Calculating how much time we have left… the sequal

So I posted a blog about a software patent. I now know this was a bad thing to do for an open source developer, but naively I thought I should research the problem domain. I now know that open source developers should not look at patents, and pretend they do not exist. A few people have said I should just use the patented 'invention', and let the US users patch it out. I'm not going to do this, as I think it's not the best solution for everyone. The patent itself is only similar to the work I have done, and only touches on some of the ideas I was using. It's not a big loss if I do things another way, the code I had written was only proof-of-concept and had quite a few different ways of calculating the same data. I'm now thinking of using V=IR and P=IV for the basis of my calculations, but I'm not going to do any research just in case somebody has used these formulas before. Don't you just love software patents.

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Richard has over 10 years of experience developing open source software. He is the maintainer of GNOME Software, PackageKit, GNOME Packagekit, GNOME Power Manager, GNOME Color Manager, colord, and UPower and also contributes to many other projects and opensource standards. Richard has three main areas of interest on the free desktop, color management, package management, and power management. Richard graduated a few years ago from the University of Surrey with a Masters in Electronics Engineering. He now works for Red Hat in the desktop group, and also manages a company selling open source calibration equipment. Richard's outside interests include taking photos and eating good food.

One thought on “Calculating how much time we have left… the sequal”

  1. Not that I've ever been sued for patent infringement, but I'm not sure the “engineers shouldn't read patents” advice is appropriate for open source developers. The theory is that damages are three times higher (at least in the US) for “willful infringement”. So if your engineers implemented something with no idea the patent existed, your lawyers can better minimize the cost of the inevitable patent lawsuits. But this is another symptom of how broken the system is, for the entire point of the temporary implementation monopoly granted by patent legislation is to encourage the publication of new methods for the benifit of engineers working in the field. Furthermore, it assumes there is a central point of distribution which can arbitrate on the behalf of all users and distributors, which is not the case in open source software. Open source developers are often independent agents, not members of a large organization with a separate legal team who handle the inevitable infringements (usually through cross licensing agreements if they're large, and paying settlements if they're small). If one is trying to do the typical free software thing and build an alternative to proprietary works, it behooves one to avoid technologies that are likely to attract patent infringement suites, just as it behooves one to use and write code with a clean copyright history which it does not attract copyright infringement claims. Unfortunately, unlike copyright, there's no way to be reasonably certain you're ok, but if you want a third option, I think learning to read patents with an eye to judging their risk, and on the other hand contributing to awareness of patent law, obviousness and prior art in the community is the best way to approach this nasty, nasty problem.

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