To patent or not to patent …

… software, that is here the question.

There have been quite a few comments for the leadership of my employer lately (GregP, JonathanS), and now Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu chimes in.

His argument goes as follows: Microsoft (and in extension most, if not all major corporate software player) really do not have an interest in software patents. Why? Simply because they are obviously the most juicy target a patent troll can hope for: deep pockets, big software products that cover vast areas of intellectual property. Examples of this can be found at Mike Dillon’s blog.

In the light of these developments, Non-assertion covenants such as Sun’s for OpenID are of crucial interest to the developer community and the public as a whole. These initiatives truly create a “patent cold war” in a good sense, at least within the software industry.

What remains is the patent-troll industry, and here is where regulatory bodies are required to evolve the current patent and copyright legislation [1] to a model where inventors and practitioners (like developers or artists) are rewarded, while parasites (like patent trolls and …) have their air supply cut for good.

I am wondering one thing (and maybe there is a legal expert/lawyer out there who could clarify this): Can I license e.g. software in a way that would revoke license rights from potential patent plaintiffs?  So that any software license has a ‘nuclear’ provision, that renders the entire license provision null and void, if the licensee (i.e. user of the software) uses software patents for the sole purpose of suing without practicing such patents in a meaningful way. Note that this provision should not be directional, but cover any suit based on horded patents.

If the open source community and the commercial software community adopted a model like this, the patent trolls would at least be relegated to using paper and pen for all of their fillings.

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[1] absolutely including the completely brainless DMCA and its WIPO relatives

UPDATE: After talking to a few folks (that are quite cynical at times ;-)), I guess my license idea would not work: It would be quite easy for a troll to setup a front and ‘outsource’ business activities …

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