[Fsfe-ie] why patent lobbying must mention Free Software

Ian Clarke ian at locut.us
Tue Jun 15 11:55:52 CEST 2004

Ciaran O'Riordan wrote:
> Small&Medium enterprises can't afford to apply for patents, enforce their
> own patents, and defend themselves from patent litigation - so what if a
> solution was found whereby our government set up a patent assistance fund
> for SMBs?

You make a good point, but consider the other danger.

If we specifically talk about free software then what if "the enemy" 
proposes an exemption for free software?

Now, this might initially seem attractive however its effect would be 

* It would drive a wedge between free software advocates and SMEs who
   would consider this to be a back-stabbing move (as an SME owner and
   a free software advocate I know I wouldn't be happy about it)

* It would soak up the energies of the free software movement, drawing
   our attention away from the true and correct goal of preventing
   software patents

* It would almost certainly be rejected in the end, but by this time it
   will have done its damage

I would argue that the creation of a patent assistance fund would be an 
expensive and likely ineffective solution to a problem that doesn't need 
to exist.  I would further point out that it would still not remove the 
legal uncertainty (it might reduce the litigation costs but I doubt it 
would pay in the event that a patent suit is lost - so the risk remains).

Of course, as with all hand-wavy "lets throw money at the problem" 
ideas, the simplest argument against it might be to ask which hospital 
they will close in order to pay for it.

Both of these problem scenarios come from the separation of the 
interests of SMEs from those of free software advocates.  We solve the 
problem by speaking for *all* software developers, free or non-free, and 
refuse to allow our opponents to create a smokescreen by trying to 
separate us.

Of course, this discussion may be somewhat moot now since most relevant 
politicians now agree, or claim to agree with our contention that 
software patents are generally undesirable.  We need to be focus on 
ensuring that they act on this professed belief when it comes to voting 
on the directive and/or amendments to the directive (which did not 
happen at the Council of Ministers).


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