09 April 2009

Should an Open Source Licence Ever Be Patent-Agnostic?

Sharing lies at the heart of free software, and drives much of its incredible efficiency as a development methodology. It means that coders do not have to re-invent the wheel, but can borrow from pre-existing programs. Software patents, despite their name, are about locking down knowledge so that it cannot be shared without permission (and usually payment). But are there ever circumstances when software patents that require payment might be permitted by an open source licence? That's the question posed by a new licence that is being submitted to the Open Source Inititative (OSI) for review.

On Linux Journal.

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Crosbie Fitch said...

It depends upon your objective:

1) Keep the source code visible, OR
2) Emancipate the public

No doubt source code visibility may sometimes only be achieved subject to patent holder agreement. However, unless the patent is neutralised this doesn't emancipate the public.

I wouldn't trade liberty for source code.

After all, that's what some people believe is the whole point of copyright and patent: "we'll suspend the public's liberty to utilise or reproduce your work if you publish it".

It's an invidious and unethical trade in the first place.

I see no benefit in answering your question. However if the question was "Should a Free Software license ever be Patent Agnostic?", then the answer should clearly be "No", unless of course it is a license restricted to jurisdictions in which software patents do not exist, but then it is still effectively cognisant of patents.

glyn moody said...

Thanks - good points.

Rob Myers said...

BSD is copyright agnostic...

glyn moody said...

Indeed, as is noted in the OSI submission. Confirms that BSD licence occupies an unusual position.