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Linus Torvalds: Software and Process Patents Don’t Make Sense

Swapnil: What is your opinion about the ongoing copyrights and patent disputes?
Linus: I think copyrights, and especially patent disputes, get really nasty really quickly.  Especially on patents, it’s like winner take all on completely insane grounds – there is no middle ground. You either win or you lose. That makes it a very nasty thing from a legal perspective.

I have filed at least 3 patents during Transmeta times. They were about hardware so I am happy about them. It was an interesting experience. I am not saying they were wonderful patents–I am saying it was interesting to see the crazy patent language you have to have and that’s the reason you have to have a patent lawyer because the language makes no sense. In US it’s technically English but it’s not really English. It’s like using English words but there are different meanings to them. There is a whole different set of rules about what things mean when they do a patent application. As I said it was a very interesting experience and I am not unhappy about that. It’s not as horrible as many patents.

I think patents probably work better in certain areas than they do in ours. Software patents? No. Process patents? No. They just don’t make sense.

Copyright violation discussions can get very ugly too. It tends to be the winner takes all even when in real life, many issues are not black and white, they are kind of gray. People do similar things for the simple reason that when you do something there are things that make sense. The code could  even be developed completely differently and could look similar. So even in copyright, which is much much better than patents, it can get nasty.

I think patents probably work better in certain areas than they do in ours. Software patents? No. Process patents? No. They just don’t make sense.

SCO was a classic example of that. Where they tried to use copyrights, which turned out to be completely bogus in so many ways, and made it into a nasty legal battle. They lost badly. What was irritating about the whole thing, as an insider knowing about what they claimed was completely bogus, was that it took them 10 years to lose. It is scary. 10 years! I don’t know how many hundreds and millions of dollars IBM and Novell spent on fighting completely bogus crap stuff; fighting lawsuits that made no sense. Literally it made no sense what so ever. To the point that it ended up turning out that they did not even own the copyrights that they were claiming, never mind the copyrights they were claiming weren’t actually true. Christ what a chaos!

So the legal system and high-tech is not a good combination. In the US they have juries where as the Finnish system is similar to the German system where they have legal professionals and not juries.

Linus Torvalds on Oracle-Google dispute
Swapnil: What is your opinion about the whole Oracle Google court battle over Android?
Linus: I don’t really know all that much about that and that is another example of lawsuits not being all that great. It seems to be completely bogus and it is kind of embarrassing. One of the defenses that Google was using was the posting by Jonathan Schwartz’s blog entry saying that he was so happy that Google is using their technology and then the fact that company, after being sold  a few years later, turns around and sues Google for using their technology — that kind of tells you that “OK, there is something wrong going on”.

I don’t actually know the details. I mean Java I really don’t care about. What a horrible language. What a horrible VM. So, I am like whatever, you are barking about all this crap, go away. I don’t care.

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Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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