[Fsfe-ie] Minutes 45-60.

Ciaran O'Riordan coriordan at compsoc.com
Tue Jun 1 07:47:50 CEST 2004

[glenn, I've cc'd you since the fsfe-ie archive isn't updating - hopefully
there's been no communication problem...]

> Glenn Strong <Glenn.Strong at cs.tcd.ie> writes:
> > If someone could do the questions that would be just fine!

ok, I've done from 78:00 to the end:

Is there a canonical document to proof read?

There are some "???" left in my transcript, but my ears are now repeating
the same non-comprehensions.  I'll proof someone elses.  Special care should
be given to the words of the MEP candidate guests before we tag the document
has final.


Patricia McKenna: Best of luck, thank you.

ciaran: Will you take questions?

RMS: What did you say?

ciaran: Will you take questions?

RMS: sure.

ciaran: I think we only have one microphone.

RMS: The best way to do this is you stand in one place with the microphone
and anyone that wants to ask questions form a line.  And that way we always
know who's next, it's not a matter of arbitrarily picking a hand.  It's much
better that way, and it's less hard than getting the microphone to people.

And please speak loud and clear, I won't understand you if you don't.  

AM1: I'll try, but I'm Italian though so the language is going to be an
issue but...  I give it a try.  I have a couple of questions, ?? topic ?? a
couple of months ago and ?? better answers from you, well, and ?? could be
patented, ??

RMS: I'm having trouble hearing you.  Please try to pronounce every
consonant clearly so I can recognise your words.  I'm hard of hearing, make
an effort please.

AM1: So, how does it work the patents in different countries?

RMS: Each country has it's own patent office, it's own patents, with it's
own criteria.  And these patents then restrict everything done in that

AM1: I have an idea about that, if I write software and I put it on the
Internet, so my software isn't patentable in Europe, but then it's covered
by some US patents, should I be worried

RMS: Probably not, because, they might try to sue you in the US, but you can
probably just thumb your nose at them.  That is, even if they win in the US,
they can't enforce it on you to collect any money if you don't have any
assets there - but if this happens you really should ask a lawyer what to

AM1: Second question is, is it a problem [??...attachments...??]

RMS: No. No.  I think the problem is patenting software ideas, because, to
write a program you have to combine lots of ideas, and you can't do that if
the ideas are not available to be used and combined.

AM1: Is the problem not patenting in general, not in software

RMS: I don't agree.  Every patent covers an idea.  Every patent says:
"here's a certain idea which you're not allowed to use".  Whatever it says
in the patent, that's an idea.  An idea is any product of thought, anything
you can think - now, there are people who use the word quote-idea-quote in a
strange way, trying to make a distinction.  They like to claim that it's
impossible to patent an idea, only something else, but they're using the
word idea in a peculiar way.  Whatever is patented it is an idea.  And
they're also wrong.  They're trying to claim that only a specific
implementation of something can be patented, but that's not true in any
field.  But the thing is, if patents were really very specific they would be
irrelevant.  The reason they matter is precisely because someone else might
get a patent that covers a program that you're going to write.  That's why
he wants that.  If it didn't cover your program, he wouldn't gain anything
by having that patent.

AM1: That's it?

RMS: If he only wanted to cover the code he wrote, he doesn't need a patent,
he has copyright covering the code he wrote.

AM2: Thank you for taking my question, it is: There is an organisation in
the United States called the <a href="http://www.pubpat.org">Public Patent
Foundation</a>.  Can you offer an opinion on that organisation and it's

RMS: Well that organisation is attempting to cause re-examination of certain
patents.  Now if this gets rid of - if this succeeds in getting rid of some
harmful patents, that would be good, but I don't think they can get rid of
all of them that way.  So it's like, y'know, somebody going around with a
mine detector removing occasional mines.  It's a step in the right direction
but it's not going to make it safe to walk around.

AM2: Sorry, just following on to that, I do believe that it will - possibly
their work will heighten the awareness of the problems with patents, and

RMS: It may.  On the other hand there's a danger that people will think,
"Oh, well they'll get rid of some of the invalid patents, and then the
system will work".  Well, I think we should get rid of all the bad software
patents, which means all the software idea patents, because they're all bad
because they all restrict how you can use your computer.

Some of them may be legally invalid if the law is carefully applied, but
other may be legally valid if the law is carefully applied, but they all are
harmful so I call them all bad.  Unfortunately, only the ones which would be
invalid can be eliminated perhaps by this method.  Also, there are
[??audio-skip??]  reexamination, it leads to a procedure that goes on
between the patent office and the patent holder, and the patent holder may
get the chance to rewrite the patent - so that it avoids the prior art that
has been shown but it still covers what a lot of people want to do.

The way it works is: you come up with prior art, which is essentially proof
that people used an idea that falls was within the scope of the patent
before the application was made.  And then question is: how far away does
something have to be from this point that you can show was published before,
in order for there still to be a patent on it.  And so that becomes a
question of: what is the threshold that the patent system uses?  And in fact
their threshold is very low, the result is that points of prior art that you
can show are sort of like, American soldiers in Vietnam or Iraq, they
control the ground they stand on, and that's all.  So, you may be able to
prove that this particular idea was known fifteen years ago, but they can
still draw the patent to go around it, and cover the things that people want
to do today.

AM3: Hi, I wanted to here - programming language, it is a language - so
theoretically you can say that when we program, we express ourselves.  By
software patents, I would say actually, we limit free speech.  Would you
agree on that?

RMS: I would agree but I don't think that legal argument would convince
courts by itself to rule against software patents.  Not once you have EU
directives overriding constitutions, and if there's an EU directive that
authorises software patents, I'm afraid that this kind of argument about
human rights won't get you anywhere.

AM3: And what actually, ...in the US also.

RMS: I really don't think so.  Maybe someone someday will get a chance to
try it.  I am not a lawyer.  The questions of what a court might or might
not think, I'm not really that interested in, I'm the wrong person to ask.

I'm trying to talk about what's wise, sound policy, and what's foolish
policy.  As a programmer for more than 30 years, I think I can say something
about that.  But you should ask a lawyer about what courts are likely to
believe or not believe.

AM4: Quick question, I hope it is anyway, I think one of the most famous
patents is on the progress bar.

RMS: Well, that's one example of a European Patent Office software idea

AM4: I'm just curious, is there any way of circumventing that, for

RMS: I haven't seen the text of that patent, so I have no idea.  The only
way you can tell how many other different things are covered by that same
patent is to talk with a lawyer, looking at the text of the patent.

AM4: So if instead of having a progress bar, you had a little picture
drawing itself...

RMS: I have no way of knowing this.  We can't tell from what we know.  If
you get that patent, and look at it with a patent lawyer, maybe you could
figure it out.

AM4: And there in lies the problem

RMS: Well, that's a part of the problem.  But, y'know, I wouldn't say that's
the whole problem.  Not at all.  Just the fact that you're not allowed to
use a progress bar, of a standard everyday sort is a problem.

AM5: Can I, an algorithm published be patented, if published in a journal,
or does it have to be in the patent process beforehand?

RMS: It depends on the country, but in general in Europe, once the idea has
been published, then any subsequent patent application is considered

That doesn't mean that the patent office knows that you've published it - so
they might accept the patents application and give you the patent.  At that,
given proof that you published it, that is, ten years later there's got to
be a copy of the publication - that you could use to prove it really has
been published, that would be evidence, you could take it to court to prove
the patent is invalid.  If you've got the money to go to court.

ciaran: is there one question from the other side?

RMS: people can - it works so much better when people make a line.

AM6: The question is, how does the two hundred, three hundred people in this
room lobby, the current and MEP candidates to try to get the second reading,
the way we want it?

Patricia McKenna: First of all, we don't know what the new Parliament will
be, and how people will vote with the new countries coming in and what the
position will be, -- we had an interesting vote just before we broke up
because the ten accession countries had MEPs were in the Parliament, and had
the right to vote - and that was the third time we were asked to vote on the
PNR, that was the issue of the data being handed over the the U.S. without
coming over proper EU data protection laws.

We were very worried that the Parliament was going to this time vote by
majority to accept what the commission was doing, but interestingly enough
it didn't.

So, I'm just wondering next time, it depends on, I suppose, the make up of
the Parliament, first of all, particularly in relation to the new countries,
and how they're going to be influenced by the lobbying from the big
multinational interests.

In relation to the Irish MEPs themselves, I suppose it's important to try to
get some sort of commitment from all the people that are running in Ireland,
I'm not sure how many candidates are running in total but I think it's about
twelve in Dublin and thirteen in the East.  But it would be really important
to try and get commitment from them, but at the second reading it's going to
be even more difficult to get a majority that's required to ensure that the
existing position of the Parliament is upheld.

But also it's not just the Parliament itself, it's very important that
that's your priority to get the Parliament to adopt a similar position to
last time.  Even though we didn't think it was great, I have to say, it was
better than what was being proposed, but the second thing is to get the
government, and that includes local government, [????] there's been very
little public debate on this, at a national level.  And how it's going to
effect small and medium-sized enterprise, in relation to this.

I think there's two challenges, [????] and also to our government.

AM7: I just wanted to, get your opinion on, you seem to have focused on
software patents, as if ?? you couldn't draw a line ?? many patents were
drawn against physical systems, but they could be applied to a software

RMS: Well they shouldn't be.

AM7: Well, that's ??

RMS: I can't hear you, what are you saying?  It's really unfair for you to
say things I can't hear, and then I'm supposed to respond to them.

AM7: A classical example would be the concept of semaphores and signals.  ??

RMS: What? What? what?

AM7: The system of semaphores and signals.  They were part of a system for

RMS: That has nothing to do with anything going on in a computer.  Patenting
a mechanical system for moving up a bar to tell a train what to do, that
patent wouldn't cover anything going on in a program.  That's a patent on a
mechanical device.

AM7: But if ?? concept ??

RMS: You're saying this, I don't if it's true what that patent covered, I
haven't seen it, have you actually read that patent?

AM7: It's expired now, but it would have covered semaphores and signals in

RMS: Then, I guess we have to say that those patents shouldn't be allowed
either.  Allowing someone to patent building a signaling machine to display
lights to tell a train what to do, okay, I'm not an expert on how to run
railways, but such a general patent that would cover what goes on in
software would have to be rejected, or else we have to perhaps say we would
have to say that it doesn't apply to the software.

AM7: ?? business methods ??

RMS: well, that's exactly part of the problem, allowing software idea
patents allows patenting of business methods and that's a stupid thing in

AM7: ?? ??

RMS: I don't know what you mean, business methods shouldn't be patentable in
any domain.

AM7: But ??, I guess there are fuzzy areas.

RMS: There are fuzzy areas everywhere, they are not an important problem.
Courts are constantly dealing with fuzzy areas.  That's what courts are for.
And so basically, when people want a policy to stretch all the way across,
they make the idea that to have to draw any line in between would be
impossible, but that's what courts are for, to interpret the lines that are
drawn between many cases.

Consider the fuzzy line between drunk and sober.  There's no one natural
right place to draw a line between drunk and sober.  And I can say this is -
you can see this is absolutely true.  It's not just that we can't see the
place to draw the line, we know there's none.  Does that mean that laws
can't distinguish between drunk and sober? obviously not.  It just means
that there's going to have to be a line drawn somewhere, and it isn't going
to be at one place which was the only right possible place.  That's alright,
we need a line between there somewhere.  We don't want to treat drunk
drivers and sober drivers alike.  So we'll have a line somewhere, and the
courts will figure out exactly some place for it to go, and it won't be the
only possible place, y'know if they'd put the line a little bit this way or
a little bit that way it would be okay too.

AM8: Just one question, I was talking to people who are involved in drawing
up some of these documents.  And I put the case of, "software patents are
bad", all this, but they say things like "we don't have a choice, the WIPO
demands that we implement software patents".

RMS: There is not WIPO treaty about this.  WIPO are thinking about a
substantive patent law treaty - they're making it all up, they do this
constantly.  Some of them may claim that TRIPS, or TRIPES as I prefer to
call it, it's the "Trade Restricting Impediments to Production, Education,
and Science".  Some people will claim that TRIPES requires software patents
but it doesn't.  They make all sorts of bizarre all sorts of claims hoping
that they can escape from the conversation without looking like they're
mistaken on the spot.  They say, they say -.  I gave a speech on this topic
last Friday in London, and messages were read out from someone from the UK
Labour party and the Conservative party, and they were trying to give the
impression that the directive as the Commission wrote it does not authorise
software idea patents.  Well, it's not true but they hope they could get
away with the pretense.  If this directive goes through, there'll be no hope
of ever revising it because to revise it we need to get all three branches
of the EU to work together.  To block it we only need one maybe but to
revise it we need all three.  So they figure if they can get it across there
will be nothing we can do and it won't matter if they're seen to have been
saying utter nonsense.

ciaran: Ok, we have to close the hall, do you have any closing comments?

RMS: Ok, well: No I don't.


ciaran: I just want to make a closing comment myself.  The website for IFSO
is ifso.ie, it should contain information for how to work on software
patents, or on the patents directive.  And also other information on the
legislative process and how to lobby the European Parliament and the
European Council.  So if you want to help, take a look at the website.

RMS: I have two websites I want to recommend also, about this issue:
www.ffii.org - that's the site with the most information about the situation
in European regarding software idea patents.  And then there's another site
which is very good for introducing people to the issue, and that is

ciaran: Ok, sorry, one second, we have one last MEP candidate who has just:
Ivana Bacik

Ivana Bacik: Sorry, and sorry to be taking your time and I'm very sorry to
be arriving late, I was out canvasing.  My name is Ivana Bacik, I'm running
for the Labour party for the European Parliament elections this year.  As
many of you probably know, I teach law in Trinity, in the law school in
Trinity, but I'm just here because this is an issue I feel strongly about.
I would like to lend my support, and as much support as I can from the party
as well, to the campaign for free software.  Thank you, and sorry to take up
your time, thanks.

Ciarán O'Riordan
Irish Free Software Organisation: http://ifso.ie

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