A victory for the trolls
Posted Apr 25, 2011 23:43 UTC (Mon) by ajb
Parent article: A victory for the trolls
We know software patents are a bad idea. How do we convince non-experts?
There is an example which we can learn from, which is how Hernando de Soto
persuaded the Peruvian government to reform their (real) property system.
De Soto set up an experiment, in which his team of lawyers attempted to operate a small business to the letter of the law. This brought the absurdities of the official system into sharp relief: For example, to wade through the red tape necessary to register the business, took 289 days.
This sort of concrete example is much more persuasive than the kind of statistics or abstract reasoning which come from academic reformists, for all their good will.
Can this be applied to software patents? I think it can, but it would require some investment from the larger companies affected.
An outline of such an experiment would be:
- Obtain a moribund piece of proprietary software which no-one cares about, eg, from a bankrupt company (other than SCO..). 
- Measure how long it takes to find out what patents it might infringe. Ideally, produce a graph of lawyer-hours versus survey accuracy.
- Try to figure out how much it would cost to licence all the patents, if it would even be possible.
This won't be quite as convincing as De Soto's experiment, for various reasons, but I think it's well worth doing.
I go into more detail about this in my
to the UK IP review.
Which also notes an unexpected (to me, at least) connection between software patents and the halting problem...
 We probably don't want to do this exercise on software we care about, because it might cause legal problems for users.
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