So in case you haven’t heard, some really evil laws are on the verge of passing across the Atlantic in the European Union, see FFII’s page on Software Patents in Europe. Basically, there is a push to increase regulation of software patents, which could conceivably destroy Open Source software such as Linux. Software patents are inherently bad, because in practice software patents are never for a specific implementation of a concept. Software patents are generally for such sweeping concepts such as Amazon’s one-click shopping, or right-clicking to get a menu. What happens from an economic standpoint is that this reduces competition in a ridiculous fashion. Here’s my question: who should make a product? The person who implements an idea best, or the person who thinks of it first? Clearly it is in society’s interest for the first person to produce the good. However, it is also important for there to be people to produce ideas, and people may not bother inventing things if they cannot get compensation for their time and energy. So clearly we must allow the inventors to capture enough of the value of their idea to make it worth their while to create. On the other hand, the inventors have to earn their keep. They shouldn’t just be able to sit back in a comfy chair and extort money from people who are actually creating things. And they definitely shouldn’t be able to patent things that are obvious to anyone who works in the field. Patents are necessary to some extent, but some things do not deserve patents, and patent powers must be limited if we are to have a free market instead of a monopoly-dominated corporate aristocracy.
This is terribly relevant to the open source movement, because since many programs are created through volunteer work, and given away for free, it would be ridiculous to ask free software programmers to pay off patent holders. Most projects could not afford this extortion. There are also many side issues that I could remember for you if it wasn’t 1:47 AM. Maybe I’ll put in an update later, but for now, yeah, read http://swpat.ffii.org/