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Open Source Patents

Abstractly speaking, when in a conflict, you have two options: use your strengths to counter the strengths of your opponent; use your opponent's strengths against it. The latter is clearly more difficult, but can have startlingly impressive results (just ask any practitioner of taiji or aikido). An interesting example of this latter philosophy popped up this week: free/libre/open source software partisans are beginning to use the patent system as a way to expand access to open software, and as a way to fight against the growing use of software patents as a tool to weaken the FLOSS movement.

Red Hat will finance outside programmers' efforts to obtain patents that may be used freely by open-source developers [...]. At the same time, the Open Source Developer Labs launched a patent commons project, which will provide a central list of patents that have been donated to the collaborative programming community.

The goal is to change the nature of the relationship between FLOSS developers, who are often work solo or in small groups, and the large commercial software developers, who have in recent years found patent infringement lawsuits (or even the threat of one) to be an effective way to shut down open source upstarts.

Comments (2)

You mean they weren't doing this already? Slow pokes. ;-)

At this point software patents are not just being used by 'the big guys' to shut down open source projects, they're being abused by all kinds of people. Recently Microsoft had to shell out several million to pay a single guy who claimed the right to a common technology (I can't remember what though).

This seems like the logical stop-gap before software patents are all nullified. The most fair solution is to have no software patents at all, but until then it's worthwhile to apply for all technologies you use as a defense against squatters.


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