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Dangers to open source developers worldwide

How big is the danger of big companies getting software patents on software that was developed by independent open source developers? Is that danger and the danger of lawsuits over "stolen" code trouble as big a worry for software developers and businesses using Linux outside of the U.S.? Or, is it mostly a U.S. phenomenon?

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It's the enforcing of software patents, not the patents themselves that is the problem. While there's money to be made out of suing large companies for use of patent-covered but independantly produced software, someone will do the suing. But if there's no money to be made out of it, then the whole problem goes away. My guess is that eventually there'll be no money to make out of protecting those patents. No-one's making money out of such lawsuits today, either. Is it just a US phenomena? No it's not. We see the European Union struggling to get software patents made law as well. The law is a strange thing, too. In my corner of the world, there's a thing called the Trade Practices Act; people in the U.S., like Richard Stallman, never imagined it. Trying to get that act and Open Source licenses working together is a nightmare. The U.S. also has a number of bilateral agreements with other countries that distorts how those countries can exploit open source.

This was first published in June 2004

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