March 29, 2008

Software patents underlie a novel open source business model (video)

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

"Software patents are evil." Ask almost any free or open source software advocate, and they'll tell you that software patents kill creativity and keep computer science from advancing as rapidly as it would if everyone shared their basic work with everyone else, unencumbered by patents or other restrictions. But computer science professor Fred Popowich of Simon Fraser University says this is not necessarily true. So does attorney Larry Rosen, who spent many years as legal counsel for the Open Source Initiative starting (literally) before it had a name.

How could these two august gentlemen possibly believe that software patents can be the basis of a new method of developing and distributing open source software? Instead of trying to summarize their new business model, we sat down with them, turned on our video camera, and gave them a chance to tell you what they're up to, themselves, in their own words.

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Their company is called International Characters. It already has one software patent pending -- and professor Popowich assures us that the company has software that's ready to download and use today; that this isn't a pipe dream but a "right now" thing.

If nothing else, even if you disagree with the way International Characters is doing business, you've got to admit that they've come up with an interesting way to combine software patents with open source. Whether it will work -- and whether others follow in their footsteps -- is another matter. We'll just have to keep an eye on them and see how things go, won't we?


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