No Software Patents

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No Software Patents


Open Democracy on why patents are a bad thing

" Software programming has a relatively low financial barrier to entry. It relies on the manipulation of mathematical algorithms between one man and his machine. Progress in the sector takes place in swift but discrete steps. Each step contributes something to the art of programming: each software programme builds on the last. It is this environment – accretive, open-ended and egalitarian – that has allowed rapid progress in the software industry to enhance the utility and connectivity of the computers people use in their daily lives. In the patent-free environment, contributions to the common pool of programming knowledge come from all corners of the world, from the amateur hacker working until 4am in his bedroom to corporations leasing the most expensive real estate in Silicon Valley. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, likens reading a piece of software code to walking around a city – the expert eye will recognise “architectural periodsâ€?, little stylistic ticks that identify a piece of recycled code with a particular time, even place. Software patents take chunks of code out of this vast pool of shared knowledge and lock them down using IP law. United States case law already shows how companies can use such patents to claim ownership of code that had previously been regarded as an open standard. The effect is not simply to appropriate and centralise a shared knowledge resource, but to make it impossible to create a new programme without infringing the patent. Where software is concerned, patents obliterate progress… In effect, corporations use software patenting to secure a monopoly and discourage the entrepreneurial activity of start-ups. The result is to freeze, not foster, innovation – the very opposite of patent law’s original intention. Moreover, as intellectual property law combines with the global shift towards a “knowledge economyâ€?, the regressive effect of such lockdowns acquires a more explicitly political dimension. The application of strong IP law is a game only the big boys, with their dedicated legal teams, can play. Knowledge, once viewed as a commons, becomes a commodity – just like land or labour in an agricultural or industrial economy – whose owners ordain themselves the new economy’s ruling class."

Some leading architects of the software sector are quite explicit about this. Bill Gates set his stall out as early as 1991:

“The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose... Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors.â€? ( )

More Information

lnformation about the struggle against the adoption of software patents in the EU, see at

The following is an educational book explaining why these issues are important: La bataille du logiciel libre. 10 clefs pour comprendre . Thierry Noisette et Perline La Découverte 2004

Book site located at; author site of Perline located at