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GPL's anti-patent stance misses the true opportunity

From: quanta
Subject: GPL's anti-patent stance misses the true opportunity
Date: 28 Mar 2007 20:52:12 -0700
User-agent: G2/1.0

While there is no doubt that software patent does stifle innovation,
the GPL's blanket anti-patent approach does not really help promote
free software. Like any kind of weapon, it is only bad if it is used
irresponsibly. So how could a software patent be good for GPL?

The answer is simple: When the responsible forces of freedom own it.
Remember the U.S. Patent No. 5,995,745?  For those who don't know what
it is, it is the patent granted to Finite State Machine Labs Inc., in
which the patent holder allows royalty-free use of the patent when
used under the terms of Open RTLinux patent license Version 2, which
is GPL-compatible.

As ironic as it sounds, software patents, when used wisely, actually
benefits software freedoms by:
- Restricing proprietary software development.
- Collecting royalties for those seeking to use the patents in
proprietary settings to fund development of free software.

Such approaches are not unique to RTLinux. Trolltech operates in
similar manner by licensing QT under GPL, and BSD for those who pay
up. Instead of making blanket statements that software patents are
evil, working within the system and be creative actually offers long
term advantages that abolishing software patents can never achieve.
Unfortunately, those within FSF aren't don't exactly have the
brightest business skills to even think of it.

But make no mistakes, the ultimate goal here is to promote software
freedom, so any fund collected by such means will and should
eventually dry up under this scheme, and software freedom advocates
should not rely on such business plan as long term solution, like so
many other organizations who caught up with their own financial
successes. To achieve this, FSF should set up a business division, or
invests in responsible business partners, who can be trusted to carry
on its vision all the way to the end.

In any case, if FSF really wants to achieve its ultimate goal of
software freedom, then it should not overlook any means to gain an
edge over proprietary interests, even for things that seem to run
against the GPL philosophy. After all, GPL successfully uses copyright
to promote software freedom without abolishing copyright, the same can
be applied to software patents to remove its intrinsic problems.

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