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Chris Hilts wrote:

>Which is better done (IMNSHO) by using free
>alternatives, not by buying up
>a bunch of patents and then refusing to license them.

Free alternatives are only possible as long as
software patents remain the exception. We could see
the same thing happen with software patents as
happened with software. That is in a few years it may
be impossible to run a computer without licensing
software patents. This is especially true if open
standards such as mp3 are patented. We can only
imagine what the world would look like if email
and web browsing and a myriad of other things became
encumbered with patents that were part of their

We need to attack software patents:
1. at the legal level by putting pressure on our

2. at the standards level by putting pressure on
standards agencies not to accept technologies into
their standards that are not freely implementable (I
believe this is the position of the www consortium).

3. at the practical level by using them against
software or in this case patent hoarders.

The first is still possible in many countries, where
software patents are not deeply entrenched.

The second is still possible in areas where patents
are not already the norm.

Now as for the third, we need not simply buy patents
and refuse to license them. We can also patent
algorithms and techniques that are first developped in
free software and use them to cross-license with other
patent holders or some other approch entirely.

One last word about free alternatives. There is a
problem with that. Which is that we never know when we
are going to be hit. We may start using ogg and have
the entire community switch over from mp3 just to have
Thomson tell us that they have a patent covering
aspect XYZ of ogg/vorbis. This may well be the case as
they have patents covering aspects of AAC and atrac 3,
and other codex, and have no legal need to tell us if
they think their patent applies to ogg/vorbis. The
same sort of thing is happening with jpeg right now.

If however the people working on vorbis had a patent
on some aspect of their work (one which they could
freely license to everyone), they could crosslicense
that with any patent holder that came to shut them
down. Again this is only one scenario that I (with my
limited imagination) have thought up, any number of
other situations could arrise in which a patent pool
could erally help the free software community

Drastic times call for drastic measures. The FSF
believed that the copyright system needed to be
changed, but couldn't change it, so they came up with
the GPL ("to turn copyright on it's head"). We may end
up beeing forced to use some sort of patent pool (to
turn patents on their heads).


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