Good Riddance to NZ Software Patents

Software patents seem like a good way of protecting innovators and their ideas but function in practice as a threat to innovation. Especially harmed are the smaller players in the marketplace, ironically those most likely to generate exciting new developments. It looks like sanity has prevailed in New Zealand (fingers crossed) with software patents being effectively banned. This welcome development is thanks to concerted lobbying by New Zealand software developers. Special thanks go to David Lane (President of the New Zealand Open Source Society), Guy Burgess (lawyer and software developer) and Paul Matthews (IITP). Although vigilance is required as the new laws are implemented, we can all rightly celebrate.

Posted in IP

Good riddance to software patents

As an independent software developer I am 100% opposed to software patents. Software patents are unlikely to help my business and are much more likely to be used against it by a multinational software company, or worse, a parasitic patent troll. Here are some basic objections to software patents:

  • Unnecessary – software is already covered by copyright.
  • Ineffective at promoting innovation. To the contrary, software patents seem primarily about shutting down competition. To see the impact of patents on innovation just observe the current smartphone patent wars. The associated litigation will not leave consumers better off or encourage innovation. We are better off without government-mandated monopolies on software ideas.
  • Increase the legal risks for local software developers. Applying for and enforcing patents costs money and large corporations are much more capable of using the legal process to their advantage than smaller entities. Contrary to arguments sometimes made (often by large corporations), software patents don’t even things up for “the little guy”.

Here are some links with a local emphasis for further reading:

ACTA and FTA unrelated – Yeah Right

The ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and Free Trade Agreement negotiations are apparently not linked (ACTA not linked to free-trade agreement, say officials). We should be highly sceptical of this claim and pay very close attention to the precise words used by the officials making this denial. Remember how Clinton did not have “sex” “with” “that woman”? The statement was arguably not false if you used very particular meanings for the words. The same probably applies here. It is extremely likely that negotiators will be aware that pleasing the US in one area of negotiation may have an impact on others and act accordingly. It is hard to imagine how it could be otherwise.

Follow-up 19 Apr 2010 – Yeah Right is also the response of a local IP lawyer No ACTA-free trade link? ‘Yeah right’, says IP lawyer.

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Please sign the Wellington Declaration petition

Here is the email I sent to some friends, family, and colleagues recently:

Hi,

Sorry to email you out of the blue like this but I thought the Wellington Declaration might be of interest to you. It is also very important and won’t take a moment.

Here is the petition: http://www.gopetition.com/online/35443.html

Here is the declaration: http://publicacta.org.nz/wellington-declaration/

Please sign the petition. Why? Because the exciting future offered us by the Internet (think of everything that could come after Trademe, Amazon books, Youtube, Wikipedia, Google Earth, Streetview, iTunes etc) is under threat by an excessive focus on the commercial interests of Big Media. Some multinationals would happily cripple the 21st century for their own gain and they need to be stopped before it is all locked up in binding international treaties.

Here is part of the text of my submission to the Ministry of Economic Development:

Excessive enforcement of “rights” will hinder innovation – PSAL believes that overly zealous enforcement of intellectual property “rights” could have a chilling effect on innovation. As a society, we will gain more if we let new technologies develop on a loose leash. Letting representatives of old industries shape the direction of the new is like letting stagecoach and railroad interests control the development of the automobile industry.

In the late 19th Century, the introduction of the automobile resulted in opposition from special interest groups, including railroad corporations and stagecoach lines. These interests promoted legislation to regulate operation of motorized vehicles and prompted lawmakers to impose command and control policies under the guise of safety, with which to regulate behavior of, and impose nonpecuniary costs upon the motorists driving the new machines. [emphasis added]

In the United Kingdom, the Red Flag Law, a policy requiring self-propelled vehicles to be led by a pedestrian, waving a red flag or carrying a lantern, to warn bystanders of the vehicle’s approach.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_flag_laws)

ACTA could be the Red Flag Law for modern times.

Some of these issues are complex but if you don’t have time to explore them thoroughly please sign the petition while it still counts.

Why mightn’t you already know about this if it’s so important? Because most of the ACTA negotiations are being conducted in secrecy and the media is ambivalent about the whole issue.

All the best, Grant

Posted in IP

Software patents are a proven bad idea

Software patents are a proven bad idea. Yes, you read that correctly – a “proven” bad idea. There is no need to speculate or philosophise. A brief look at history will suffice. The software industry experienced decades of innovation before software patents existed and we have had decades to observe their impact since they were introduced. The results are in – they don’t work. Here are some snippets and links which explain why (new links will be added over time):

So it’s not that software patents are a necessary evil that realists learn to accept – they aren’t good at all. And the sooner we roll them back internationally the better.

Posted in IP

ACTA Submission to Ministry of Economic Development

Here is the text of my submission to the Ministry of Economic Development:

Excessive enforcement of “rights” will hinder innovation – PSAL believes that overly zealous enforcement of intellectual property “rights” could have a chilling effect on innovation. As a society, we will gain more if we let new technologies develop on a loose leash. Letting representatives of old industries shape the direction of the new is like letting stagecoach and railroad interests control the development of the automobile industry.

In the late 19th Century, the introduction of the automobile resulted in opposition from special interest groups, including railroad corporations and stagecoach lines. These interests promoted legislation to regulate operation of motorized vehicles and prompted lawmakers to impose command and control policies under the guise of safety, with which to regulate behavior of, and impose nonpecuniary costs upon the motorists driving the new machines. [emphasis added]

In the United Kingdom, the Red Flag Law, a policy requiring self-propelled vehicles to be led by a pedestrian, waving a red flag or carrying a lantern, to warn bystanders of the vehicle’s approach.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_flag_laws)

ACTA could be the Red Flag Law for modern times.

Issues of bias and democracy – PSAL is concerned that the interests of some sectors are being privileged over others in debate about intellectual property rights enforcement. There is a risk that the correct balance will not be struck between the interests of ordinary citizens and large international media conglomerates. Secrecy does not co-exist well with democracy.

Who benefits, who should pay – PSAL is uncomfortable with the idea that taxpayers should fund enforcement and thus subsidise the profits of primarily international companies at the expense of their own rights and interests.

The internet is increasingly vital to citizenship – termination is disproportionate – The importance of the internet for access to information, goods and services (e.g. Trademe), social connections etc is growing. Increasingly, the delivery of government services will be via internet technologies and it will become difficult for citizens to exercise their free speech rights and the other rights of citizens without access to the internet. Termination should not be a standard punishment for copyright or other intellectual property violations. Other sanctions must be used that are proportionate.

Setting up the means of controlling the free flow of information is a bad idea – PSAL is concerned about the use of technologies which enable centralised filtering/censorship of data around the internet. There will always be the temptation to misuse the power this gives government and enforcement agencies (e.g. the Great Firewall of China). It also provides hackers a single point of control for each ISP.

Posted in IP

Software patents protect innovation? I’ve a bridge for sale

The former President and CEO of Sun Microsystems, Jonathan Schwartz, has written an interesting piece on patent racketeering Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal. The comments are well worth a read as well. If you think software patents encourage innovation (overall) then I have a bridge to sell you. Software patents are not only wrong, wrong, wrong … they don’t even achieve what they set out to. On a less serious note, I liked this quote from a comment:

(deep voice here) It’d be a shame if that pretty idea got into a legal “accident”.(end voiceover)

[Follow-up 31/3/2010]
Thumbs down for software patents in NZ – Thank goodness. So far, so good.

Posted in IP

Entertaining and important video on copyright

Anyone who cares about creativity, copyright, and artistic freedom should check out this entertaining and important video:

http://www.vimeo.com/7675598

“© kiwiright” is a 12 minute documentary about how copyright laws have been contorted to bene?t the ?nancial needs of corporate rights holders and no longer bene?ts the public nor the artists who create the work itself. Employing a fair-use argument, © kiwiright” intercuts interviews with New Zealand lawmakers and technologists with Disney clips de?ning and commenting on copyright law.

The filmmaker calls “© kiwiright” a “proof-of-concept” ?lm remixing footage from other ?lms released under Creative Commons licenses to build an argument against “guilt upon accusation” laws and to promote freedom of speech and expression.
http://www.vimeo.com/7675598

Copyright law is very important to protect artists and other people who create things ** – but a balance must be struck with the rights of citizens. “Big Media” is pursuing its interests – we should be pursuing ours.

Also check out: creativefreedom.org.nz

** For example, my creative work SOFA Statistics is protected by copyright.

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