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Looking out for Bilski: software patents v. FOSS

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OSS

Users of free and open source software (“FOSS”) have little to gain and much to fear from the patent system. The patent system poses two major threats to users: First, the software itself can be burdened or extinguished altogether by “software patents', that is, claims over basic techniques used in computer programs or common features of programs. Second, the use of computers to perform basic business functions traditionally performed in other ways, can be monopolized as a result of patents on computer enabled “business methods”.

Before 1990, neither the features of software nor the use of computers in “business methods” could be patented anywhere in the world. But the creation of a specialized patent law court in the United States, all of whose judges were patent lawyers, changed the landscape of U.S patent law. The tremors were felt in the rest of the world. The U.S Supreme Court, in a famous 1981 case, held that a computer program used to control the industrial process of rubber vulcanization could not be patented standing alone, because facts of nature, mathematical formulas and algorithms are outside the realm of patent protection. However, after 1982, the Supreme Court largely left patent law to the newly created Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”), and soon the CAFC had changed the rules completely while pretending that nothing had changed at all.

The CAFC's decision in 1998, in the case of State Street Bank v. Signature Financial Group, expanded patent's scope to include any ”practical application” of an algorithm, formula, or calculation that produces ”a useful, concrete and tangible result.” Thus injecting patents into areas where they were neither needed nor desired. These included, for example, financial strategies, auction techniques, accounting, and management, training and instruction.

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More in Tux Machines

GPL Violations: Grsecurity Carries on Bullying Bruce Perens, Israel Complies with AGPL, Xiaomi Violates GPL

  • Linux's Grsecurity dev team takes blog 'libel' fight to higher court
    Open Source Security, Inc., the maker of the Grsecurity Linux kernel patches, suffered a setback last month when San Francisco magistrate judge Laurel Beeler granted a motion by defendant Bruce Perens to dismiss the company's defamation claim, with the proviso that the tossed legal challenge could be amended. The code biz and its president Brad Spengler sued Perens over a blog post in June in which Perens said that using the firm's Grsecurity software could expose customers to a contributory infringement claim under the terms of the Linux kernel's GPLv2 license. Open Source Security contends that statement has damaged its business.
  • Israel’s Information and Communications Technology Authority Bows to Pressure to Comply with Affero GPL
    Under pressure from open source advocates, the Israeli Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Authority recently shared its first open source software, extensions made by the ICT Authority to the CKAN data portal platform to help make the platform usable in Hebrew. The CKAN software is an open source data portal platform used since 2016 by the ICT Authority to make Israeli government data open and available on its government database website. The CKAN software is licensed under the GNU AGPL Version 3 license, an “ultra-strong” open source license that requires users of modified versions of CKAN software to offer its source code, even in the absence of distribution, to users interacting with software over the Internet.
  • Xiaomi Violating GPL 2.0 License With Mi A1 Kernel Sources
    Xiaomi is in violation of the GPL 2.0 license of the Linux Kernel project by still not releasing the kernel sources for the Mi A1 Android One and has been publicly criticized on the matter by established Android developer Francisco Franco earlier this week. While the smartphone was released in September and the Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer’s official policy is to publicize kernel sources for its devices within three months of their market launch, the Android One edition of the Mi A1 remains undetailed in this regard. Mr. Franco — best known for his work on the Franco Kernel, one of the most popular custom OS cores in the Android ecosystem — had some harsh words for the company on Twitter, calling its laidback approach to publicizing the kernel sources for the Mi A1 “an embarrassment” for the open source community and the type of software it allows it to create its commercial devices in the first place.

Security: Updates, Secure Contexts, EFF, Google, Fedora

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