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Open It Up

Is a software patent an oxymoron?

By Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: July 15, 2007

Eben Moglen is not a name that many people in India are familiar with, but people who use open source software should know this man. He is neither a technologist nor a coder, he is a lawyer. But Moglen, who is President of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), heads the organisation that provides the legal resources to defend small, barely-profitable open source software creators and resellers from large software companies.

"Ever since the us Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) started giving software patents, it has been pretty chaotic. Software creativity happens when you open it up; patents that are often loosely defined stifle true innovation," he says, citing several examples of organisations that operate as 'patent trolls'; they hold on to a patent without commercially exploiting a technology, and wait for someone to commercially use the technology before utilising legal means "to shake down the people who actually developed something worthwhile."

Moglen also played a crucial role in writing the latest iteration of the General Purpose License (GPL), the licence under which most open source software is released. "GPL needed an upgrade to reflect the global nature of software and the development community," Moglen says. He explains that the reason he has visited India was because the SFLC wants to establish a chapter here. "The future of software is in India, and that is why we have to be here. Another reason is that it is important to teach members across the judicial system-lawyers and judges-software and legal issues around patenting software."

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