Archive for the ‘software patents’ Category

To Mark Shuttleworth

November 9, 2011

If this goes through, I want to publicly thank you and Canonical. Perhaps this “dropping” of Mono was purely for technical/practical reasons. Or maybe it was a recognition of the threat to Canonical’s business interests in the form of software idea patents. Or perhaps it was both a technical issue and a long-run, market-based decision.

Regardless, I hope it pays off for you. It already has for Ubuntu GNU/Linux users.

Stallman on Steve Jobs (part 2)

October 28, 2011

rms has a few “opinion” writers’ knickers in a twist. He criticized Steve Jobs’ legacy shortly after his death. It seems you’re not supposed to say that you’re glad Steve Jobs is no longer an influence in the technology industry so soon after his death. Apparently that’s  bad “taste”. I’ll self-censor my criticism of the opinion writers as it would surely be what’s rude and in poor taste. Instead, I’ll  quote an even more constructive follow-up from Richard:

Jobs saw how to make these computers stylish and smooth. That would normally be positive, but not in this case, since it has the paradoxical effect of making their controlling nature seem acceptable.

Jobs’ valuable contributions to the computing industry were more than negated. He promoted a market that has needless negative spillover effects. Sexy products are not enough to reconcile that blunder. And even worse, his attitude toward the ownership of design ideas in hardware and software are gasoline on the fire. As rms notes, the war on Android is a war that Jobs wanted waged. The full post is here.

“a complete standstill”

October 27, 2011

Software idea patents have been tying developer hands for years now. As time goes on, the harm these patents bring to the industry is bubbling to the surface. Big technology corporations are suing left, right, and center. Popular consumer products are finding themselves sidelined in some countries and threatened to be sidelined in others. Of course, companies like Apple and Microsoft tell a contemporary tale of a need to “protect” their “intellectual property” and portray themselves as victims of those who “steal” their ideas. Yes, they’re quick to justify the circus these days, but Bill Gates knew back in 1991 that we were headed toward a market that’s a far cry from Pareto-optimal:

If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.

Countries around the world should declare software as lacking the requisites for patentability.

ubuntu tablet questions

June 14, 2010

After users turn on these devices, will they be prompted to accept a license agreement if they wish to run the pre-installed software? If so, that isn’t necessarily a problem, but what will users have to agree to? How will the default installation deal with issues surrounding (for example) codecs, flash, and drivers for hardware? If I choose to install other Free software on the device, can I expect the wireless, graphics, and other hardware to function as expected? What BIOS will these devices run?

I was pleased to hear recently that F-Spot will no longer be the default image editor/viewer in desktop Ubuntu. Will there be any mono by default in “Unity” devices? Or, will standard Unity installs differentiate themselves from similar mobile-OS projects (e.g. the current, mono-laden version of Meego)?

I want to be convinced by Canonical to buy a tablet in 2011 (and many more beyond that time), but fear they may make too many compromises.

Steve Jobs wants to stop great artistry

March 9, 2010

Jobs in 1996:

Ultimately it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done – and then try to bring those things in to what you’re doing. Picasso had a saying. He said, ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ and we had always been shameless about stealing great ideas.

Jobs in 2010:

We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.

Dear Faceborg,

February 28, 2010

if you ever sue another for writing software that “dynamically provides a news feed”, you’re going to piss a lot of people off, including me. Oh, and don’t think for a second that the extortion of cross-licensing with other fish will go unnoticed.

Caroline McCarthy has more details here.

Free software and externalities

January 14, 2010

I’ve been thinking of externalities and by far the hardest form of an externality example to come up with has to be a “positive production externality”. That is, where the production of a good or service has a beneficial spillover effect for the rest of society’s producers. I came across an older post by Jason Welker where he speaks of the difficulty in providing examples. In that post he quotes economics professor Dr. Tim Haab who had this to say about PPEs:

The problems usually come in defining a positive production externality. A benefit to someone that is not fully captured by the producers–usually difficult because producers are usually pretty funny about finding ways to recover the full benefits of their production.

The case of proprietary software provides evidence for this claim. When proprietary software is published, it uses trade secret, patent and copyright laws to keep other producers from benefiting fully from the spillover. For example, trade secrecy keeps useful source code hidden from 3rd parties. Patent laws can keep 3rd parties from implementing similar ideas in their programs. As well, non-disclosure agreements are used within companies in an attempt to stop any benefit from “leaking” to other producers. Proprietary software production is an allocatively inefficient deployment of resources (historically justified under the fallacy that quality software won’t be written otherwise) and represents a market failure.

In the case of Free software production, the PPE isn’t negated by NDAs and patent thickets. With Free software, all producers are affected by the benefit. Non-copylefted Free software brings the marginal private cost (MPC) curve closer to the marginal social cost (MSC) curve while copylefted Free software aligns the two even closer as producers are unable to prevent others from acquiring the same benefits they received. Therefore, it makes the most sense for government policies to support businesses and other institutions in a way that encourages even more development of Free software.

On a related but unfortunate note, countries like Germany are trying to correct a negative consumption externality of proprietary software. Specifically, the burden of malware. Promoting Free software also tackles this problem as Free software offers users the best defense against malicious code.

Microsoft patents coercion

May 20, 2009

My thinking’s that the Free Software community has nothing to worry about with this one. Even if a developer of a Free operating system thought implementing a similar technique was beneficial, it would be done in a suggestive (rather than coercive) manner. Knock yourself out, Microsoft.

shining some light on moonlight

February 14, 2009

Miguel de Icaza (03.06.2008):

I’m not happy about the fact that [we got into bed with Microsoft], but [the decision] was above my pay grade; I think we should have stayed with the open-source community.

The result:

[...] de Icaza explained that anyone who downloaded Moonlight from Novell was protected by the company’s licensing of Silverlight codecs from Microsoft through the company’s own cross-licensing agreement. Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering from Mozilla, then raised the question that if he downloads and then distributes the code for Moonlight, would he get the patent protection?

“There is a patent covenant for anyone that downloads [Moonlight] from Novell,” answered de Icaza, who then acknowledged that “as to extending the patents to third parties — you have to talk to Microsoft.”

In other words, Microsoft controls the codecs (via Novell-as-proxy) and thus, digital media that Moonlight users might expect to play without a fuss. Want your choice of GNU/Linux running Moonlight to work (i.e. play all the eye candy) as Microsoft Silverlight does? You have to talk to Microsoft.

But not to worry, says Microsoft. If you can’t afford our price, we have an alternative solution.

Via Matt.

Jefferson, ideas, property, and the constitution

October 8, 2008

Update (Oct.14, 2008): If you make it to the bottom of this post and watch the video, this new post is important.

So I had my IT classes read and paraphrase the following famous quote by Thomas Jefferson that rebukes the claim that ideas be treated as property:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. [...] Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

I then had the class find where in the US constitution a provision is made to establish copyright and patent law. Using a search engine, they quickly came up with the appropriate passage from Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

I then asked them to respond to the following question:

Does the clause support or stand in opposition to Jefferson’s argument?

A few struggled with this as the answer appears to be both yes and no. The fact that the constitution establishes “exclusive Right[s]” seems to conflict with Jefferson’s position. Many students immediately saw it this way. My rhetorical follow-up question helped balance their view:

So when you buy a car, how long do you think you should be allowed to keep it?

Our next task is to examine how digital technology and global networks have increased the conflict in an “exclusive Right[s]” environment as compared to our analog past. The plan is to then look at a framework that helps bring 21st-century balance to All Rights Reserved copyright law and find out why many software developers are up in arms over patents.

This unit has been interesting so far. Most students had heard phrases like “intellectual property”, “piracy”, and “stealing” numerous times. In fact, virtually all of them had seen this “educational” video prior to my instruction and held the belief that without All Rights Reserved, artists would not be able to make money. We’ll be examining these phrases and beliefs closely over the coming days.


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