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September 6, 2006

Anti-Patent Crusader

Young Dan Ravicher, the force behind the Public Patent Foundation, is interviewed in MIT's Technology Review. In the interview, Dan reveals his utopian ignorance of economics.

The software ecosystem actually prefers free software, open software, sharing and learning what others have done and advancing that. The patent system, this form of government regulation, gets in the middle of the software ecosystem and mucks it up. The winners in the software marketplace should be determined by consumer choice -- whichever products are cheaper and faster -- not by some regulatory scheme.

This'll drive the Slashdot crowd wild. Earth to Ravicher, a news flash: there is no "software ecosystem." But if there was, it would only evolve past a slime pool if it didn't have patent protection. Otherwise, the world would be stuck with inferior quality software, like open-source Linux, because any worthwhile innovation would be readily imitated, thus removing economic incentive for software R&D. Think software piracy at the production level as THE way. Yes, open-source Linux is a cheap imitation of commercial operating systems, like Darth Vadar's Windows® (note the government regulation scheme - ®; otherwise, how many Windows would there be?).

Linux is cheap, in every sense of the word - you get what you pay for, and the market votes with its wallet. And so, as we see, the software marketplace is already determined by consumer choice. Thus, on the desktop, heavily patented, not-so-cheap Windows® continues to dominate, less heavily patented, certainly-not-cheap Mac has climbed back as its OS has improved wonderfully recently, and unpatented, quite cheap, open-source Linux languishes with a miniscule slice of the pie.

Posted by Patent Hawk at September 6, 2006 12:21 AM | Patents In Business


While Linux and many other open-source products (except Firefox) may not capture the end-user market (i.e. desktops), the software is far from inferior and is often best used for servers and embedded devices.

For example, this website is run using an Apache web server, an open-source product from the Apache Foundation and if I had to make my bets, the web server is probably some form of Linux or BSD. MovableType, the blogging platform you use, officially requires the use of open-source databases, even though some of those databases may also be commercially licensed (e.g., MySql).

Furthermore, it is no accident that Linksys used embedded Linux on some of their routers such as the WRT54G. Shrek and Shrek 2 were both rendered on Linux as well.

Firefox captures 13 percent of the browser market worldwide and nearly 16 percent in the United States hardly a miniscule slice of the pie, despite Internet Explorer being preinstalled with Windows.

Posted by: Foo at September 6, 2006 5:39 AM

Linux may not be the desktop king, but it is the internet king. Something like 63% of webservers are run on apache on linux. I beleive your blog is running on linux, same as mine and nearly all other existing blogs. Only roughly 30% of webservers are using Microsoft IIS.

I agree that in many instances open sourse software is often cheap imitations of commerical products. However, it is a bit of an oversimplifaction to state because it isn't being used on the desktop that windows is the winner. Windows NT Server is having a heck of a time at penetrating the server market, although it is making strides.

Its interesting to note that the New MacOS is based on FreeBSD unix, another open source unix clone that never caught on quite the same way as linux, but is still a quality product. It will be interesting to see how marrying unix's flexibility with Apple's renowned user interfaces fairs in the market.

Posted by: Josh at September 6, 2006 6:57 AM

The comments made make valid points. Thank you.

The point remains that Ravicher's statements are false; that is, with patents, consumer choice rules, and profits innovators. Further, consumers don't necessarily choose the cheapest products, contrary to what Ravicher said.

Unix and its popular little nephew Linux have a simple robustness that suit them very well for backend tasks such as web servers, where their market share is well deserved; again, consumer choice.

Mac being based upon Unix points out that it took costly development, and some patented technology, to take free software to the next level.

The popularity of Firefox speaks to Microsoft neglect of its free Internet Explorer after smothering Netscape. It will be interesting to see how market share shifts with IE 7. What I wonder about is why the superior iRider isn't more popular.

Posted by: Patent Hawk at September 6, 2006 9:29 AM