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F/OSS on Patents

Posted by webmink on June 20, 2003 at 9:05 AM PDT

Just sitting in the final session at F/OSS at Harvard, largely on software patents. The research, presented here by Jim Bessen (the paper is available online and Slashdot has a great summary), suggests that it's become cheaper and easier to get software patents over the last 20 years (overall and compared with other patents). The research finds "...
software patents substitute for firm R&D rather than complement it." Increasingly, it seems, the innovation is happening elsewhere...

Several voices have suggested that the real key to open source is the practice of rapid incremental development by a distributed community. But patents are the big threat to open source authors as infringers are typically unwitting, easily traceable through the very tools that enable the process and liable for unlimited damages. So if anything open source is more vulnerable to patents as the very FUD about them could inhibit the rapidity of improvement.

Commercial firms protect themselves from patents by gather 'thickets' of them for negotiation, and it becomes an arms race. Open source can't generally play this deadly game of gathering 'thickets' of patents, so some other protection is essential. An earlier presentation by Siobhan O’Mahoney hinted at a partial solution for this, using a non-profit foundation to own the code and protect the author. But whatever the treatment, the illness is clearly dangerous and systemic.

[Also posted at webmink]

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