An institution ought to be founded to hold patents and to only allow
     >    them to be shared by companies that release their patents to writers
     >    of [free] programs without fee, and (possibly) that make their
     >    own programs [free].

 We've talked about this idea for years.  The hard part is to get it
 started.