Return-Path: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Fri, 10 Nov 89 17:58:15 -0800 From: email@example.com (J. Spencer Love, DTN 237-2751, SHR1-3/E29 (A26), 508-841-2751 10-Nov-1989 2057) To: "firstname.lastname@example.org"@decwrl.dec.com Cc: JSLOVE@decwrl.dec.com Subject: RE: Announcing the League for Programming Freedom Dear Richard, I find myself in a peculiar position, which I believe will also apply to others, so I am writing this note which you should feel free to forward to any appropriate or relevant forum. I don't know where to send it myself. As a general thing, I agree with many of your arguments, and I oppose the "look-and-feel" interpretations of the copyright laws. I am also made quite uncomfortable by software patents. With this in mind, I expect that I will send along $42 in the near future as a gesture of support. However, you might be interested to know that the $42 is part of a bonus from my employer for applying for a software patent. (The algorithm in question would probably be used in microcode, but it is particularly suited for implementation as a sequential process, not as parallel hardware.) As long as software patents may be granted, doing the best possible job for my employer requires that I assist in patenting my inventions. The alternative is that someone else patent the same idea; unless I publish the idea and put it in the public domain which they will not pay me to do. I am not saying this because I feel guilty for my cleverness. I think it reasonable that good programmers are paid far better than the median income, and I think that the patent and copyright laws serve a useful purpose. However, patents on algorithms, which are ideas, or user interfaces, which (if they are good ones) are philosophies, open up a lot of scary legal questions. Patents on genetic information raise related issues. The problem is that some current legal definitions are becoming obsolete. The way to address this problem is ultimately to enact new legislation changing the rules of the game, not to unilaterally withdraw from the game. There are two tasks here. One task is educational and philosophical in nature: what concepts and rules are necessary? Our goal is to promote the general welfare by rewarding desirable behavior. The task other is to promote new legislation implementing these ideas. Only this latter area is lobbying; perhaps having two separate organizations would be useful. Do you have a well-defined program for new legislation? How should the copyright laws be changed? The patent laws? When we develop a universal pantograph that can make anything given energy and raw materials, what sorts of intellectual property rights will be appropriate then? Will there be a legal requirement to distinguish an original from a replica? In principle, it should be possible to construct a replica of the Mona Lisa that would be impossible to distinguish from it by any known tests. Eventually this will be cheap. I will continue to donate to the lobbying organization as long as their platforms seem reasonable, but due to cash flow problems, LPF will have to wait until the patent bonus is actually paid to me to get my first contribution. I am sure from previous discussions with you that you have ideas on the philosophical problems. If you create a foundation to promote work in this area I will make donations to it as well. Chances are that those latter donations would be tax-deductable. Does an organization for this specific purpose already exist? -- Spencer
Return-Path: <email@example.com> Date: Sat, 11 Nov 89 00:18:14 EST From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: rms Subject: Announcing the League for Programming Freedom To: email@example.com The alternative is that someone else patent the same idea; I think this is not true. Ask a lawyer (NOT your employer's lawyer) about other alternatives. It may well be that just writing it down and getting it notarized woukd defeat any future patent. Also, there are "defensive patents" which are much cheaper and easier to get than ordinary patents; all they do is defeat any future patents on the same idea. unless I publish the idea and put it in the public domain which they will not pay me to do. Supposing this were the only alternative, you could still do this even if you were not paid. It would be just a few days' work to write a paper. It doesn't need to be well-written. How often will the need arise? As long as software patents may be granted, doing the best possible job for my employer requires that I assist in patenting my inventions. If you think software patents are bad for society, then you need not feel any obligation to assist you employer in getting one. Just be honest about refusing and you have nothing to be ashamed of. You may still be able to stop the process. If your employer opened a plant in South Africa and wanted you to work closely with that plant, would you feel obligated to cooperate as long as no law was broken? legislation changing the rules of the game, not to unilaterally withdraw from the game. We need legislation, but in the mean time we should not ourselves engage in the practises we disapprove of. You can refuse to play dirty without withdrawing from the game. Do you have a well-defined program for new legislation? For a start, just say that software is exempt from all patents. That is simple. When we develop a universal pantograph that can make anything given energy and raw materials, what sorts of intellectual property rights will be appropriate then? I have ideas about this, but few people will agree with them. Rght now I want to build a coalition that many people will join. That means sticking to the area where we agree, and not injecting my other wild ideas. Also, if we look so far ahead, it raises the danger of searching for utopia while Rome burns. LPF will have to wait until the patent bonus is actually paid to me to get my first contribution. Refuse to go through with the patent, and I will pay your dues. I am sure from previous discussions with you that you have ideas on the philosophical problems. If you create a foundation to promote work in this area I will make donations to it as well. I don't have time; also, I'm more interested in action than in study. I think some universities study these questions. Idea: write a letter to the patent office explaining that you think society would be better off if patents such as the one you are being asked to apply for were not granted. Send a copy of the letter to: Mike Remington Chief Counsel for Subcommittee on Intellectual Property 2137 Rayburn Bldg Wash, DC 20515 I will help by reviewing and criticizing it. I know someone else who is good at this too.
Return-Path: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Sat, 11 Nov 89 13:00:32 -0800 From: email@example.com (J. Spencer Love 11-Nov-1989 1559) To: "firstname.lastname@example.org"@decwrl.dec.com Cc: JSLOVE@decwrl.dec.com Subject: RE: patents Sorry about the interaction of our mailers. This is not an internet mailer by any stretch of the term, and my (rather long) personal name field is clearly causing your mailer trouble. They do get here, you know, even though the headers also list a perfectly bogus address. In the future, I'll try to remember to delete my personal name field which contains commas when sending to you. On VMS, I don't have many options, so I don't plan to eliminate the commas, but I'll try changing them to semicolons. I would rather see a moratorium on the enforcement of software patents while we (society) work out the definitions than simply declare all invalid. At the end of the moratorium, a definition would be published (law passed) that would render the majority of software patents unenforceable, but they wouldn't actually be overturned unless challenged (there should be a streamlined form of overturning them to reduce their use for intimidation, or possibly a penalty for unsuccessfully defending one). While the moratorium was in effect, new software patents would continute to be granted under the old rules, but it is likely the number of applications would drop sharply. At the beginning of the moratorium, we might impose a set of rules that would eliminate (say) 75% of the patents that we expected would be eventually invalid, but fewer than 1 or 2% of patents that would eventually be upheld. Then we can go to work on the grey area. I am concerned that an effort which you describe as simply a concatenation of general purpose building blocks might require hundreds of man-years, significant new art and tens of millions of dollars to develop. I suspect there will be a middle ground. Investors will demand some protection before undertaking such projects (they may not get it), and we may end up fine-tuning the copyright laws as well. There's an outline for an ambitious legislative program. Perhaps more likely to occur than a constitutional convention, but possibly easier to sell than an outright repeal. Too complex? Probably. -- Spencer