Richard Stallman proposes limiting software patents

    Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), has published a policy article on software patents. Stallman calls them “computational idea patents”.

    Stallman explains that any complex program can violate hundreds of such "ideas." Thus, patents threaten every programmer. For example, experts studied the Linux kernel and found 283 US patents that describe computational ideas implemented in the kernel. Richard Stallman says that the Linux kernel makes up about 0.25% of the source code of the entire GNU / Linux ecosystem, so the number of patents that threaten us can be extrapolated to about 100,000. Even if half of them are canceled as patents of poor quality, 50,000 will still remain .

    “That's why it is a mistake to limit criticism of software patents to only“ patent trolls ”or“ poor quality ”patents,” writes Stallman. - In this sense, Apple, which is not a troll in the usual sense of the word, is the most dangerous patent aggressor of our time. I don’t know whether Apple patents are of “good quality” or not, but the better the “quality” of patents, the more dangerous the threat. ”

    Richard Stallman says that usually as a solution to the problem it is proposed to change the criteria for granting patents. For example, prohibit patenting ideas and algorithms. But this option is bad for two reasons: first, patent attorneys will still find a workaround; secondly, thousands of patents for computing ideas have already been issued, which is quite enough for the terror of the software industry for years to come.

    We need to solve the problem dramatically, says Stallman. He suggests a different approach: legislatively change the scope of patents. That is, it is necessary to establish by law that the development, distribution or execution of a program on conventional computer equipment cannot be a patent infringement .

    Richard Stallman writes that this approach has several advantages:

    • No need to classify patents as software or non-software
    • Developers and users are protected against both current and future patents.
    • Patent lawyers cannot find a workaround

    A similar method has already been used in US lawmaking. Several years ago, lawmakers officially released surgeons from any patent infringement charges. Thus, although various surgical methods and practices are patentable now, the surgeons themselves are safe.

    Direct protection of developers and users is the only way out of this situation, says Richard Stallman. If we cannot ban software patents entirely, then instead of restricting the grant of patents, it is better to limit their scope.

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