[Fsfe-ie] Minutes proofing

Conor Daly conor.daly at met.ie
Tue Jun 1 12:01:43 CEST 2004

On Tue, Jun 01, 2004 at 07:44:37AM +0100 or thereabouts, Conor Daly wrote:
> I'll attempt to proof minutes 0-30 this morning...

Here's minutes 0-15 proofed.  I've attached both a proof copy so you can see
my edits and the finished copy.

Conor Daly,                   Please avoid sending me 
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<h3> Proofread by Conor Daly.
<p>Deletions are bracketed in {}, additions are bracketed in []. I have replaced RMS's use of the words "quote" and "unquote" with quotation marks ["] since I think they convey the same impression.</p>
<H3>Ciaran O'Riordan:</H3>

My name is Ciaran O'Riordon and I'm here from the
<a href="http://www.ifso.ie">Irish Free Software Organisation</a>, IFSO.
IFSO is a membership organisation that was set up by people who were working on
the EU patents directive.

The EU patents directive is a piece of proposed legislation that will decide
whether, one of the things will decide whether software should be patentable or
not in Ireland and the rest of the EU. Like all EU laws this will override our
constitution so the only chance we'll get to alter this directive is at the
European stage. A lot of European organisations, such as the 
<a href="http://www.fsfeurope.org">Free Software Foundation Europe</a> and
the FFII, the <a href="http://www.ffii.org">Foundation for a Free Information
Infrastructure</a>, have worked on this issue and there's also national
organisations in most EU states. 
So IFSO set up in January, we're [??] [fighting?] this directive by talking to the MEPs and
our representatives at EU level and also to try to facilitate a wider
involvement in the Irish [??] [list?] by trying to get information to people and
organise events such as this.
This event was organised with help from the
<a href="http://netsoc.tcd.ie">Dublin University Internet Society</a>,
the Netsoc, and also from the IT society in Maynooth,
<a href="http://minds.may.ie">MINDS</a>.  And, so we have
Richard Stallman here tonight. He is the founder of the
<a href="http://www.gnu.org">GNU Project<a>, the president of the
<a href="http://www.fsf.org">Free Software Foundation</a> and he is also the
author of the widely used
<a href="http://www.fsf.org/licenses/licenses.html">GNU General Public License</a>, the GPL.
His major software development projects include the 
<a href="http://gcc.gnu.org">GNU compiler collection</a>,
<a href="http://www.gnu.org/software/gdb/gdb.html">the GNU debugger</a>
and <a href="http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/emacs.html">GNU Emacs</a>.
He has received a {lot} [long list] of awards that I'm not going to list for you now. But
today we are very pleased to welcome to Ireland Richard Stallman.
&lt;Loud applause&gt;
<H3>Richard Stallman:</H3>
Please raise your hand if you cannot hear me. 
&lt;No hands raised... laughter&gt;
Although I'm mostly known for my work on developing
<a href="http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html">Free Software</a>, that's
not what I'm here to speak about today. Here I'm going to speak about a
proposed law that threatens to make it nearly impossible for independent
software developers to[, to] develop and release software, regardless of whether it's
free or proprietary or merely software for private use, which is the usual
case. I'm talking about the danger of patenting software ideas.
Now, most people have been led to confuse patents and copyrights which {are} in
fact [are] two completely different laws with nothing in common. The widely used
confusing term {quote }["]intellectual property["]{ unquote} encourages this confusion
and therefore we should reject that term completely. So let me, to help
unconfuse the situation let me give a bit of explanation about how patents and
copyrights differ. In fact, they have almost nothing in common, but these are
some of the main differences.
Copyright covers a work of authorship, a patent covers an idea. The copyright
applies to the details of the expression of the work; nothing like that in the
case of a patent. Copyright[s] come into existence automatically, anything written
is automatically copyrighted.  Patents are issued by patent office{s} in response
to an application. The application has a high fee, but much more expensive is
paying the lawyers to draw up the application so that it will be accepted.
There are a lot of rules that you have to know how to follow in order for the
application to be accepted.
Now, anything that's written will be copyrighted. It doesn't, there's no
criterion for how good it has to be, or any kind of quality at all. But,
supposedly, patents are only issued on ideas which are new, useful and
unobvious. However, practically speaking, the way this criterion is
interpreted {is} [it means] ["]unobvious to someone with an IQ of 80["] &lt;laughter&gt;. And,
finally, copyrights cover copying. If you spent a year in a cave incommunicado,
and you come out having written a novel that's identical to a novel someone
else wrote or published during that year, you could prove, then, that you did
not copy it, and that's a defence against any accusation of copyright
infringement.  But a patent is an absolute monopoly on the use of an idea. Even
if you could prove that you had the idea yourself, that would be irrelevant:
you're still not allowed to use it.
Copyrights last an incredibly long time, in some cases today they can last 150
years. Patents last a shorter time, twenty years, but in the software field,
twenty years is very long. Twenty years ago, there was no world-wide web,
Internet was just being started and the IBM PC was a fairly new toy and I think
the Macintosh had just been released. If we were limited {to}[in] developing software
to combining the ideas that were known 20 years ago, there wouldn't be much of
practical use today we could do. 
I refer to these patents as software idea patents, to help avoid a common
confusion. Many people think this is an issue about {quote }["]patenting programs["]
{unquote}. [But i]{I}t isn't. Nobody is trying to patent specific programs; that isn't
allowed, but nobody would bother even if it was allowed. A patent covering
one specific program would not really matter to anyone. The reason why these
patents create an issue is that they're not about specific programs, they're [much]
more general. Each of these patents covers an idea that you might use in
implementing various different programs, that lots of different programmers
might use, might put into the programs that they are writing. And that's
what makes them obstacles and dangers to software development activity.
The Economist once compared the patent system to a {quote }["]time consuming
lottery["]{ unquote}. And if you've ever seen publicity for {a }lotter{y}[ies], I'm sure
you're aware that they focus a lot of attention on the, on the unlikely
possibility [that] you'll win, and don't mention the overwhelmingly likely
possibility that you'll lose. So without exactly lying, they endeavour to
give you a distorted picture of what's likely to happen to you. And it should
be no surprise that the publicity for the patent system does the same thing. 
Most of the time, when people talk about how the patent system works, they
have a vested interest in that system. Either they work for the patent office
or they're patent lawyers or they might be patent holders or work for patent
holders. So they tend to describe the system from the point of view of someone
who's hoping to take advantage of it. They tell you what it's like to {what it's
like to} walk down the street with a patent in your pocket and every so often
you can pull it out and point it at somebody and say "give me your money".
To make up for that imbalance, I'm going to describe the patent system from
the other side. I'm going to talk about what it's like to be one of the
possible victims of the patent system; somebody who wants to {use or }develop [or use]
software; what it's like to be walking down the street knowing that sometime,
anytime, somebody can pull out a patent and point it at you and say "give me
your money". 
Suppose that you live in a country that allows software idea patents, and
you want [to try] to[,] work{,} thoughtfully, with the patent system, and deal with the
legal restrictions placed on your use of computers. What are you going to
do? Well, the first step is to find all the patents that may restrict what you
can put in the software you're about to develop. This is impossible, because
there are patent applications {that are} being considered now which are secret.
You can't find out about them, but tomorrow or next year they may be issued
and they may restrict what, and they may then prohibit the program that you're
developing. And this is not just a theoretical possibility. I've seen it
In 1984, the compress program was released, a program for data
compression. It used the LZW compression algorithm which the author had seen
in a journal article. This is back when we thought the purpose of the journals
in computer science was to publish methods [that] we could use in our software. And
at the time, in 1984, there was no patent on LZW, but in 1985 the US patent
office issued a patent. The patents holder was clever and did not immediately
start trying to scare people. They waited a few years, figuring "let's let
people dig their holes deeper". And then they started threatening people.
So by around 1990 or so, we in the GNU project were looking for some other way
to compress data. So we posted on the net asking "who can help us?". And
somebody responded saying he had been working on a data compression program for
a year and decided to give it to us. A couple of months later, before, when we
were about a week away from releasing it, I saw the New York Times on the day
of the week of the weekly patent column. This didn't happen very often, maybe a
few times a year. And it said that somebody had got a patent for {quote }["]a new
method of compressing data["]{ unquote}. I thought, "we better look at this" and,
sure enough, it covered the program we were about to release. Twice in a row{!}[.]
Well, eventually someone else provided the algorithm used in the program [called] <a
href="http://www.gnu.org/software/gzip/gzip.html">gzip</a> and so everyone
stopped using the other data compression programs and switched to gzip. So this
particular story has a happy ending. But it's not as happy as you might think,
I'll explain later.
So you can't find out about the patents that may prohibit your work tomorrow
or a year from now, but you can find all the issued patents because {they're} [those are]
published by the patent office. So that those are part of the public record,
you can get them. You can't read them all, because there are too many, it
would be hopeless. Keeping track of [new] software idea patents is a full time job.
So what you're going to have to do is search to try to find the ones that
are directly relevant to restricting the kind of program you're about to
develop. And this is not entirely reliable.
There used to be a software idea patent in the US, covering the technique, the
feature of natural order recalculation in spreadsheets. Now what does this
feature mean? It means that every time you recalculate, it waits to recalculate
{every{ [any] cell until the cells it depends on have {all} [already] been done. So one pass
through it goes in the right order to make  everything consistent. The earliest
spreadsheets didn't do that. They ran in very small computers, the kind of
computer{s} that existed more than 20 years ago. So they would always do it top
to bottom, whether that was right or not. So you might have to type recalculate
recalculate recalculate [recalculate] a few times to make everything get consistent. Then,
when computers got bigger, people figured "let's [have it] do the right thing for you".
So there was a patent covering this and somebody asked me for a copy, so I sent
it to him and he got back to me saying "I think you sent me the wrong patent,
this is something about compilers". So I looked in the records again, and saw
that patent number, pulled it up and yeah, its title said "A Method for
Compiling Formulas into Object Code". And I looked at it again and saw, yes, it
was the right patent, this was the patent that covered natural order
recalculation.  It actually covered the algorithm known in computer science as
Topological Sort, whose first reference in the literature was in 1963. But this
patent did not mention the term spreadsheet, it did not mention the term
natural order recalculation, and did not mention the term topological sort. If
you had been searching for the, for patents because you wanted to write a
spreadsheet, you wouldn't have found out about this one, unless you heard from
somebody who {been} [was getting] sued &lt;laughter&gt;.

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