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Red Hat exec criticizes software patents

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A Red Hat executive speaking at the MySQL Users Conference 2005 event here on Tuesday heaped scorn on the issuance of software patents, saying they stifle innovation.

The executive, Michael Tiemann, vice president of Open Source Affairs at Red Hat, also criticized Microsoft’s “Shared Source” approach to open source. The Shared Source program lets users look at code but not modify it, he pointed out.

Panning patents, Tiemann described them as a challenge to enabling massive change.

“Every time a software patent blooms, it’s a promise to cease innovation in that space for 20 years,” Tiemann said.

An audience member agreed that patents can limit innovation. “I do see it as a big issue,” said Cornelius Sybrandy, software engineer at custom development shop Concurrent Technologies.

Criticizing Microsoft, Tiemann cited a dramatic increase in spending on security issues by Microsoft. “This is a failure of the Shared Source model,” he said. Microsoft has not fostered participation of a user community that could help make its code secure, he added.

With Shared Source, “You can look but only Microsoft can touch [the code],” Tiemann said.

Tiemann also raised the issue of software licensing, citing the preponderance of license types that have sprung up for open source projects. He noted that the Open Source Initiative (OSI), of which he is president, is looking at the issue but that the recently expanded OSI board does not have the answers.

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