Thursday, November 10, 2005

So I went to Linux World Expo in Utrecht - The Netherlands yesterday. And although its primary focus group was manager type of people there was one interesting thing to go to, the panel discussion about software patents.

All types of people were presented in the panel, lawyers, programmers, multicorps and jurists. The talk was OK, although too short and nothing new came out of it. Although the stance each of these people take was interesting to witness.

The programmer was against it, which is logical. The lawyers and the multicorps were pro patents and the jurist was slated against patents (note the this difference between a lawyer and a jurist).
The lawyers said there is no problem because there are no court cases on software patents in Europe. I'm sure he would love to have more of them. The multicorp (in this case Philips) said they wanted to patent as much inventions as possible and required it from anybody who worked together with them to do the same. They also said in this day and age it is unclear on where software comes into play in an invention because almost everything invented these days contains software of some kind. Another point they raised was that if you invent something physical made with your hands it is patentable so why shouldn't it be the same for software.

These people had a hard time discovering the true danger and problems behind software patents. The lawyers denied the problem, but were faced with hard facts when the programmer pulled up some letters against popular open source projects threatened by a company holding a patent in Europe. Asked if they would want to defend this project they merely answered - 'if they are willing to pay us, sure.' - which made it very clear why they are pro patents.
The reason why you could make a difference between a software patent and some other products is that software has no costs involved except the initial development. Other, more physical, products have initial costs as well, but also recurring production costs, they need a factory line, perhaps specialized machines to reproduce the invention. Software on the other hand, once made, can be put online and downloaded unlimited times adding no extra costs (perhaps the hosted server, but at the cheap prices these days they can be neglected).

Several topics were not covered, but still interesting. Like the fact that patents are not world enforceable. The extreme long time a patent is valid, etc. I don't have to tell you that I'm against software patents myself. Everybody in the EU (you don't need to be an EU member though), I must recommend to go to the European of the Year voting guide.

Post a Comment