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New FOSS History Wiki Project & Ravicher Testifies to Congress on Patent Reform
Wednesday, June 08 2005 @ 09:38 AM EDT

There is a new FOSS history project, a Wiki, and the folks doing it asked me if I'd let you know about it. Here's the PDF, the jumping off point.

It's an attempt to write an ongoing, real-time history of what they call the "politics" of FOSS adoption. By that they use the term political loosely, meaning things like Munich and Brazil going Open Source, naturally, but they also include a section on litigation in the chapter "Legal Uncertainty in Free and Open Source Software and the Political Response", by Jennifer Urban, which includes the SCO litigation, and yes, Groklaw is in there. Of course, Groklaw isn't political in any sense, as the article correctly points out. I knew many of you would be interested in learning about this project.

A description of the Wiki project, in their own words:

The Politics of Open Source Adoption

Read – Contribute – Win!

The Social Science Research Council invites you to collaborate on a real-time history of the politics of open source software adoption. We are pleased to offer a first version of this account—POSA 1.0—in both .pdf and wiki versions, at . POSA 1.0 includes contributions from Gabriella Coleman, Kenneth Cukier, Shay David, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, Eugene Kim, Volker Grassmuck, Bildad Kagai, Nicolas Kimolo, and Jennifer Urban, and is edited by Joe Karaganis (SSRC) and Robert Latham (SSRC).

Our project begins with the observation that accounts of the Free and/or Open Source Software (F/OSS) movement, to date, have been oriented mostly by the improbable fact of F/OSS’s existence. At this stage of F/OSS development and advocacy, we want to ask a different set of questions—not how open source works as a social and technical project, or whether open source provides benefits in terms of cost, security, etc., but rather how open source is becoming embedded in political arenas and policy debates. For our purposes, understanding the ‘politics of adoption’ means stepping back from the task of explaining or justifying F/OSS in order to ask how increasingly canonical explanations and justifications are mobilized in different political contexts. POSA 1.0 maps many of the different kinds of political and institutional venues in which F/OSS adoption is at stake. It tries to understand important institutional actors within those venues, and the ways in which arguments for and against F/OSS are framed and advanced. It seeks to clarify the different opportunities and constraints facing F/OSS adoption in different sectors and parts of the world. It is an inevitably partial account that--we hope--can be extended and deepened by other participants in these processes. We invite your help in preparing POSA 2.0.

To sweeten the pot, two prizes of $250 will be awarded to the best new contributions to POSA 2.0.

This project was made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

You can contribute to the project by offering comments and edits, or by contributing your own new piece.

If you run out of things to write about, here is an item in the news that comes to mind. PubPat's Executive Director Dan Ravicher is testifying today to the US House of Representatives on proposed patent reform.

Here's Ravicher's statement [PDF] to the House on patent reforms. One excerpt:

Before commenting on the proposed Patent Act of 2005, a very important point about the process by which patent policy is formed must be made. Despite what most people believe, the patent system has extremely far reaching effects on all Americans. Specifically, wrongly issued patents and unsound patent policy harm the public by making products and services more expensive, if not completely unavailable, by preventing scientists from advancing technology, by unfairly prejudicing small businesses, and by restraining civil liberties and individual freedoms. Although the public can indeed benefit from a properly functioning patent system, since patents are government sanctioned restraints on freedom and competition, the public can also be severely harmed by errors within the patent system. For that reason, patent policy should be crafted with full knowledge of all of the effects, both positive and negative, the patent system is having on all people.

Unfortunately, however, it is too often the case that not all of the interests affected by the patent system are adequately represented in patent policy discussions. Specifically, the interests of the non-patent holding public are almost always absent from any meaningful participation in decision making about the patent system, despite the fact that they bear the brunt of its burdens. The lack of representation of the public's interests is due in part to the fact that the patent community culture tends to dismiss the opinions of those it sees as outsiders, but it is mostly a result of the public not yet realizing how the patent system affects them.

Regardless, patent policy should be made with consideration of all of the public's interests, not just the specific interests of the PTO, patent holders, patent practitioners, and large commercial actors.

He then suggests the following:

  • Make Inventions Available to the Public as Quickly as Possible
    The patent system's ultimate purpose is to advance technology, not line the pockets of patent holders. Although these ends are typically aligned, there does come a point at which over rewarding patent holders can in fact retard technological development. This is why the patent right is limited, such as by a finite term. Similarly, if a patent holder is not itself making its invention available to the public, courts should take great pause before issuing an injunction against another party that desires to do so.. . . .

    Our patent system is an economic tool to coordinate technological development that is designed to ensure inventive effort is adequately rewarded and quickly adopted to benefit the American people. Thus, when a patentee does not deliver her invention to the public, she should not be allowed to stand in the way of others willing to do so if they can compensate her fairly for the advance she identified. Allowing her to deny the American people a significant advance incorrectly places her private right above the needs of the public. For example, a patent holder with a valid patent on the cure for AIDS who does not make that technology available to the public should not be allowed to prevent others from doing so. . . . Anytime a technological advance is kept from the American people, the public suffers unnecessary and unjustified harm. Under the proposal as previously drafted, patentees would be guaranteed adequate compensation by the court. Thus, the only complaint they can be heard to made is that they would not get more than they deserve. But, over rewarding patentees would result in corresponding harm to the American public and, as such, is not sound public policy.

  • Eliminate or Curtail Continuation Applications
  • Implement a Strong Post-Grant Opposition Procedure
  • Correct Federal Circuit's Misapplication of Patent Law
  • Remove Improper Incentives on PTO to Grant Patents
  • Protect Civil Liberties and Research
    Patent law should not trump Constitutional rights nor be used to impede its own goal of advancing technology. Unlike copyright and trademark law, under current patent law there is no exemption from infringement liability for exercising Constitutional rights. Although perhaps previously not as relevant to the exercise of individual freedoms as those other forms of intellectual property, patent law today impacts many, if not most, of our most sacred rights, including speech, privacy, religious expression, assembly, and voting. This is partly because patent eligibility has been expanded by the Courts and partly because everyday life is becoming increasingly dependent upon technology. As such, there should be a statutory exemption from patent infringement for the exercise of Constitutional rights. Further, since the mission of the patent system is to advance technology, it seems improvident to subject to infringement liability technological research. As such, there should also be an exemption from patent infringement for research.
  • Check Patent Validity Against Broadest Reasonable Scope of the Claims

I hope they can hear a man who says the purpose of patents is to promote technological progress, not to stuff the pockets of patent holders.

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