A conference on software patents and free software



Pamela Samuelson is a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley; she also serves on the boards of organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Public Knowledge. At the conference, she presented some results on her research into the idea of software patents as an incentive for innovation. A survey was done back in 2008, with 15,000 surveys sent out to a large number of firms. 1,333 of them - representing over 700 companies - came back. The numbers that came out were interesting, if arguably unsurprising.

Jason Schultz and Jennifer Urban are both from the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley; Schultz previously did a stint at the EFF. They presented a concept they have been working on as a way of mitigating the software patent threat called the Defensive Patent License, or DPL. This work is in an early stage, and the DPL text is not yet available, but it should be forthcoming in the near future.

The core idea behind the DPL is that software patents can serve in a useful, defensive role. They can be used to negotiate cross-licensing agreements, and they can be used for countersuits if need be. But defensive patents are not as heavily used as they could be, especially in the open source area. There are a couple of possible reasons for this: defensive patents require a concentration of resources that doesn't always exist in our community, and there tends to be a certain amount of distrust toward the acquisition of patents for defensive purposes.