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Considerations on Patents that Read on Language Infrastructure

Jul 01, 2009, 14:32 (5 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bradley M. Kuhn)

"Specifically, I am considering the risk that a patent attack will occur against the language or its canonical implementation. We know that the USPTO appears to have no bounds in constantly granting so-called "software patents", most of which are invalid within their own system, and the rest may be like the RSA patent, and will force our community to invent around them, or (as we had to do with RSA), "wait them out". I'd like to consider how these known facts apply to the implementation of language infrastructure in the Free Software world.

"Programming languages and their associated standard libraries and implementations evolve in three basic ways:

* A Free Software community designs and implements the language in a grassroots fashion. Perl, PHP, and Python are a few examples.
* A single corporate entity controls the language and its canonical implementation. They perhaps also convince some standards body to adopt it, but usually retain complete control. C# and Java a few examples.
* A single corporate entity controlled the language initially, but more than 20 years have passed and the language now has many proprietary and Free Software implementations. C and C++ are a few examples.

"The patent issues in each of these situations deserves different consideration, primarily related to the dispersion of patents that likely read on the given language implementation. We have to assume that the USPTO has granted many patents that read on any software a person can conceivably write. The question is always: of all the things you can write, which has the most risk of patent attack from the patent holders in question?"

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