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LinuxWorld: An interview with Richard Stallman

Mar 30, 2000, 19:25 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by J.S. Kelly)

"In December, Richard M. Stallman called for a boycott against Amazon.com due to its aggressive use of patents against competitor Barnes and Noble. Stallman, father of the GNU Project, free software activist, and legendary programmer, graciously agreed to speak with LinuxWorld on how software patents have been a problem for programmers for nearly 20 years, and how the problem is now being thrust into the forefront yet again with the recent Priceline and Amazon.com legal actions. He also talked about patent pools and the League for Programming Freedom, and about money-squeezers and possible solutions for the problem of software patents."

"To start, could I ask you to lay out the basic problems with software patents?"

"Richard M. Stallman: Software patents monopolize an algorithm, or a feature, or a technique so that nobody [but the patent holder] can use them in developing a program. And this makes software development dangerous. When you are writing a large program and you're using many techniques, implementing many features, the likelihood is that some of them are patented by somebody. Or even a combination of them could be patented...."

"It's been suggested that free software programmers could create a patent pool to do exactly that kind of cross-licensing for free software."

"Richard M. Stallman: It doesn't have to be just free software developers; other people who want to protect themselves could join such a pool as well. The problem is in getting it started, because the bigger the pool is, the more beneficial it is to join. So the smaller it is, the less reason there is to join. Nobody has ever been able to get one started."

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