[Linux-aus] Seeking nomination

David Newall david at davidnewall.com
Sat Dec 22 17:38:36 UTC 2007

Sridhar Dhanapalan wrote:
> From reading a few of your recent messages, I gather that you may be in 
> favour of [software patents]. Can you please clarify your position?

This is a complex question, and hence has a lengthy answer.  The very 
brief answer is that the patent system is currently faulty, and needs 
urgently and major repair.

I favor allowing those who create a work to control its use.  
Researching and developing software is often an extremely time-consuming 
exercise.  Computer games can cost in excess of $100m(*) to produce!   I 
believe that Stallman holds that after being bought and sold just once, 
software must thenceforth be free; he is wrong.  The world abounds with 
examples of software that were so expensive to create that no single 
purchaser would have paid that amount.  Being able to distribute costs 
amongst a wide user-base is sometimes essential.

I oppose deliberate and willful violation of software patents.  Patents 
are part of our law and must be respected for that reason, if no other.

I think it's reasonable for somebody who creates something to be allowed 
to say who may use that thing and how.  Denying them that right not only 
disrespects their efforts, it's also unnecessary.  If one doesn't like 
the conditions imposed on use of said property, the proper course of 
action is to not use it.  Use something else.  Cats can be skinned in 
infinite ways.
As to whether I favor software patents: I'm not sure.  Contracts and 
licenses provide enormous protection, but not enough.  In particular, as 
stated in Legal Protection of Digital Information:

    "While a contract restricted what people receiving the software
    could do with it, particularly limiting their further distribution
    of the software, it could not bind people who were not parties to
    the contract. A person finding a computer program on the street
    could do anything he or she wanted with it. Copyright law, on the
    other hand, provides protection for a computer program even when no
    contract exists."
    -- http://digital-law-online.info/lpdi1.0/treatise17.html

Patent provides a completely different class of protection than 
copyright.  Somebody can spend years inventing a really clever 
algorithm, and rightly would want to be rewarded for that.  Patents can 
make sense.

I particularly dislike the apparent ease in which patents can be 
abused.  Even more, I strongly dislike the very poor quality of patents 
that are issued.  The system clear needs urgent attention!

I started by saying it's a complex question, and the answer is that 
within our western economic framework, patents are an appropriate form 
of protection for all inventions, and software should not be excluded.  
Absent any abuse of process and they can be a positive factor in 
software development.  Remember, too, that patents don't stop you 
achieving a particular outcome; there are even more ways to skin a cat 
than I previously said!

(*)Unable to find a reference.

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