[Fsfe-ie] patent letter to be sent thursday night

Ian Clarke ian at locut.us
Wed May 5 11:51:28 CEST 2004

A few comments (sorry if they seem abrupt, but time is short):

Ciaran O'Riordan wrote:
> Stop thinking about the handful of software owners and concentrate on
> the software users - patents make software incompatible and expensive,
> and make for monopolies and lock-in.

"but if we don't think about the software owners, who will produce the 
software?".  Software innovators are the victims of software patents, 
not just users.  I think this is a rather dangerous opening sentence 
because it is too easy to disagree with it.  What about:

"Software patents inhibit innovation and competition in the software 

  - a bold but clear claim that we can use the rest of the letter to

> A patent is an asset created without raw materials. In a patent
> system, countries that hand out the most patents reap the largest
> rewards

"So the EU should hand out as many patents as possible!" :-)  Seriously 
though, what is the point of this sentence?

> Increasing patentability is a
> slippery slope and there is no incentive to consider the affect that
> restricting use of the technology will have on Europe's citizens and
> industries.  (i.e. better criteria/review would not work)

This sentence seems rather clumsy and unclear.

> When a patent is approved, it's claims are not made public for 18
> months. This gives companies a period of privacy. In the software
> industry this is long enough for a complete development and marketing
> cycle. A company could have a new piece of software in widespread use
> before it's even possible to check if it infringes existing
> patents. Unbounded legal uncertainty would arise. The twenty year term
> of patents is also out of sync with the software market. Patents exist
> to give inventors a head start in developing their idea. In the
> software industry twenty years is far too long.

But we aren't arguing for a reduced patent timeframe, we are arguing for 
the complete absence of software patents.  I am concerned that we are 
diluting our core message here.

> Ease of complexity

I don't think the English language was ever intended to be used to 
construct phrases like "Ease of Complexity" :-)

> Developing most patentable inventions requires an investment in
> materials, tools, production facilities, testing equipment, safety
> certification etc. However, software can be developed by anyone with
> programming experience and a PC, no material limits currently exist. In
> just a few decades we have been able to develop software packages
> comprising hundreds of thousands of components. Software is a relatively
> new industry, thousands of new and old ideas are incorporated into each
> new product. Companies with enough resources could accumulate near
> limitless numbers of patents.

Again, this paragraph doesn't make any clear point and I fear that it 
simply serves to dilute our core message.

> Software development has no constraints - patents would add constraints
> (whereas in other fields it just increases constraints, which is simply
> a matter of degree - for software it changes the development process
> completely).

This paragraph is, again, rather clumsy and vague.

> Laura Creighton, a european venture capitalist, gave testimony at a
> software patents hearing in the European Parliament in May 2003. She
> said that investing in small companies would be risky if software
> patents existed because a cash injection would simply draw the attention
> of "intellectual property firms". Without such cash injections,
> companies will find it harder to make the transition from small to
> medium sized enterprise. By impeding the growth of successful small
> companies, competition and employment will be hurt, and many innovative
> products won't reach the market.

Specific examples of the harm patents do are useful and persuasive. 
They should be given earlier in the letter.

Generally I am concerned that this letter is too long, and could make 
the same points more clearly and concisely if it was condensed down 
quite a bit (this would also dramatically increase the likelihood that 
it would actually be read by anyone!).

In short, "less is more" - particularly when your audience are busy 

A few months ago I tried to spell out the software patents problem in a 
form-letter to a UK MP that a friend asked me to write on his behalf - I 
am not saying its perfect, but I try to spell out the problems with 
software patents clearly and concisely - perhaps it might be a useful 
reference here:


Again, I know that this is some hefty criticism for a letter that is 
going out tomorrow evening, but I will do what I can to help improve it 
before then - unfortunately I think it needs quite a bit of work :-(


More information about the FSFE-IE mailing list