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Salon: Patents are your friends

Mar 21, 2001, 13:03 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Damien Cave)

"Patent protection for free software? The phrase is immediately jarring; for fans of free software, patent law has long been considered a kind of Great Satan. Free software is built on the premise that sharing ideas is both morally and pragmatically superior. But software patents are often employed by corporations to build walls around ideas. How can the two concepts be reconciled?"

"Some would argue, flatly, that they cannot. The past decade's mad grab for software- and Internet-related patents must be opposed, they argue, because patents stymie innovation, hurt consumers and, most of all, undermine software's open roots, its very nature. In a world where companies such as Amazon.com can patent simple business methods like one-click shopping, says Tim O'Reilly -- the computer book publisher who started campaigning against patents about a year ago -- radical change is required. "The best thing we can do is keep all patents away from the software industry," he says."

"The chances of such change occurring at the level of patent law seem remote -- computer-related patent applications tripled between 1999 and 2000 alone. But there may be another way: The Foresight Institute, a nonprofit nanotechnology think tank, will announce later this month that it is forming an alliance with IP.com, a Rochester, N.Y., start-up dedicated to protecting intellectual property through the publication of new ideas. Together, as of May 1, the pair will give open-source programmers and projects the chance to work within the patent system even as they strive to overturn it."

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