Software Patents: The Lowest Common Denominator

Software Patents are a complicated legal issue which requires the help of
expert lawyers.

Most developers are not lawyers.

Most developers would be happier if they were able to implement the best
solution available and have someone else help to figure if there might be
any potential patent implications.  I believe developers are currently
avoiding implementing certain ideas for fear of accidentally treading on
some kind of software patent land mine and this may be holding Gnome back.

>From what I have read attempting to indentify patents and then failing to
adequetly avoid and work around could be legally even worse than not
realising at all your work was at risk of software patents.

Gnome has worldwide reach, software patents thankfully do not yet and
hopefully never will.  Unfortunately I believe concerns over software
patents, particularly American software patents has led developers to
avoid simply avoid certain areas or implementing certain features.  I
believe software patents are dragging Gnome to the lowest common

In an effort to let developers do what they do best and get on with
developing software [2] so I would like to propose a standard build flag
which could be used to fence off code that could be effected by software

Freetype is a project which has done this successfully[3]  in the past.
Although no legal action has ever been brought against Freetype they
have identified the contentious area of code and seperated it out.

I am asking the foundation to come up with a standard build flag that
could be used consisetently across Gnome and hopefully even other Free
Software and other software groups.  This flag would be used to
conditionally exclude portions of code should they ever be called into
question but allow countries unaffected by software patents to continue to
develop without being forced to the lowest common denominator because they
cannot afford the time or other resources to deal with such legal matters.

I hope you can see the core of what I am trying to get at here and I trust
people far more expert on the legal and techinical implications will
figure out how best to implement my humble suggestion.

This should in no way be seen as an excuse not to challenge the very
existense of software patents.

This should be seen as a way to allow Gnome Worldwide to be the best it
can be and not be held back by legal questions developers cannot even hope
to be able to solve on their own.

I hope I have explained adequately what I hope Gnome can achieve and I
hope you will carefully consider this matter at the next Foundation

Please take your time when composing your responses and keep in mind I am
only suggesting the Foundation consider this issue and find some way to
enable Gnome Developers to achieve the very best they can in a way most
people will be happy with and not live under the constant fear of
litigation.  There is absolutely no need to tear to shres my specific
suggestion of a standard build flag if it is not a workable solution
but the main point is how can Gnome best go forward when faced with
Software Patents?


Alan Horkan

[1] There has been quite a lot of vague talk of Apple holding a patent on
"Spring mounted folders" and it is not entirely clear what exactly should
be avoided but that is incidental to the larger question I am asking.
This is but one example I happend to see recently and which prompted me to
bring this to the attention of the Foundation.  I am sure other projects
have more and better examples.

[2] I understand developers will still need to take a political interest
in software patents.  If you feel the need to point this out you are
missing my point.

[3] If you can call having to go to all that trouble in the first place a
success, but if you feel the need to point this out to me you are again
missing my point.

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