[Fsfe-ie] Flyers to hand out at Stallman's talks ?

David O'Callaghan david.ocallaghan at cs.tcd.ie
Thu May 20 11:50:46 CEST 2004

On Thu, 2004-05-20 at 09:23, David O'Callaghan wrote:
> I'm happy to help with drafting, but I'd like a starting point, if
> someone can point one out to me.

I've started a draft with only minor changes to the letter to Mary
Harney. It's available at http://www.cs.tcd.ie/David.OCallaghan/ifso/.
It's not really a leaflet, but it might be ok in two-column form.

I'm thinking in terms of a general-purpose document on the topic, so
this may not be much good for the people at RMS's talk, who will, I'm
sure, get a much more in-depth look at the issues. However, they might
like something they can pass on when people ask them "what's wrong with
software patents?"

Also, this doc doesn't really address Ian's comments about telling
people *how* they can oppose software patents. Perhaps a stock paragraph
about "contact your MEP" or a link to an FFII "get involved" page would
be enough.

Anyway, please give me your comments on the following.



The Case Against Patents on Software

Irish Free Software Organisation

1 The Right to Write Software

For software to be competitive, it must allow it's 
users to share data with other people. To do this, is 
has to be able to read and write the files that 
software users have created with the market leaders' 
software. If companies are allowed to patent techniques 
required for writing certain file formats, 
compatibility could be made illegal. By rendering 
alternative software packages useless, competition 
would become a puppet show, and a lot of innovative 
software would go unused.

In addition to data compatibility, software users 
expect a certain level of functionality. If a new piece 
of software is to enter the market, it must do the work 
of the current market leader, plus something new. This 
incremental or cumulative development style is how the 
software industry has progressed, but if software 
developers are prohibited from implementing widely used 
features, new products will cease to be competitive.

Software already has "ownership rights" in the form of 
copyright. Use of copyright is instant, free, and 
doesn't interfere with other peoples work. In contrast, 
patents would leave even independent software 
development open to patent infringement charges.

An open letter from 14 notable European economists said:

``Unlike most complex technologies, the opportunity to 
develop software is open to small companies, and even 
to individuals. Software patents damage innovation by 
raising costs and uncertainties in assembling the many 
components needed for complex computer programs and 
constraining the speed and effectiveness of innovation.''

The full letter is available at [key-1] 

2 Free Software, also known as "Libre Software", or "Open Source"

Free Software is software that comes with royalty-free 
permission to run, study, modify, copy, and 
redistribute the software.

Since the mid-nineties, some businesses have been 
building a new business model based on the fact that it 
costs nothing to give people these rights, and there's 
no barrier to entry into the market. These businesses 
make money from providing software development services 
such as writing extensions, customisation, system 
setup, technical support, etc. and each new company 
contributes to the pool of Free Software. The European 
Commissions' Information Society Initiative recently 
released a report on "Free / Open Source Software F/OSS", 
which says:

``On the provider side, F/OSS creates new opportunities 
for software and service providers, which may be a 
unique opportunity for the European software industry - 
somehow this may be a proverbial `second and last chance'.''


Software patents are particularly harmful to Free 
Software, more so than unfree/proprietary software 
because Free Software cannot require per-copy 
royalties, so Free Software projects find it virtually 
impossible to get permission to use patented technologies.

3 The US Federal Trade Commission

In October 2003 the US Federal Trade Commission.made a 
report on the US patent system. The report is 315 pages 
and covers the system as a whole, with a 13-page 
section specific to the patenting of software. In the 
printed copy, this section begins on page "44" of chapter 
3 (each chapter staring at 1), or page 153 in the 
complete digital copy which can be found at [key-3] 

>From the conclusion:

``Many panelists and participants expressed the view 
that software and Internet patents are impeding 
innovation. They stated that such patents are impairing 
follow-on incentives, increasing entry barriers, 
creating uncertainty that harms incentives to invest in 
innovation, and producing patent thickets.''

The conclusion listed no redeeming qualities for 
software patents.

Software patents were introduced into the US in 1986 by 
a court decision rather than any democratic legislative 
procedure, and because the US was the first economy to 
permit software patents, their decision was made 
without the benefit of being able to study the effects 
of software patents in other countries. The EU has the 
advantage of being able to learn from their mistakes.

The US held the dominant position in the software 
industry long before 1986, so the existence of software 
patents in the US should not be construed to imply that 
they benefit the industry. In contrast, we believe that 
if software patentability spreads into Europe, it would 
stagnate the industry in a manner which would benefit 
only the very large software companies --- none of 
which are European.

4 Support the European Parliament Rejection of Patents 
  on Software

Last September, we were pleased that Ireland's MEPs, 
along with the majority of the European Parliament, 
voted to adopt a set of amendments which would clarify 
that software innovations are excluded from 
patentability. For the reasons given above, we believe 
it is clear that the introduction of legal software 
patents would be disastrous for Europe's software 
developers and software users, and we ask that you 
support the decision of the Irish MEPs and the parliament.

Please contact the Irish Free Software Organisation[key-4] for 
further information



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