IBM is going to offer free programs to compete with Microsoft’s Office programs. A new attempt for some good old Microsoft-bashing, IBM failed in 1990 to compete head-on with its OS/2 system, and an ambitious plan to challenge one of the most lucrative businesses for Microsoft. The more important question here is, not if IBM can compete with Microsoft, but seen from the view from IP, if this software today, must be protected by patents. While IBM now joins the open source software, Microsoft seeks standards for their software. Microsoft just lost a vote to ratify its Office Open XML as a global standard. But does software need to be protected or will patents on software just slow down technology and innovation?
Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM said in a statement: “The lifeblood of any organization is contained in thousands of documents. When those documents are based on proprietary software, only future versions of the same software will be able to access that intelligence.” Proprietary software is software that is not free or semi-free and its use, redistribution or modification is prohibited, or requires you to ask for permission. Free software is a matter of freedom. It is software that comes with permission to use, copy and distribute. IBM now joins the open source software and that means more or less the same category as free software. They will share work and code freely.
Microsoft now had a few setbacks in September. The company didn’t get its Office Open XML formats certified as ISO standards and the European Commission ruled in favor of regulators in an antitrust case. It is now interesting to see the effort Microsoft takes to try to codify its document standards and why they try so hard.
With a patent on software, the critics of patents say, will monopolize that software for twenty years and will restrict the other competitors to create new and improved software. Because software programs includes like hundred thousands software ideas, you could ask for a patent on each and every one of those ideas. It basically comes down to the large and rich companies will control all the software and are the only ones who can handle all the judicial risks. Europe most of the times follows the US in this sort of technology ‘problems’, but like FFII (The Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure) president Hintjes says: “The EU is following the US down the risky path of a central patent jurisdiction, when this experiment failed miserably in the US”. New studies of the FFII show that in all industries (except pharmaceutics), the US patent system has slow-down, not promoted, innovation.
In the US they responded with anger to the ruling of the European Commission. The department of Justice said it would harm innovation and American branch organizations said this ruling was a lack of respect for Intellectual Property.
The Canadian PO, like many other countries, is reluctant to grant patents for computer programs, fearing that technological progress in this volatile industry would be impeded. Where the American policy goes further and further to allow patents, the Canadian PO has not to date formally changed its policy, but some patents the Canadian PO has granted for computer software mat not be very different from those granted under the new US policy.
I think that patents for computer software are not advisable. In a fast moving and dynamic business as the software business patents are not a good option, because I believe it will slow down technology and innovation, if small businesses can no longer compete with the big companies. Also I don’t think that it will do the competition any good when companies also have to think about patents and it will become harder to enter this market. Countries should be careful with patents, because the big companies will become more and more powerful and the small companies more and more dependent. And software is already protected by copyright, so I think, just like prof. Vaver in his book, protection by patents isn’t necessary and the fear that programming innovations may be impeded by broad blocking patents may come to be realized.
So I’m glad as a Dutchman when I read that the Dutch government will favor ‘open standards’ when purchasing desktop software to reduce dependence on suppliers of proprietary software such as Microsoft! As of April next year, government offices will have to select products that have open standards, meaning they are royalty-free, for new software and upgrades. Government agencies will only be able to buy proprietary software if using open standards products would jeopardize the continuity of operations.
The writer of the original blog entry expressed a great sense of Dutch national pride when he “read that the Dutch government will favor ‘open standards’ when purchasing desktop software to reduce dependence on suppliers of proprietary software such as Microsoft.” Given the supremacy of Mircrosoft Office—arguably overpriced with rather rudimentary features compared to (former) competitors like WordPerfect—elation at this announcement is understandable.
Microsoft, nonetheless, will continue to use every available tool in its arsenal, including applying for software patents, to fight the inevitable oncoming onslaught of open source software. While it is argued that such protection is necessary to encourage innovation, Canada should not permit patent protection for computer software already protected by copyright. Professor Vaver urges that Canada avoid granting patents for computer programs, as was done in the US case of In Re Alappat, explaining that “programming innovations may be impeded by broad blocking patents.”
As someone who has tried Open Office only to revert to Microsoft Office, I can attest to the fact that getting users to switch to a new software platform—even one that is free—will be difficult. Well-designed free software will not trump the convenience and familiarity associated with Microsoft products. User stickiness means the open source movement needs influential supporters, and, for this reason I applaud the Dutch government’s decision to encourage the use of open software where it is not overly inconvenient to do so. I, too, would be proud if the Canadian government made a similar decision.
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