Why I think we won the battle against software patents

After many years talking about the damages to innovation created by patents on software, I believe that the we can consider the battle won: the free software/open source movement should focus its attention on other battles.  While I agree with Florian Mueller that the Europeans are still pestered by patents on software, I believe that our campaign was to mainly raise wider awareness.

During the long march to reject the directive on ‘computer implemented inventions’ we put the issue of software patents in front of millions of Europeans, thousands of small businesses and hundreds of MEPs. We convinced the majority of  MEPs to reject, for the first time ever, a Directive approved by the Council. We started a debate about the threats to innovation posed by patents and we made sure the business community knew about the risks to their activity. The issues of patents on software and math are now visible to all those affected in the business community: entrepreneurs, small-and medium-size businesses and big business.

The business community at large is the ultimate victim of software patents. With trolls constantly at work, all companies face potential damage. Companies, small and big, are now aware of the problem and the debate about how to fix it is now a fire that burns on its own. Academics publish a lot more papers and research projects demonstrating that the current patent system is broken and dysfunctional and may be harming economic development of the US.

Looking at it strictly from the perspective of the free software movement: we won! We did our job, software patents are now a mainstream issue, our arguments are being pushed forward by people with vast resources, much more than the FSF or OSI can put together. I believe that Google, HTC, Apple, Microsoft etc. are the main victims of this stupid system. Some argue that the whole US and European commercial power is being harmed in the competition with China. Let them finish the fight: they have all reasons to want to change the system.  We as the free software movement can continue provide expertise when needed, follow the progress of the issue.

We need to liberate resources and energy for other fights that are still not mainstream: online privacy, DRM and locked devices are some that come to mind.

I believe that the victory in the European Parliament was and still is a full clear victory.  As Jack Welch teaches: celebrating a victory is always a good thing, even a small one.

Another brick falls on the US patent system

It looks like the US patent system, that the free software movement has been fighting for the past 25 years, is dying.

First academia started questioning its usefulness (back in 1958), then the conservative cultural circles at WSJ.’  In the recent Blisky case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit put the software patents on shaky ground.

IBM threw the last, heaviest brick on the patent system announcing that it will increase by 50% the number of inventions that it releases in the public domain, instead of patenting them. The press release estimates a total of about 3,000 inventions by IBM during 2009. Even more interesting:

its planned increase in publishing inventions will focus on those technology areas that will increase the build out of a new, smarter infrastructure.

which sounds like that to enable innovation you need to get rid of patents. Another interesting piece of IBM’s press release:

Publication of technological information is one means to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” the phrase in the U.S. Constitution giving the Congress the power to enact patent laws. Publication protects inventors from allegations of infringement by placing the intellectual property into the body of prior art. Publications also improve patent quality, since they can be cited by patent offices in limiting the scope of patent applications. Publication also helps spur follow-on innovation that ensures dynamic business growth.

Isn’t this what have we’ve been saying for the past 20 years?

IBM full press release

Openmoko forced to fight a patent troll

Instead of innovating the mobile business, OpenMoko is now forced to divert energy on a battle against an Italian patent troll. From a message to the OpenMoko mailing lists:

The short story is that we are in a protracted battle with some patent trolls. Google for Sisvel. In order to get ourselves in a stronger position, we want to make sure no copies/instances/whatever of patent-infested technologies like MP2 and MP3 exist on our servers. Our phones never shipped with end-user MP3 playback features, but we want to use this opportunity to make sure it’s not even in some remote place somewhere.

The Neo Freerunner never shipped with software support for MP2 and MP3, so I wonder what the infringment claim is. I couldn’t find many info online about the case. Does anybody know more about it?

Re: RESEND(Wrong Thread): IMAGE/MP3 licensing issue. [LWN.net].