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Another Request to Pick Groklaw's Brain & an Invitation to OSDL's Conference on Software Tagging
Wednesday, August 30 2006 @ 05:20 PM EDT

Kees Cook of OSDL would like to pick your brain some more, on the topic of software tagging. He also would like to hear from you, if you host an OSS software repository, and he has an invitation for Groklaw folks. Here's the request, along with the invitation:
I'm helping to host the OSDL-sponsored Software Tagging Workshop September 14 - 15 and am working with a number of folks to research best practices for manual software tagging and recording stamps. We'd like to create a list of who is currently hosting OSS repositories and the best way to contact them. Please either comment here or send your responses to me at kees@osdl.org or both.

Also, join us at the workshop, if you're able. It's in Portland, Oregon and is a component of the Open Source as Prior Art (OSAPA) initiative. The group will include software authors and users, folks representing different repositories, and social/community collaboration experts such as Ward Cunningham. The USPTO will also be joining us to help define and create the distributed social tagging mechanism that describes open source software. It's a huge step towards creating a searchable system that identifies existing software code and will give the USPTO a much needed tool for improving patent review and supporting the work of open source developers.

The workshop is open to the community and anyone interested in software tagging or currently hosting software projects is invited to attend. Check it out.

Note that the invitation to the conference is to users too, not just authors, of Open Source software. They would like your input to help them define and create a distributed "Social Tagging" mechanism to describe OSS, nothing less. If you go to the Open Source as Prior Art website, it says this is the goal of that project:

We want to see fewer poor quality patents. We also wish to help people defend themselves against bad patents. Our strategy to achieve this is simple. Help the USPTO use Open Source as prior art.

And on the registration page for the conference, they list this as their goal:

The goal is to create a system that will allow the characteristics of OSS code and documentation to be easily collected and searched by everyone, while still being distributed and shared by all participating repositories.

You can see from the description that you don't need to be a genius hacker to participate meaningfully. No idea is too small or insignificant, because someone else can build on it. And no individual or small group can possibly think of all that a large group like this can, and regularly does, I might add. Note that the USPTO is sending representatives to this conference. Here's the conference flyer [PDF], giving all the details. I'd like to tell you why I think it's important to get this right.

I have an article I just wrote for LWN.net, which will be available to subscribers soon, on the Blackboard e-learning patent, which I'm sure you've heard about. In doing my research, I found that to many, the patent seems absurdly obvious, not to mention trivial. I'm sure Blackboard would disagree, but I asked myself, how does a patent like this get approved? The answer, I've learned, or at least part of the answer is because the USPTO examiners are required to act like bots. I don't mean that in any derogatory sense, just in the limited sense that they must do what they are instructed to do when it comes to searching for prior art and are supposed to search only certain places. What they are instructed to do is search their database of previously issued patents, and if they don't find anything there, all other things being equal, the patent will likely be approved. FOSS prior art isn't represented in that database, for the most part, for obvious reasons, and that has been one significant contributor to some inappropriate patents being approved, despite abundant prior art existing.

Now, you and I may not be able to change the world altogether, but we can certainly change that. So if you know about any software tagging applications or have ideas on how they should work or you are responsible for a software repository or are an interested user of Open Source software, please contact them and let them add your repository to the list they are drawing up and if you can attend the conference, so much the better, because there you can learn and share any ideas you may have for best practices for software tagging and time stamping and can help them tweak what they have done so far. They'd appreciate input even if you can't attend the workshop, but if you can be there to see their OSSTAG demo, you'll be better able to help them improve it. They would like to have you there very much. Their flyer reads in part like this:

Open Source as Prior Art

Improving the quality of software patents

Software Tagging Workship
September 14 & 15, 2006
OSDL Offices -- Portland, OR

Come join OSDL and the USPTO working with key players in the Open Source Community to collaborate on the future of Software Tagging

OSDL is hosting a workshop for Open Source Software authors, repositories, and users to help define and create a distributed "Social Tagging" mechanism to describe OSS. The goal is to create a system that allows the characteristics of OSS code and documentation to be easily collected and searched by everyone, while still being distributed and shared by all participating repositories. This workshop is a continuation of an ongoing series of public meetings between the USPTO and the Open Source Community previously held in Dec. '05 and Feb. '06.

Objectives:

  • meet everyone face-to-face
  • understand the challenges facing a distribued software tagging system
  • improve the OSSTag prototype

Who should attend: anyone interested in software tagging and anyone that hosts software projects is invited to attend.

7:00-9:30 PM Sept. 13th - Welcome Reception - Henry's 12th Street Tavern
8:00-8:30 AM - Day 1, Sept. 14th - OSDL Software Tagging Workshop at OSDL
Day 2, Sept 15th - OSDL Software Tagging Workshop at OSDL

The first day of the conference, it starts with coffee and check-in, then introductions, and then a schedule that looks like this:

Consumer Presentations
OSSTag Demo
Prioritization
Producer Presentations
Lunch Break
Best Practices for Manual Software Tagging
Best Practices for Recording Time-Stamps
Coffee Break
Planning Session

Day 2 goes like this:

In-Source Tag Integration
Additional Discussion Topics
Lunch Break
Additional Discussion Topics

The schedule seems to be that on the first day, they show what they already know and have in place. Day 2 looks to be your opportunity to influence what improvements, tweaks and edits are made to the system. You can register on the website. Henry's 12th Street Tavern is at 10 NW 12th Avenue (I know -- odd, but there you are), Portland, Oregon. OSDL is in Beaverton, at 12725 SW Millikan Way.


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