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Richard Stallman: Limit the Effect of Software Patents

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the system-and-method-for-arranging-0s-and-1s dept.

Patents 257

An anonymous reader writes "We can't get rid of software patents, says Richard Stallman, but we could change how they apply to creating and using software and hardware. In an editorial at Wired, he advocates for a legislative solution to the patent wars that would protect both developers and users. Quoting: 'We should legislate that developing, distributing, or running a program on generally used computing hardware does not constitute patent infringement. This approach has several advantages: —It doesn't require classifying patents or patent applications as "software" or "not software." —It provides developers and users with protection from both existing and potential future computational idea patents. —Patent lawyers can't defeat the intended effect by writing applications differently.'"

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The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hire (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853083)

Stop blaming the lawyers and start blaming the people who ask them to file the lawsuits. It is like blaming the engineers that build an M1 tank, rather than the military that buys and operates it.

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853219)

The lawyer scumbags you are protecting should have the moral fortitude to turn down these bad cases, just like the slime-ball engineers you speak of should refuse to work on said death-machines.

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853265)

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, lawyers gotta sue. See "The scorpion and the [frog/turtle]".

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (2, Funny)

kumanopuusan (698669) | about 2 years ago | (#41853785)

The scorpion and the turtle

Damn, they have armor-piercing scorpions now?

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (3, Insightful)

drakaan (688386) | about 2 years ago | (#41853541)

I'll re-troll, since IHBT

...It's like blaming the engineers that build an M1 tank, rather than the president and congress that tells them where and what to shoot.

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (4, Interesting)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#41853733)

This would be true if there was limitless work for lawyers, and they could simply choose the most lucrative work. But that's not the case—lawyers, like contractors in any industry whose opportunities are affected by the laws the government writes, have a vested interest in supporting laws that increase demand for their work. Diamond v. Diehr could as easily have been called the Legal Profession Full Employment Act of 1981.

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853903)

Anytime a law increases the available work, it is an additional cost (tax?) to the population. Representatives of the people should work to keep costs (including those the government doesn't benefit from) at a minimum.

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (2)

gmuslera (3436) | about 2 years ago | (#41853787)

Stop blaming the lawyers is the first step on the road to hell. They are guilty of something, by definition, if there is a law that could be twisted or corrupted for their profit, they will, no matter what comes after, they got their pay. And politicians, of course, that because malice or idiocy do those laws (also, some are lawyers or take lawyers advice, see previous point). In your example, is the difference between designing a gun and using it, the lawyers in this case are the ones using guns, and actively killing people with ideas.

And all of this without even going to the point of patents. The whole concept that thinking and solving problems by your own is potentially a minefield is wrong. Our very civilization and culture is built taking ideas from others, and using/copying/adapting/improving them, we wouldn't be even in caves without that.

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41854271)

How is that "by definition?"

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (5, Insightful)

N0Man74 (1620447) | about 2 years ago | (#41853823)

Stop blaming the lawyers and start blaming the people who ask them to file the lawsuits. It is like blaming the engineers that build an M1 tank, rather than the military that buys and operates it.

Yeah! The lawyers are just exploited innocents! There is a demand for evil, and they are only supplying that demand. Is that so evil? Of course not!

It's the same reason why drug-dealers, car thieves, and human traffickers aren't really evil, they are just supplying a demand.

Just following orders (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 2 years ago | (#41853923)

Stop blaming the lawyers and start blaming the people who ask them to file the lawsuits.

That's the "we were just following orders" argument and it is pretty flimsy. Basically it is arguing that they have no responsibility to consider whether their actions might be harmful before proceeding. While it is probably true that the lawyers are not the proximal cause of the problem, they do bear at least some of the blame even when they aren't the ones filing suit. Lawyers always can decline to accept the case if they believe it lack merit or be unethical.

Furthermore the lawyers themselves are often the ones responsible for initiating the legal actions. There are plenty of patent trolls who have little or no technical expertise or production capacity. They only exist to threaten others with lawsuits and collect royalties.

Re:The lawyers themselves are just soldiers for hi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41854255)

These stupid laws were written by lawyers for lawyers and I'm supposed to blame someone else. How about I blame all the lawyers in congress, every IP lawyer and those handful who are suing people.

Right on (5, Interesting)

Sloppy (14984) | about 2 years ago | (#41853133)

As usual, he's right. Cue the morons who ignore him because they don't like him personally.

There was one thing that stuck out at me, though:

Second, the U.S. already has many thousands of computational idea patents, and changing the criteria to prevent issuing more would not get rid of the existing ones. We would have to wait almost 20 years for the problem to be entirely corrected through patent expiration. And legislating the abolition of these existing patents is probably unconstitutional. (Perversely, the Supreme Court has insisted that Congress can extend private privileges at the expense of the publicâ(TM)s rights but that it canâ(TM)t go in the other direction.)

Anyone got a citation for this, that Congress does not have the power to limit patents which already have been granted? AFAIK patent exist completely at the pleasure of Congress.

Re:Right on (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853227)

I don't dislike him personally, I dislike him because of his beliefs. It's his way or the highway.

I prefer TRUE freedom. You write/use software and do whatever you want with it. Want to pass it along, okay. Don't want to, okay. Free of cost AND free of restrictions.

Re:Right on (5, Insightful)

squiggleslash (241428) | about 2 years ago | (#41853339)

I dislike him because of his beliefs. It's his way or the highway.

That's everyone's beliefs by definition. If you don't have a sense of right and wrong, or how the world should work, then you're not human. Reminds me of the friend who tried to convince me that a certain economist was an "ideologue". "He has some fixed concept of how the world works and predicts things on that!" Leaving aside the fact the economist in question had, actually, very publically revised his view of the world several times when results didn't fit the models he used, the comment was utterly stupid: what he was describing were models, and economists use models. The good ones revise their models when reality doesn't match them, the bad ones pretend that their models always work and ignore reality, but the allegation was stupid.

Your allegation against Stallman is especially stupid. You just described a belief as, well, a belief. And used it as a criticism.

But leaving that aside, what Stallman has a habit of is converting his beliefs into a set of pragmatic projects and proposals that everyone can live with. Two extremely prominent examples are the GPL, a license that a developer can choose to use, if the developer wishes the software they release to always be part of a free software infrastructure, and the GNU project, a body of free software that enabled the bootstrapping of an entire free software ecosystem.

Those pragmatic projects benefitted everyone, regardless of whether they shared Stallman's belief or view of the world or not. Linus Torvalds, who is famously not an enthusiast of Stallman's ideals, used the infrastructure Stallman's work produced to build what's probably the world's most popular and widely use operating system kernel. And he'll be the first to tell you that.

But, hey, he's a dirty smelly hippy or something, so let's ignore what he actually does and use word games to pretend he's totally teh eval.

Re:Right on (3, Funny)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 2 years ago | (#41853497)

That's because

eval "Richard Stallman"

returns 0.

Re:Right on (1)

kwerle (39371) | about 2 years ago | (#41853789)

I dislike him because of his beliefs. It's his way or the highway.

That's everyone's beliefs by definition...

I'm a vegetarian because I believe we should not support this country's meat industry.
I dine with omnivores.
Your deal is your deal.

Have a great weekend!

Re:Right on (0)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41853373)

I prefer TRUE freedom. You write/use software and do whatever you want with it. Want to pass it along, okay. Don't want to, okay. Free of cost AND free of restrictions.

I also prefer TRUE freedom. I should have the right to maim and kill others as I please.

Re:Right on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853423)

I prefer TRUE freedom. You write/use software and do whatever you want with it. Want to pass it along, okay. Don't want to, okay. Free of cost AND free of restrictions.

IOW you prefer TRUE freedom from the user/developer's point of view. RMS prefers TRUE freedom from the code point of view.

Unfortunately I don't think these two points of view are compatible, so the heated usual argument between GPL and BSD supporters.

Re:Right on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853695)

RMS prefers TRUE freedom from the code point of view.

No, RMS prefers TRUE freedom from the user's point of view. By RMS, user should be free to inspect, study, understand and amend the program which controls user's hardware.

It's entirely what copyright was FOR. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853901)

To promote the progress of the useful arts, remember?

You can look at how Shaespeare turned a phrase, or Colleridge placed a metaphor, or Stephen Donaldson put two hundred and eighty severn adjectives together in place of one noun, and learn from it.

Because you read the book.

Well, you should be able to do the exact same thing with code.

Re:Right on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853953)

RMS prefers TRUE freedom from the code point of view.

No, RMS prefers TRUE freedom from the user's point of view. By RMS, user should be free to inspect, study, understand and amend the program which controls user's hardware.

No, the user is not free to modify the code and redistribute it closed, so he's not fully free (although it's true he's free to modify it for his personal use as long as he does not redistribute).

What you've just described is exactly freedom from the code's point of view (which is in the end-user's best interest and freedom to "inspect, study, understand, amend", I agree but does not confer full freedom to him)

Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against RMS or his view, that was not my point at all, I'm just trying to clarify an obvious misunderstanding about what freedom means

Re:Right on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853941)

Since users/developers are human, and code is not, let's stop anthropomorphizing our source code, and concern ourselves with the rights of users / developers.

The point comes down to this: if I write it, I should be able to dictate the terms under which I will share it with the world. I'm willing to share it with you, but I want a payment of X dollars, and I don't want you to redistribute what I've written. If those terms are amenable to you, then we can enter a business arrangement. If the terms are not amenable to you, then you have several options:
1) You do without my software, and I try to find people who ARE willing to pay me the terms I wish for my software;
2) You write your own version of the software, or find someone else who can do it for you under terms you will accept;
3) You negotiate with me until we reach a deal that is mutually agreeable to both of us.

Any software (and development methodology) that cannot survive on its own merits deserves to be dismissed from the conversation. You don't have any rights to my software "because I REALLY want/need it." In fact, the GPL and BSD licenses are fundamentally reliant on this very premise as well: You don't get to do whatever you want with this software (unless it's explicitly stated that you may, in the case of the BSD license) - you can have a copy if you want, you can do certain things with it, but you MUST comply with certain other restrictions and requirements that I've placed on the code. Failure to do so is a breach of the license, and thus opens you to legal action on the part of the rights holders.

Re:Right on (4, Insightful)

Sloppy (14984) | about 2 years ago | (#41853569)

*sigh* RTFA please. Then tell me this dude isn't 100% True Freedom on at least this issue. The guy is trying to keep us all from getting totally fucked by government policy for the crime of doing our jobs. If you are pissed about the GPL can we just agree that we have million-times-bigger fish to fry first? The BSD-GPL war can fucking wait, asshole. Until then, RMS is possibly the very best friend every programmer has (yes, even proprietary dudes). Dammit, now you've pissed me off. Yes, you're the kind of moron I was talking about.

Re:Right on (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 2 years ago | (#41853837)

I'm sorry. Can you point out where exactly you are forced to use the GPL to license your software?

Re:Right on (1)

Zordak (123132) | about 2 years ago | (#41853899)

I'm sorry. Can you point out where exactly you are forced to use the GPL to license your software?

Depends---are we talking about the real world, or Richard Stallman's Free Software Utopia? Because if it was up to him, he would force all software to be GPL. Just ask him.

Re:Right on (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 2 years ago | (#41854047)

I asked a pretty basic question here. You're insisting Richard Stallman wants to force you to license your software in some specific fashion, and yet I see no evidence that Stallman desires that, or that he even has the power. If you don't like the GPL, don't use it. Now that's freedom.

Re:Right on (3, Interesting)

TheRealGrogan (1660825) | about 2 years ago | (#41853919)

It's not "his way or the highway" it's his way, or he disagrees with you. He doesn't say "you can't", he says "I don't, and you shouldn't"

You're free to go and use other software if you don't like GNU licenses. The authors of the projects decide how to license their software.

Philosophy is just that... you can't always follow it in practice. I like Richard Stallman's philosophy and I think I'd like the man if I met him, but if I followed his ideals I wouldn't have much. I want more than a Yeelong netbook (open hardware and software) and I still need a Windows install for my games, for example. Even in my Linux setup that I use for everything else, I still want to be able to play music and movies which happen to be in non-free file formats so I turn a blind eye and use things like MPlayer with non-free codecs. I use the Flash player too.

Re:Right on (1)

godrik (1287354) | about 2 years ago | (#41853231)

Well, the main problem with his approach is that it is way too strong. Congress will never vote something like that. It would nullify in practice most patent. I do not think they will vote such a thing.

Re:Right on (2)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41853251)

IANAL by any stretch of the imagination, but I have read about copyrights and patents and what the constitution states about them. My feeling has always been that what we see in so-called "IP" law is well beyond what the stated intent and power given by the constitution.

It's one of those things that prove to me the "strict constitutionalists" are full of it. They're for strong IP law most of the time, but the constitutional purpose of copyright and patents was explicitly limited and was explicitly not put in place to make companies rich but to encourage inventors and artists by letting them profit off of their work for a *limited* amount of time.

Re:Right on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853417)

It's one of those things that prove to me the "strict constitutionalists" are full of it.

Strawman, probably to be a No True Scotsman if you feel like responding. I'm pretty strictly constitutionalist and while I understand the value of IP rights I also understand that there should be strict limitations on them including length of time.

Re:Right on (0)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41853479)

Please explain. You believe that the people have IP rights when it's explicitly not in the constitution.

Re:Right on (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41853517)

Let me clarify that... do you believe in long term IP rights? That's what I am getting at here. My argument was saying long term IP rights are not constitutional, not that *all* "IP rights" are.

Maybe the confusion is I don't believe in the idea of "Intellectual Property," just patents, copyright, trademark, and the like. I don't believe in the "property" part of it because it's intangible.

Re:Right on (1)

Xaositecte (897197) | about 2 years ago | (#41853773)

you two appear to be agreeing with each other, and yet insisting that your opinions are different.

Re:Right on (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#41853819)

Like most political positions, 'strict constitutionalist' should always be followed by 'so long as this does not conflict with my higher-priority goals.' See, for example, all the people who will in one paragraph decry the way the federal government has taken over healthcare, and in the very next paragraph say that the federal government needs to act to ban gay marriage.

Re:Right on (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 2 years ago | (#41853979)

I'm not so sure - it seems like more and more of the big players are coming to the conclusion that the current state of software patents is a losing proposition for everyone, and they have deeper pockets for lobbying than the patent trolls. More importantly this solution wouldn't tamper with the patent system itself, and so wouldn't threaten the profits of pharma companies, etc. that *do* have deep pockets and a vested interest in preserving the status quo. And as Stallman points out there's already an exception for surgical procedures, so this approach wouldn't even set a dangerous precedent that they would have strong incentive to fight, though admittedly the expansion of that precedent might worry them. Still, I think most everyone agrees that patents work more-or-less as intended in the pharmacology field, so the entrenched interests might well prefer "piecemeal" fixes that clearly address only specific problem areas unrelated to their own activities.

Heck, careful wording would even leave "big iron" applications untouched if those players wanted to keep fighting it out.

Re:Right on (3, Interesting)

Zordak (123132) | about 2 years ago | (#41854093)

It's one of those things that prove to me the "strict constitutionalists" are full of it. They're for strong IP law most of the time, but the constitutional purpose of copyright and patents was explicitly limited and was explicitly not put in place to make companies rich but to encourage inventors and artists by letting them profit off of their work for a *limited* amount of time.

I consider myself a strict constitutionalist (or a "textualist" if you want to nitpick). I am in favor of strong IP (and I ought to be---I'm an IP lawyer). In fact, the patent system has stayed pretty true to its constitutional footings. I have plenty of policy complaints about some of the details, but overall it does exactly what it's supposed to: grant a strong, limited-time monopoly to inventors.

Copyrights, on the other hand, are totally out of control. Life of the author +70 years is both too long and (in my opinion) too indefinite to meet the Constitution's "limited times" requirement. And if we're being realistic, there's no way Walt Disney is ever going to let Mickey Mouse go out of copyright. They want a perpetual term, and they will pay whomever they need to pay to make it happen. And revoking works from the public domain? Seriously? And DMCA? And I could go on. Copyright has been tainted by the worst excesses of the lobbying culture.

(These views, of course, are simply my own. If I represent a client whose interests lie in defending the existing copyright regime, I will stand up and extoll the virtues of the existing regime. Now cue the trolling about how unethical it is to advocate for my clients' interests instead of standing up and talking about my personal preferences...)

Re:Right on (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | about 2 years ago | (#41853287)

Anyone got a citation for this, that Congress does not have the power to limit patents which already have been granted? AFAIK patent exist completely at the pleasure of Congress.

Doesn't matter if they have the power - they won't do it. Too many companies have spent too much money on the registration of patents - invalidating them all would piss off far too many constituents. .

Re:Right on (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41853317)

Strike "constituents" and replace with "donors."

They are two different things. If election laws were sane they wouldn't be, but right now they are.

Re:Right on (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853527)

Cue the morons who ignore him because they don't like him personally.

So if you don't agree with RMS on this, you're a moron. Wow, I can see why the mods gave this +5.

Re:Right on (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | about 2 years ago | (#41853543)

Software Patents are a US idea and a US problem, Patents are government granted and so can be taken away or invalidated easily ...

Don't be naive (4, Informative)

Any Web Loco (555458) | about 2 years ago | (#41853657)

Don't be naive - patents may have their roots in Anglo-American law but they're a global phenomenon and, given the reach and influence of the US legal system, a global problem.

Re:Right on (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#41853735)

Software Patents are a US idea and a US problem

They also exist in every other patent system, including Europe's, despite what some people would have you believe. They actually have the same rule as in the US - software per se is unpatentable, but a software method performed by a machine, or a machine executing software, or a DVD including software instructions are all patentable.

Re:Right on (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#41853665)

I think RMS is wrong. Here is where I think he is wrong:

We can't get rid of software patents, says Richard Stallman

There is no reason why software patents cannot be eventually abolished (and other patents and copyrights actually). Once they are de facto abolished, then it would be a matter of time before they are abolished de jure. The battle of patents is just starting, it will be a war of patents and copyrights and I think there is a chance that the final casualty of that war will be the law itself (not immediately of-course, but nothing happens all at once). It will take an international patent war, one side just may declare that no patents and copyrights should be granted or protected again, because doing so hurts the economy and that may be the beginning of the end for all patents.

Re:Right on (4, Interesting)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#41853705)

Anyone got a citation for this, that Congress does not have the power to limit patents which already have been granted? AFAIK patent exist completely at the pleasure of Congress.

Patents have been held to be property, and are therefore subject to due process rights against seizure by the government (there are also arguments about them being a legal entitlement). While Congress could abolish the patent act tomorrow, they probably couldn't make it retroactive or take away existing patents.

Re:Right on (0)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#41853737)

By right you mean not practical for the real world.

I never met the man, I just disagree a lot of parts of his philosophy.

As for software patents, they can be a good thing... However they are not being applied correctly. The problem there are too many obvious patents out there, for cases most semi-competent developers would recreate when the issue comes across them. If the patent system ran correctly people wouldn't accidentally violate someone else's patent very often. Because only really novel ideas come across.

For example the Patent on file compression and encryption, stuff that takes real thought behind it, is good for patents, however stuff like measuring how long you pressed a button is much different. Or a square box with round corners.

Re:Right on (1)

Grond (15515) | about 2 years ago | (#41853841)

Anyone got a citation for this, that Congress does not have the power to limit patents which already have been granted?

It's a long-standing principle dating back to McClurg v. Kingsland [google.com] , 42 US 202 (1843). But even if a patent could be retroactively invalidated by legislative fiat or effectively invalidated by making it (virtually) unenforceable, the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause would likely entitle the patent owner to just compensation.

Re:Right on (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41854219)

Cue the morons who ignore him because they don't like him personally.

Cue the morons who love him because they can't be arsed to pay for Photoshop, even though he's a total hippie whackjob.

"Generally Used" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853151)

I'd like to know what the definition of "generally used" computing hardware is. The PC is (for now) an open platform, so I could see it as being "generally used". But what about iPads? Car computers? Game consoles? Would this legislation lead to a paradigm shift of ever-more-closed systems to protect patents?

Re:"Generally Used" (1)

xaxa (988988) | about 2 years ago | (#41853321)

Perhaps a device where the typical user can execute programs other than those supplied by the manufacturer.

The includes your PC, smartphone, tablet, Arduino, but excludes your car's ABS and your toaster. However, it also excludes your TV -- at least until that gets an app store, or the ability to run general Java programs. Would that be OK?

Unknown sources (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41853971)

Perhaps a device where the typical user can execute programs other than those supplied by the manufacturer.

The includes your PC, smartphone, tablet

It includes the vast majority of smartphones and tablets that run the Android OS. But it does not include iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone 7, Surface, or certain models of Nook Tablet. These devices have a centralized app store operated by the manufacturer or operating system publisher and lack an easily reachable counterpart to the "Unknown sources" checkbox in Android.

Re:"Generally Used" (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41853403)

I'd like to know what the definition of "generally used" computing hardware is.

A von Neumann architecture machine? I'm using the one on my desk quite generally, if I may say so.

Software Patents are mostly a scourge (4, Insightful)

Runesabre (732910) | about 2 years ago | (#41853239)

My issue with software patents are that inventors have the tools to create just about anything in their own home. Anyone could have created Facebook, JPG rendering, one-click purchase with simply a laptop. If software patents were music, it would be like patenting piano music. Press the keys in a certain way (which anyone will eventually do who plays piano at all) and .. oops... you just violated a patent. Press keys in an arbitrary other pattern and viola... instant patent and license to pester future composers with your "invention".

There's nothing non-obvious with just about any software. Developers should not have to worry about the dark legal cloud of patents hanging over them for something literally anyone could create with readily available tools in their own home. That very fact should make it obvious why software patents should not exist. People don't accidentally find a cure for cancer in their basement with their Junior Chem Lab Set which is why patents do have a place in general.Even worse is the fact you could be unknowingly violating a patent without even knowing it and the system purposely allows patent holders to wait around until inventors start to actually profit from their inventions and THEN start suing. The fact that patent holders can even have patents without even having a real product simply shows the system isn't about stimulating and rewarding invention but stirring up revenue for government agencies and legal firms.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (3, Insightful)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about 2 years ago | (#41853563)

Like I've argued, actual code is covered by copyright. If I code something that has the end result as yours, from a patent perspective, it would be like a Xerox copier to a Ditto machine. They both copied documents, but differently. Now if I code something and the guts are the same that is naughty, and covered by copyright law.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (1)

Runesabre (732910) | about 2 years ago | (#41853955)

+1 Agree with you here. Stealing content is bad. Go write your own code, create your own music, whatever. Content creators should not have to worry about whether their METHODS are infringing, but, they should be given pause when attempting to steal someone else's effort instead of creating their own.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41853999)

Go write your own code, create your own music, whatever.

Say I write my own music. What steps should I take to I make sure that the combination of notes I happen to choose isn't accidentally the same as the hook of some existing song?

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853581)

There's nothing non-obvious with just about any software.

Wasn't the motivation for patents that companies would keep their inventions secret from their competitors, and their trade secrets used to be later lost and forgotten? Patents were granted as a temporary monopoly of an idea in exchange for the invention to be made public. The problem with a lot of these patents on user interfaces or even designs is that there are no secrets. It is completely obvious how to write software to produce a bouncy elastic effect to indicate inability to scroll. It is impossible to keep such an "invention" secret while still profiting from it, therefore the original purpose of patents is completely missed. Essentially, (at least most) software patents are for abstract ideas that anyone could come up with, rather than an actual algorithm or mechanism.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#41853797)

It is impossible to keep such an "invention" secret while still profiting from it, therefore the original purpose of patents is completely missed.

Not with restrictive NDAs and similar license agreements. But that'd be a horrible thing for the industry.

Essentially, (at least most) software patents are for abstract ideas that anyone could come up with, rather than an actual algorithm or mechanism.

That someone could come up with an idea doesn't make it obvious, particularly if no one yet has come up with the idea.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853883)

It is impossible to keep such an "invention" secret while still profiting from it, therefore the original purpose of patents is completely missed.

Not with restrictive NDAs and similar license agreements. But that'd be a horrible thing for the industry.

I can't imagine Apple requiring all its customers to sign NDAs.

Actually, that might be rather fun to watch!

Use of a bouncy elastic effect in the first place (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41854031)

It is completely obvious how to write software to produce a bouncy elastic effect to indicate inability to scroll.

What Apple argues is non-obvious is the use of a bouncy elastic effect in the first place. My Nexus 7 uses a blue glow at the top and bottom of a document, or a 3D rotation of the entire page on the home screen or the gallery.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about 2 years ago | (#41853771)

There's nothing non-obvious with just about any software.

That's an odd statement. If there's nothing non-obvious in software, then why are there still developers? Why haven't we had 3D UIs with head tracking for decades? Why are people looking for new encryption systems, and why are there any that haven't already been cracked?

Basically, I think you're using a different definition of "non-obvious" than the legal one.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (1)

Runesabre (732910) | about 2 years ago | (#41854087)

That's a fair point and observation. Development takes time. The reward should be focused on those who actually take the time to develop and market their product for meaningful use in society (or team up with others who can bring a product to market) and not reward those who simply come up with the idea for it and wait to sue someone else who actually spends the time to make it a reality.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853805)

I may have misunderstood your comment, but musical compositions actually are protected by intellectual property laws. They're covered by copyright law instead of patent law, but it's the same basic idea. If you press the piano keys in a certain way, as long as it meets certain requirements (e.g. at least a minimum duration, a novel composition, etc.), then it can be protected as intellectual property.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (2)

Runesabre (732910) | about 2 years ago | (#41854001)

The difference is that patents cover the method by which music created; not the actual created content. Copyright protects the actual content. If music could be patented, then, you could be infringing while playing the piano because of the method you are using (pressing keys).

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853871)

Facility of reproduction shouldn't be an issue in patent-worthiness, although it is admittedly much more probable that someone will stumble upon the same discovery (again) if it is so easy. In layman's terms, patent is about revealing a secret of how to solve particular problem. Whenever there is a hard problem, reward on solving it is well-deserved. However, going around and forcing people to listen up your obvious solutions of trivial problems and extorting money from them for that useless "favor" - that is something completely different. Now, even if you know how to solve a trivial problem, you may be forced to effectively play a dumb, or unnecessarily waste your effort on thinking up other suboptimal but unencumbered solutions, because someone already claimed "natural" way of solving it. It is very frustrating and detrimental to progress in general.

Line of reasoning (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 2 years ago | (#41854089)

Anyone could have created Facebook, JPG rendering, one-click purchase with simply a laptop.

So what? Anyone can create a machined part in their house with a drill press which costs less than most laptops. The fact that the tools are readily available does not have any bearing on whether something made with them should be patentable. Furthermore the mere fact that in theory "anyone could have created Facebook" is belied by the fact that only one person actually did create Facebook. Just because others possess the technical skill to do something doesn't matter at all with regard to the novelty, obviousness or utility of an invention. I know how to machine all sorts of parts with a milling machine but it doesn't logically follow we shouldn't allow patents on machined parts because I theoretically might have come up with something that someone else created.

Don't get me wrong, I agree completely that software patents are an incredibly bad idea. I'm just arguing that your line of reasoning isn't a compelling argument against them. Patents were created to provide an incentive for creative works in the face of the Free Rider Problem [wikipedia.org] . Software patents have the same net effect of stifling innovation as allowing Free Riders. In both cases you are removing economic incentives to create new works. Both make it economically pointless to try to bring products to market.

Re:Software Patents are mostly a scourge (1)

Grond (15515) | about 2 years ago | (#41854215)

My issue with software patents are that inventors have the tools to create just about anything in their own home

For the cost of a high-end computer you can also buy a CNC mill or a 3D printer. Should mechanical device patents also be abolished, since just about any device can be designed and built in a person's home?

There's nothing non-obvious with just about any software

Ah, right. That's why computer science had a massive explosion of ideas in the 30s and 40s and then has been completely stagnant ever since. It was all so obvious!

Even worse is the fact you could be unknowingly violating a patent without even knowing it and the system purposely allows patent holders to wait around until inventors start to actually profit from their inventions and THEN start suing

That's not how patent damages work. Damages don't start accruing until after the infringer has notice of the patent (actual or constructive). Actual notice means actually being aware of the patent. Constructive notice requires that the patentee sell a product marked with the patent number, which means doing more than just waiting around until others start to use the invention.

"legislative solution" (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41853355)

That requires voting for people who will create the required legislation. It won't happen with the current crop we reelect now.

Re:"legislative solution" (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 2 years ago | (#41853627)

Well, most of the folks in Congress are lawyers, by trade, who turned to politics. So I don't think that they have any incentive to limit the lucrative patent lawsuit market.

Re:"legislative solution" (1)

Grond (15515) | about 2 years ago | (#41853937)

most of the folks in Congress are lawyers

This is not true and hasn't been for a long time, if it ever was. Lawyers have not been a majority of members of Congress since at least some time before 1945 [wsj.com] . The 92nd Congress (71-73) did have a bare majority of lawyers in the Senate, but that's about it. The percentage of lawyers is presently only around 25% for the House and around 38% for the Senate, and the percentage has been declining for decades, particularly in the House.

Hey Richard? (-1, Troll)

arisvega (1414195) | about 2 years ago | (#41853365)

Stall, man!

Re:Hey Richard? (1)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | about 2 years ago | (#41853595)

Or when he's in a plane:

Stall? Man...

Limiting the effect? (1)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | about 2 years ago | (#41853379)

This might not be explicitly removing software patents, but in effect that sounds like what would happen. What would the point of software patents be if this made it so nobody could ever infringe on one?

Maybe this kind of indirect approach is exactly what is needed to blend in with other legislation.

Just how would this work? (4, Interesting)

dtmos (447842) | about 2 years ago | (#41853383)

I'm not against it at all, but II really would like to understand how Stallman's proposal would apply to, say, the following example (one I've used before [slashdot.org] ):

Suppose we take something like the FM demodulator in a radio. When Edwin Armstrong invented it, back in the stone age of the 1930s, I think we can all agree that (a) it was an "actual physical device," and (b) that it met all the other criteria (novelty, non-obviousness, utility, etc.) needed for a patent. It was implemented with the technology available at the time -- stone knives, bear skins, vacuum tubes (valves), and a transformer.

Skipping over details like the invention of ratio detectors, phase-locked loops, etc., the next change in implementation of FM detectors came when the tubes were replaced with discrete transistors. This required some change in bias methods, impedance levels, etc., but no major redesign. It did save cost, size, and power, though.

The next change was integration. At first, the transformer was still needed for the demodulator, and so it was pinned out of the ICs, which were still analog. This saved cost, size, and power still further.

Later, schemes were found to integrate the function of the transformer, fully integrating the (still analog) demodulator. This saved cost and size still further.

Still later, improvements in integration processes enabled the function of the FM demodulator to be performed digitally, using an analog-to-digital converter (ADC) and a bunch of hard-wired logic gates, emulating the mathematical function performed by the analog demodulator. This saved cost, size, and power still further.

Demodulator designs were next ported into programmable hardware dedicated to signal-processing applications (digital signal processors); this required the ADC, plus the algorithm converted to the DSP's assembly language. This saved cost and size.

After that, demodulator designs were moved into hardware register-transfer languages, like Verilog, providing portability from chip to chip using standard-cell logic families. This saved cost.

Later, the Verilog designs were ported into field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), enabling one to program the hardware in the chip to become, when preceded by the ADC, an FM demodulator. This saved cost.

Finally, technology improved to the point that the FM demodulator could be made by an ADC followed by a microcomputer, programmed with software in a high-level language as part of a much larger system. This saved cost.

At what point in this development do we draw the line and say, "Below this, it's not patentable (or patent infringement)?" Where is "software"?

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

amorsen (7485) | about 2 years ago | (#41853535)

If the microcomputer is "generally used computing hardware", then it is not patent infringement. FPGA's are not at this time "generally used computing hardware", so the patent still applies to that line and above.

I would prefer a different split, but I think Stallman's proposal is clear and easy to understand. There will be a gray area -- is an iPhone "generally used computing hardware"? Is a Raspberry Pi in general? Is the Raspberry Pi GPU? Case law should make that gray area quite small in no time at all though.

Re:Just how would this work? (2)

dtmos (447842) | about 2 years ago | (#41853701)

FPGA's are not at this time "generally used computing hardware", so the patent still applies to that line and above.

I beg to differ -- billions and billions of FPGAs have been sold, over the last 30 years, for just about every computing application one could name. It's hard to think of a more generally-used piece of computing hardware than one that can be programmed to be anything you want.

Or does "generally used computing hardware" mean that it has to be a consumer product? That wouldn't protect the armies of software developers in the world working on industrial or imbedded applications...

Besides, how do DSPs escape the "generally used computing hardware" category? They're above your line, too.

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | about 2 years ago | (#41853945)

I think an FPGA should fit in the same category personally and be covered by the same anti-liability law. An FPGA is an off the shelf part that's programmable, violating no patents by itself, but suddenly doing so if someone programs it in a way that violates a patent.

If you encode an MP3 decoder in an FPGA you own, then good for you. Likewise if you ship source to such a thing. If you, however, bundle that FPGA into a hardware product, and sell the hardware product, then it's a whole new ballgame. I'd rather patents didn't apply there either, but just as a medical device controlled by a PC that's been embedded into the hardware wouldn't be affected by Stallman's law (the PC is no longer a PC in that instance), neither would the FPGA in your (overpriced...) MP3 player.

User-programmable FPGA (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41854069)

billions and billions of FPGAs have been sold, over the last 30 years, for just about every computing application one could name.

How many of these FPGAs have been sold in a device where the user is encouraged to control what fusemap runs on the FPGA? The only one I can think of is the PowerPak, a CompactFlash adapter for the Nintendo Entertainment System that uses the FPGA to provide memory mapping and raster timing services to the running NES game.

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

Cormacus (976625) | about 2 years ago | (#41854071)

billions and billions of FPGAs have been sold, over the last 30 years, for just about every computing application one could name

Yes, BUT they have not all been sold as part of a standard board design (eg ATX, ...) for use in part of a standard system (desktop, laptop) with a set of standard IO (USB, ethernet, etc), running a specific instruction set (x86, etc). And I guarantee you that they have not all been able to run the same bit file, which is the analogous part of the system to the software that the discussion is about.

Re:Just how would this work? (2)

Grond (15515) | about 2 years ago | (#41854081)

FPGA's are not at this time "generally used computing hardware", so the patent still applies to that line and above.

You've stated a conclusion without giving any reasons. What does "generally used" mean? What does generally mean? A majority of people in the market? What's the market? Used for a long time? How long? What does used mean? Used in a way that would be infringing or used for any purpose? Used by whom? What is "computing hardware?" Is an abacus computing hardware? What about a special-purpose chip that can't be used for general purpose computation? And once you've defined these terms in a rigorous way, please explain why FPGAs don't fit the criteria.

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about 2 years ago | (#41853559)

t what point in this development do we draw the line and say, "Below this, it's not patentable (or patent infringement)?" Where is "software"?

At this point:

Demodulator designs were next ported into programmable hardware dedicated to signal-processing applications (digital signal processors); this required the ADC, plus the algorithm converted to the DSP's assembly language. This saved cost and size.

At the point programmabel hardware was used. From this point on the actual improvements were performed by the people working on improving programable hardware not the people implimenting FM demodulators.

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

dtmos (447842) | about 2 years ago | (#41853795)

. . . but suppose that the guys working on programmable hardware developed an improved algorithm to use on their programmable hardware, and some other guy took their algorithm, instantiated it in hard-wired logic gates, and sold it. Is your position that the guy who took the improved algorithm and made money off of it owes nothing to those who invented the algorithm?

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

Grond (15515) | about 2 years ago | (#41854111)

At the point programmabel hardware was used.

Why? Stallman just talks about "generally used computing hardware." What does that have to do with programmability?

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

mspohr (589790) | about 2 years ago | (#41853585)

I think Stallman's point is that you can sidestep the issue of what is "software" by just stating that it's not patent infringement running code on standard computer hardware. You don't have to muck with the definition of hardware or software or patents (which can all be gamed by lawyers).
From TFA:
"My suggestion is to change the effect of patents. We should legislate that developing, distributing, or running a program on generally used computing hardware does not constitute patent infringement. This approach has several advantages:
        It doesn’t require classifying patents or patent applications as “software” or “not software.”
        It provides developers and users with protection from both existing and potential future computational idea patents.
        Patent lawyers can’t defeat the intended effect by writing applications differently."

In your example, once you move the code to general purpose hardware, it's no longer infringement.

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

dtmos (447842) | about 2 years ago | (#41853917)

once you move the code to general purpose hardware, it's no longer infringement.

As I have asked elsewhere, suppose that the guys developing code for general purpose hardware developed an improved algorithm, and some other guy took their algorithm, instantiated it in hard-wired logic gates, and sold it as a physical product. Is your position that the guy who took the improved algorithm and made money off of it owes nothing to those who invented the algorithm?

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

mspohr (589790) | about 2 years ago | (#41854009)

First, this is not "my" position. I'm just attempting to understand what Stallman is saying so don't start an argument with me.
So your hypothetical is: taking a patented algorithm that runs on general purpose hardware (not patent infringement) and moving it to hard-wired logic (not general purpose hardware). I think (if I understand Stallman correctly) that once you move the patent algorithm to hard-wired logic, it would require a patent license.

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

Grond (15515) | about 2 years ago | (#41854011)

You don't have to muck with the definition of hardware or software or patents (which can all be gamed by lawyers).

Right, you just have to much with the definition of "a program" and "generally used computing hardware." So you do have to muck with the definitions of software ("programs") and hardware after all, plus whatever "generally used" means.

In your example, once you move the code to general purpose hardware, it's no longer infringement.

Stallman's suggestion has nothing to do with general purpose hardware, only generally used hardware, which may or may not be general purpose.

Re:Just how would this work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853629)

At step two.

A demodulator designed moved from tubes to transistors shouldn't be a new invention because given that we now have transistors, it's an obvious thing to do.
      (The invention is in making the transistors, not the design effort to bias the transistors correctly to work with old circuit.)

That said, me thinks Mr S is saying more than this.

If I invent a new circuit/algorithm that didn't exist in an earlier technology, then when it's run on a general purpose computer, I can't sure the folks to are running/writing it.

Re:Just how would this work? (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | about 2 years ago | (#41853677)

You make a very good set of points. I've made similar points in other places too. The truth is there's no clean line between 'hardware' and 'software', and ANY process who's primary purpose is to consume and transform information is an embodiment of a fundamental numerical/logical algorithm.

Lets just imagine a simple case WRT to Stallman's suggestion. You implement an algorithm in hardware using discrete logic. You patent it. I implement the same algorithm purely in software on a general purpose computer. Is your patent applicable to my software? Why is it that we have to play a silly game of inventing a bunch of discrete logic in order to patent the thing? This is silly.

Re:Just how would this work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853699)

Who cares? Under the proposal, I'd be able to write or run an FM demodulator on standard hardware without infringing patents. And that's what matters.
Life is analogue and almost anything blends into the rest of the world in a continuous fashion. Humans and chimps share a common ancestor; you can trace the lineage back and every individual will mostly resemble their parents and grandparents and no sudden change happens.
But to conclude that you therefore can't categorise anything is silly. Yes, humans and chimps do exist and it does makes sense to use two different names for these species and the fact that they're connected by a continuum is interesting but irrelevant. The same applies to your argument.

Re:Just how would this work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41854135)

At what point in this development do we draw the line and say, "Below this, it's not patentable (or patent infringement)?" Where is "software"?

Basically, wherever Stallman's desire to tinker ends.

Sound highly subjective? Aye, there's the rub.

Stop awarding patents on something trivial (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853455)

If you can unknowingly break some patent without even realizing its there, its a sign of a patent being awarded for something that should not be patentable in the first place.

Patents for a vague idea, or a general approach of implementing it - do not want.

I Like This Idea (1)

rwv (1636355) | about 2 years ago | (#41853589)

I think this approach gives judges the freedom to apply a basic test on any attempt to enforce a patent... "Is the dispute based on the implementation of a software product and does the software product run on a generic platform where many hundreds of different development shops target for their own products?" If both of these questions can be answered with "Yes" then the dispute is spurious.

With this, I think iPods and Servers remains novel but Smartphones, Tablets, Laptops, and Desktop software will be freed from worrying about patent attacks.

Reality.... go figure,,, (3, Interesting)

3seas (184403) | about 2 years ago | (#41853641)

The things you cannot patent, universally accepted:
Physical Phenomenon, Natural Law, Abstract Ideas and out of these we also have Mathematical Algorithms. Certainly Software can be proven to not qualify for patent-ability, http://abstractionphysics.net/ [abstractionphysics.net] or add dot net to it for the reality of which the fictional trilogy "the matrix" characters were representations of. In other words, we all use the fundamental actions of which software must make use of in playing back what amounts to nothing more than the physical phenomenon of the natural laws of our creation and use of abstract ideas, which include the well defined abstractions of mathematics. All done on a machine that processes abstraction.

Why has this not come to light? Nature likes 3, as in three primary colors of paint or light, etc. from which you can create all other colors of that media. Software has three user interfaces. The CLI, GUI and the side door port to automating software use, including its creation. However this third user interface is kept from the general user, limiting what the general user can do. For the user to have such access is in analogy like giving users a decimal calculator when the accountants are using roman numerals. A great deal of what software patents cover today would become non-novel and invalid.

Bill Gates said the way to become wealthy is to make people need you. He was also the one to coin the term "software piracy"

And there you have the reason for the fraud of software patents.

a fix for the whole patent system (maybe) (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about 2 years ago | (#41853779)

1 except in the cases of "separable" claims a patent does not apply unless ALL Claims apply (separable claims are only allowed for Common Sense type things like use in Fixed , Mobile Air , Mobile Water and Mobile Land)

2 in cases where another company has produced a product covered by the patent you have 90 days to start the suit or this product is to be considered "Prior Art" unless 1 you have no way of knowing about the conflicting product 2 You have produced a Product and included a "Covered by The Following Patents : %list%" block

Laches (2)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41854129)

in cases where another company has produced a product covered by the patent you have 90 days to start the suit or this product is to be considered "Prior Art" unless 1 you have no way of knowing about the conflicting product 2 You have produced a Product and included a "Covered by The Following Patents : %list%" block

I believe this is already covered under laches [wikipedia.org] , except that the period beyond which a presumption of intentional harm is imputed longer than that.

Re:a fix for the whole patent system (maybe) (1)

gknoy (899301) | about 2 years ago | (#41854159)

Won't Prior art be meaningless when the US changes to a First to File system (like most of the rest of the world) next year?

Stallman's pipe (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853857)

Every six or twelve months we hear another "proposal" from Stallman about limiting the effect of software patents, which generates a lot of "discussion" from a certain community. The courts have already limited software patents with the "machine or transformation test", which is retroactive. If his proposals are such a good idea, how come nothing has been picked up by a legislator?

So just what is Stallman getting out of these releases, anyway?

Legislators represent their campaign donors (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#41854147)

If his proposals are such a good idea, how come nothing has been picked up by a legislator?

Because legislators represent their campaign donors, and the pro-patent lobby has more money to spend on donations than the anti-patent lobby. It's the same reason why anti-copyright candidates never get elected to the U.S. Congress: news coverage is an in-kind donation from the MPAA-affiliated TV news outlets [pineight.com] .

Why not get rid of them (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41853907)

Most countries don't have software patents, why not simply get rid of them? The first quote from RMS states they can't get rid of software patents, why not? Everyone else has.

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