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.

☆ FSF Leadership Change

I got a call on Friday evening from Peter Brown, the Executive Director of the Free Software Foundation (FSF). It’s been my great pleasure to know and work with Peter over the last five years or so. While I was at Sun I liaised with him over the GPLv3 process, to arrange for Richard Stallman’s video about OpenJDK and then later when Sun resumed its donations to FSF as a Corporate Patron.

More recently, as a director of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), I have had the pleasure of working with him on joint FSF-OSI projects. The most public was the joint position our two organisations took over the acquisition of Novell’s patents by the Microsoft-initiated CPTN consortium, but we have also ensured the two organisations stay in sync over various issues during the last year including our mutual opposition to software patents. For example, the FSF’s support for LibreOffice was triggered by a conversation Peter and I had about the OSI’s support for the project.

While the FSF and OSI have clear philosophical differences, both are committed to software freedom and it makes sense to collaborate on the many issues where our conclusions match. Peter has been instrumental in that rapprochement, providing a “friendly user interface” to the FSF that I, among many others, have greatly appreciated.

Peter’s call was to tell me the news that he has decided to step down from his job at FSF, while remaining committed to and involved in the organisation. He said that his replacement is John Sullivan previously the FSF’s operations manager and the brains behind many of the FSF’s campaigns. The FSF announced the news on Monday.. I very much look forward to working with John and continuing the relationship with the FSF that Peter facilitated. My warm thanks to Peter and a warm welcome to John!

[Also posted to the OSI web site on the Board’s behalf]

%d bloggers like this: