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Re: [Fsfe-uk] Software patent - any action?

From: Alex Hudson
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] Software patent - any action?
Date: 31 Dec 2002 14:00:36 +0000

On Tue, 2002-12-31 at 12:50, Chris Lale wrote:
>  > Although SWPAT.FFII is a very good resource, I find it a little short
>  > on "what is the best to do now" opinions
> I am drafting a letter for CEC, MEP's Political Party Leaders etc. There
> is a template letter at SWPAT.FFII but I cannot understand it. I am 
> reasonably IT-literate, so what chance would lay people have?

I'm currently putting together a uk-centric resource on swpat, which
will be up as soon as the current festivities are over (4th/5th,
probably) - FFII is good for breadth and depth, but isn't hugely

> Copyright protects a software author's rights. Patenting software would 
> by-pass the author, slow up or stop the fixing of bugs and the 
> development of new software. It would also allow the creation of huge 
> monopolies and be anti-competitive.

I'm not sure this paragraph is really useful - it gives me no idea why
Copyright protect's an authors rights, what the rights are, and why
patenting does what you say. I don't understand what the notion of
'bypassing' the author is about either; the authorship of software is
irrelevant with regards to patenting (more or less).

> This analogy may explain why. Suppose a rose breeder develops a new 
> variety of rose. He, or she, can protect the new variety by registering 
> a name with the RHS or some other body. The breeder can go on to develop 
> a new variety from the old. So can someone else. This competition spurs 
> on development. Copyright fulfils a similar role for the software developer.
> The features and functions of a rose are determined by genes. Similarly, 
> software code implements algorithms. Suppose that a rose breeder were 
> allowed to patent the gene(s) that give a rose its red colour. That 
> would inhibit or prevent someone else from developing a new variety of 
> red rose. I could also inhibit or prevent someone else from developing a 
> new red flower of any sort.

A call to the ridiculous is usually a weak argument when the ridiculous
is real :(


Although it is a somewhat useful analogy expounding how copyright and
patents might be different, it doesn't give any aid to the value
judgement that is needed to see that one thing is worse than the other.
It would be more useful to re-order what you say a little: give a brief
outline of the differences between patents and copyright (in all truth,
they're not very similar at all), then show why patents are bad for
software, and then reach your conclusion.

> Algorithms are fundamental mathematical truths. Arguably, they are 
> discovered and developed rather than being invented. How different would 
> our lives be now if Pythagoras's Theorem or Archimedes' Principle had 
> been patented?

Better argument. The link between software and mathematics is usually
unknown to the lay person; it's generally seen as an area of technology
like electronics, or engineering. The truth is that programs are just
extremely fancy computations, and all of the benefits of patents just
don't tend to apply (I've never seen a positive argument in favour of
them with regard to software patents).

If you're sending letters, feel free to do the collaborative editing
thing with fsfe-uk - we're lucky to have quite a broad range of
subscribers with lots of different points of view - but either way, do
keep us posted with any responses you get, it would be most interesting!



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