Slashdot Comment Responses #2 (A bit about Patents)

By time I get through responding to the comments I'm sure that almost no one will be reading anymore, but for those that stick around you get to witness this little mental exercise.

MS and Patents
A lot of people have plenty of feedback on Microsoft patents as a reason for distrust.  Here are just a couple:

  • Dwayne: "Well, for starters, Microsoft needs to quit hindering technology development through the use of its patent portfolio. "
  • AC: "Tobacco company execs got punished for destroying lungs MS should be **punished** for stealing and attempting to PATENT a concept so general and self-evident that it is an affront to human decency. " (In reference to the SUDO example.)

I started to try and tackle this one, but then I remembered that Chris Pratley pretty much covered everything I would care to on the subject.  I would deffer to what he has written for most comments about Microsoft (or any larger company) and their use of the patent system. 

Patents and Participation in Microsoft Shared Source 
A hold up to participation in our efforts would be the fear of patent litigation and our desire to keep the rights to whatever the community developers. 

  • Tux: "...trying to dilute the ideas behind free software and open source into this mish-mash of ideas, seems more intentional then serious. Talking about WIX and WTL, relased under CPL, is a good enough example. Thought open, Microsoft business-minded approach lets it keep patent rights. Unlike IBM, it does have full intention to use is at will. "
  • Pete Nelson: "The reason I'm leary of your open source projects is because I'm not a lawyer. If there are patents or IP involved, I don't want it tainting my ability to work on a similar project without MS's stamp of approval. Unless the IP these projects are based on are unilaterally released into the public domain, its viewed with suspicion by many. If there is no IP of concern, that should be clearly expressed. I haven't looked, but a NDS, of course, would be the nail in the coffin. "
  • James: " How do I (Microsoft) convince others that if I give access to API/program "blah" that I will not come back later with some sort of patent, copyright and/or trade secret issues and take the work of others? "

I am not a lawyer, but when I've talked to lawyers about this, most of the choices made are made in an attempt to reduce our risk in these endeavors.  Believe it or not, the members of the legal team I have been working with would not like to start random David VS Goliath wars.  We are mostly worried about legal action against us because of our developer taint or a community contributor unknowingly inserting code that they don't have the rights to that they may have gotten from their employer.  I won't pretend to know all the answers, but there were some interesting looks on peoples faces when we went in with the following:

Using the VB Powerpack as an example... we would like to be in a world where these controls are freely available for anyone to use for whatever purpose.  If a contributor would like to help with the project, then re-package a commercial offering with these controls in addition to their own specific improvements... I want to be cool with that.  Hey, these controls are pretty cool so we'd also like people who download the VB Express Sku to get them for their use as well as part of the download.  Ours would be the basic shared version, but the person who repackages them might also make changes and support additional features using the shared project as a base.

There were a lot of specific comments about the CPL license and what exact rights MS would want to keep.  The WIX projects may choose a CPL license, but we could go with a BSD model for some of our projects.  Honestly, we are still working out the details and will be starting small to test the waters with what we come up with. 

PS: Oh, and my cardkey worked again today... SWEET!!!


Comments (6)
  1. The problem, as I see it, isn’t so much with patents or even specifically software patents, but the sheer number of junk patents that are rubberstamped by the USPTO.

    Used correctly, patents are a wonderful way to encourage innovation — companies are encouraged to invest resources into basic research, and their employees are usually recognized. The end result is a net societal benefit.

    Unfortunately, the recent (10 years? 20?) track record of the USPTO is to allow anyone to /steal/ ideas and obtain a patent. Sure, these patents are eventually overturned, but the fear of litigation /discourages/ innovation.

    That said, I hardly believe that Microsoft fits into the junk patent category. MS /should/ continue to patent their ideas and reward their employees. However, it would be encouraging if they released them into the public domain in a relatively short time (say, 3-5 years instead of the normal 17).

  2. Digging .NET says:

    Microsoft and open source

  3. Wesley Parish says:

    Or, dusting a credenza with a howitzer.

    In other words, severe category mismatch.

    The patenting system was established to improve the development of new technology by granting an inventor a limited-time monopoly on his idea, until such a time as he could make a return on his investment in plant, research, development, etc. It was also a political move aimed at destroying the Guild system of the Middle Ages by providing an alternative path for technologies to develop, and by ensuring that these technologies could be used by all and sundry and could be built upon.

    The Software Patent question is, where in h*() does any of this apply to patenting software? With computers so cheap in the "developed world", there’s hardly a need for a limited monopoly to enable the inventor to recover costs, and with the Universities – in many places publically funded – providing most of the publically available research, that can hardly be alleged as a valid reason. The Guilds have been replaced by the software publishing houses, and it’s the software publishing houses that hold the software patents now – the Guilds are back again.

    And what for?

  4. Imagine a blog entry where I discuss Open Source at Microsoft via posts on Josh Ledgard’s blog.

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