OSI, FSF and the end of software patents

Just as we did in the case of CPTN’s threatened acquisition of Novell’s patent portfolio in 2011, the OSI and FSF have once again collaborated to file a briefing — this time in the key software patent case CLS Bank vs Alice Corporation, which is being appealed at the US Supreme Court. From my article in InfoWorld today:

I endorse and welcome this joint position calling for firm clarity on software patents. With 15 years of history behind us, there’s far more that unites the FSF and the OSI than divides us. We’ve each played our part in the software freedom movement that has transformed computing. Now all of us in both communities need to unite to end the chilling threat of software patents to the freedom to innovate collaboratively in community.

Two other notable amicus curiae briefs are one from Red Hat and one from the American Civil Liberties Union – especially interesting as they are not obviously an interested party until you read their argument and see how they make an appeal to free speech. They say:

Because Alice’s patent claims monopolize knowledge, thought, and speech, they are invalid as a matter of patent law, which can and must be construed to avoid the constitutional problems that would otherwise arise if the patents were upheld

While I expect the court to remain as cautious as ever, this is an important opportunity for them to undo the harm that allowing patents on abstract ideas has caused, chilling innovation both by enabling direct assault on innovators and by introducing friction into the open collaboration of communities.

Input To UK Government

My input to the UK Government consultation on document formats:

I believe it is imperative to have a single document format standard used as the benchmark for corresponding with the UK Government, rather than a named software package or a choice of formats. That standard must be capable of complete implementation by any party using only the specification without needing a relationship (such as a license) with a specific vendor or community. Among the existing full implementations there must be one which is both open source and available to citizens without charge (and depending only on other software such as an OS that is without charge). To take any other approach is to tacitly promote the business of a preferred vendor and to restrict access to government to an elite able to obtain the preferred vendor’s offerings.

I believe the proposal above is a reasonable, balanced and effective expression of these principles and I wholeheartedly endorse it.

Surveillance Impact Not Just Personal

Meshed Insights Ltd

In her post on ComputerWorld, Alexandra makes the excellent observation that the impact of surveillance is not exclusively personal. Knowing we could be watched, as Jeremy Bentham observed, changes our behaviour; specifically, it chills our creativity. This in turn affects innovation and hence the economy. More directly, businesses (like RSA) are harmed by the disclosure of their for-profit collusion.

As a consequence, it is in our business interests to deal with excessive surveillance, not just our personal interests.  The same applies to the four freedoms of open source. They are not just a matter of personal preference; they are the key to business success in a meshed society.

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Facebook’s Global Telco Dream

Meshed Insights Ltd

Maybe there’s more to the Facebook acquisition of WhatsApp than just the centralised consolidation of users and user information that Simon denounced in his previous InfoWorld article. Perhaps this particular addition to their portfolio is Facebook’s move towards becoming the first truly global telco!

The idea makes a lot of sense; not only is the world already familiar with the technology, WhatsApp has the same phone numbers that legacy telcos use, without the need to pay for connection fees across the world’s analog phone network. It’s almost amazing it hasn’t happened already, but conditions for a global telco have only recently become so ideal. Smart phones and globally available internet connections mean the moment has come and the big question remaining is, who’ll get there first?

Read Simons take on the potential for a global telco in his InfoWorld article.

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“Screw Good Practice, How Bad Can It BE?”

Prescient.

Hope in Federations

Meshed Insights Ltd

Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp gains them almost half a billion users worth of telephone data. We can fully expect them to share their user information once joined, adding a wealth of phone data to Facebook and fleshing out WhatsApp with both Facebook’s data and the results of Facebook’s powerful semantic search. This sort of centralisation avoids giving users control of their own data.

To create a more positive environment in which users retain control of their data, what’s needed are more federated projects. Projects which offer the ability for suitably capable users to run their own service that can federate as a full peer, extending the service without surrendering full control. Diaspora and WordPress are two high profile examples of what federated services can look like, but there are many more available. All are open to user control in addition to service provider hosting.

If we are to maintain control of our own…

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Sun Friends On The Move

I see that two friends I worked with at Sun — most notably creating blogs.sun.com — are on the move.

  • Danese Cooper has decided that she can take on one more corporation’s move towards open source and has been appointed Head of Open Source at PayPal. Danese headed up the open source work at Sun before I took it on. The very best of luck to her there – plenty that can be achieved for software freedom with that fulcrum…
  • Tim Bray meanwhile is giving up his fulcrum at Google. Tim was the editor of the XML specification and a driving force of developer-focussed openness at Sun. Seems that despite being the company behind all the distributed team working tools I use, they still insist on centralising all their staff rather than having them work remotely. Looking forward to seeing (or, indeed, collaborating on…) whatever Tim does next.

I also see from LinkedIn that it’s four years since the death of Sun. That’s something of a magic number in career terms so I expect to see more moves in the news soon.

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