Software patents, pharmaceutical patents – stuff that harms our society instead of helping!
Scot Stevenson linked to Genetically Engineered Crops Are Safe, Analysis Finds and I left a comment on Google+.
My take is that the situation is similar to nuclear power plants. The core technology may be safe, I just don’t trust the people and business practices around them.
In terms of GMOs, my main problem is that they encourage monoculture because they enable monoculture. But, like the use of antibiotics in raising animals, that’s just a single round in the ever turning wheel of resistances pathogens, parasites and weeds acquire. Antibiotics pose an addition risk because the animals pee them into soil, and so the resistances spread. I don’t think that’s a problem with GMOs, or at least, not that I know of. But monoculture is a problem. Once a parasite discovers a way around the defense we engineered, all of our crops are at risk. The result is a system that is very brittle and prone to catastrophic failures. Sadly, the natural defenses against this result in less profits: diversification of crops, smaller patches of land per crop.
In addition to the problem of monoculture and resistances are the problems of single supplier dependencies (Monsanto), the uncertain status of glyphosate (does it cause cancer or not?), and the adverse effect on our intellectual property systems when big corporations depend on tighter regulation. Big pharma is strengthening the patent system all over the world and big agro is following in their footsteps – here I am, wanting to reduce the reach of patents.
I just saw Twitter CEO says SOPA blackout protest "silly" on BoingBoing. I wonder: Should I shut down Emacs Wiki for US residents? I’d have to do a quick geo location of the IP numbers before serving anything. That sucks.
I always felt that I was as safe as I can be running Emacs Wiki: I live in Switzerland, the server is hosted in Germany, the domain name registrar is French, the top-level .org domain is the only thing connecting it to the USA. But then I read US Can Extradite UK Student For Copyright Infringement, Despite Site Being Legal In The UK – and now I wonder about the worst case. Perhaps I should get myself a different domain name.
Actually, I think the main problem is that with all the scare mongering around copyright infringement and the astronomical punishments dealt out in the US, I have lost my confidence in their judicial system when it comes to copyright and patents. The most positive explanation for that is that I’m just misinterpreting all the bad news I’m reading online. My impression is formed by following @internetlaw, @privacylaw, @techdirt and @boingboing, following the occasional link. I end up reading Actual damages for single unauthorized download of software program held to be cost of single license fee (from $1,370,590 down to $4,200) and I wonder how much it cost the accused in time, energy and money to get this result. I would not want to fight this battle in court, even if I win.
Case in point: How USPTO's recklessness destroys business, innovation, and competition – a company produces something and years later a competitor is awarded a patent. The cost of going to court is prohibitive, and so they just give up.
Overprotective copyright and a judicial system that encourages statutory damages, patent offices unable to cope with new technology, a highly networked world making it easy to publish internationally with incompatible legal systems. It makes my head hurt!
Update: I decided to post a more personal message on EmacsWiki:2012-01-18.
Based on an email I received just now, I was suddenly inspired to write the following:
To whom it may concern,
I’ve heard from the Free Software Foundation that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is trying to propose a standard encumbered by a patent claimed by RedPhone Security. I heard that RedPhone has given a license to anyone who implements the protocol, but they still threaten to sue anyone that uses it.
Patents are a tricky issue for Free Software. As a developer of Free Software, I urge you to reconsider the proposal and push for a standard unencumbered by patents. Patents will lead to problems, as you must know based on the discussion around RFC 2026 section 10 leading to RFC 3668 and your position that “The IESG will not make any explicit determination that the assurance of reasonable and non-discriminatory terms or any other terms for the use of an Implementing Technology has been fulfilled in practice.” To avoid them now is to save others from all the legal risks involved.
It is unfortunate that the patent situation in the USA has lead to this. But knowing that software patent problems cannot be resolved right here and right now, avoiding them and building truly open standards is the only promising option.
Regards from Switzerland
My recent interest in roleplaying games (RPG) led me to the Wizards of the Coast website:
Founded in 1990 by Peter Adkison, Wizards of the Coast rose to prominence in the hobby games market on the strength of the innovative and revolutionary trading card game (TCG) Magic: The Gathering, the first game of its kind and the progenitor of a worldwide phenomenon in gaming. In 1997, the company was granted an exclusive patent on trading card games and their method of play. 
Isn’t that madness?
Software and Business Process patents should go down the drain where they belong.
So, what can we do to fight the excesses of copyright and patents?
I’m most impressed by the tagging campaign, however.
I think all the SoftwarePatents crap coming our way means exactly one thing:
Should I ever start my own company, I would never monetize on the (potentially patent-infringing) product but on services.
Make the software open-source, release it, disown it, make it a public asset and thereby protect yourself from PatentTrolls.
Here’s some more depressing news from the wonderful world of patents.
RightToCreate writes about yet another patent troll:
Net2Phone, a Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) company that was largely unsuccessful in the marketplace has now turned to the tried-and-true strategy of suing its successful competitors with its overly-broad and extremely obvious patents. 
He quotes from Tim Lee over at the TechnologyLiberationFront, who uses a very nice image:
Some people seem to think that these kinds of bad software patents are anomalies--that there are good ones as well, and that we ought not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Yet I’ve seen news accounts of more than a dozen examples of bogus patent suits in recent months, but I have yet to see an example of a legitimate software patent. There’s an awful lot of bath water here, and I’m having trouble seeing the baby. 
I like the Technology Liberation Front subtitle: “The question is not whether machines think but whether men do.” :D
There more over at RightToCreate, such as “Reforming Software Patents” or “Owning the Idea of Tree Frog Venom” or “JPEG Patent Rejected”. Interesting reads, if you haven’t subscribed to the blog anyway. ;)
The JPEG thing is interesting:
It’s nice to see the Patent Office doing the right thing, but it’s too bad that more than $100 million dollars that Forgent has extorted from industry will never be returned to its rightful owners. Forgent gets to keep that money, regardless of how the PTO rules. For nearly 19 years, this patent has stood without challenge. Now, just over a year before it was to expire, the PTO declares that it is bogus. 
Bei Heise: “Das US-Patentamt hat erstmals eine offizielle Überprüfung des umstrittenen 1-Click-Patents des Webhändlers Amazon.com angeordnet. […] Den Antrag zu der neuen Prüfung hatte der neuseeländische Kurzfilmemacher Peter Calveley Ende vergangenen Jahres gestellt. Nachdem der Künstler im Februar auch die Einspruchgebühr in Höhe von 2520 US-Dollar überwiesen hatte, entschied das Patentamt Ende vergangener Woche über die Zulässigkeit seiner 286-seitigen Eingabe (PDF).” 
Das zeigt wieder einmal, wie sehr die Software Patente zum Kotzen sind. Wer hat denn heute noch Zeit und Lust, USD 2520 zu zahlen, damit man überhaupt Einspruch erheben darf, über 200 Seiten Mist zu schreiben, und dann noch auf ein Urteil zu hoffen? Das überschreitet meine Schmerzgrenze auf alle Fälle.
Überhaupt, es scheint dass am ganzen System etwas nicht in Ordnung ist: “Das neue Meldesystem zur Leistungseinschätzung sei unfair, nicht transparent sowie rudimentär und führe zu einer Bezahlung, die direkt mit der erledigten Stückzahl an ‘Einheiten’ wie etwa durchgeschleusten Patentanträgen gekoppelt sei.” 
Software patents are coming closer to home sooner than expected!
Did I say what a big obstacle software patents are for progress?
Kleiner Rundgang durch den neuesten Softwarepatente-Schwachsinn bei Heise:
Eine unwissentliche Patentverletzung würde nicht vor den wirtschaftlichen Konsequenzen schützen, wenn für eine Software zur Verbrauchserfassung plötzlich horrende Lizenzgebühren gefordert werden. Kleine und mittlere Unternehmen, die im Bereich der Softwareentwicklung tätig sind, würden “durch die allgegenwärtige Gefahr einer Patentverletzung letzten Endes mit einem erheblichen Rechercheaufwand belastet”. 
And a nice little reminder of how the patent system fails to protect small inventors on RightToCreate:
Farnsworth battled RCA in court and was eventually vindicated by the USPTO as the sole inventor of television, but “time ran out. Farnsworth’s key patents expired in 1947, just a few months before TV sales took off from 6,000 sets in use nationwide to tens of millions by the mid-1950s. RCA captured nearly 80 percent of the market, while Farnsworth was forced to sell the assets of his company.” 
JanneJalkanen writes about an open source software developer: He got sent “an invoice for $203,000, claiming that the 7000 or so users of his software resulted in damages of at least $29/each. It turns out that the patent in question was applied for after Ben Jacobsen published the source code of his program on the internet, and therefore his program qualifies as prior art. Unfortunately, because of the way these patent disputes work, it may be very costly for Ben Jacobsen to defend his right to keep working on his own software.” 
WTF? This shows that even if everything goes according to plan, it’s fucked up, because the entire system is fucked up anyway.
Janne got his stuff from RightToCreate  (“Right to Create is dedicated to exposing the abuses of patent and copyright systems, demonstrating that limiting the power of the Intellectual Property Regime will result in a better world for inventors, industry, individuals, and society as a whole.” – Sounds good to me!)
There’s an update to the original post, with some words by the software developer’s attorney.