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Write Free Software, Pay $203,000 to Patent Holder

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supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

This link ought to boil your blood if you're a FLOSS advocate.

Poor Ben Jacobsen. He could stand a little legal help.

tbuitenh's picture
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Joined: 2005-12-21

the patent (it's a typical example of a nonsense patent)

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

And all we're talking about here is software for controlling model railroads. This is ridiculous.

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

Hurray for the EFF!!!! I'm glad I give donations to them.

As you can see on the latest blog update, the EFF has one of their lawyers going to town on the patent troll.

Fantastic news!

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

Based on what I read here, if you go with GPL instead of other type of open source licenses, you get a lot better standing with EFF's legal team. In other words, if you don't want to come up with your own legal dollars (as much) to protect you from the patent trolls, you should strongly consider GPL over BSD and many other types of licenses. The drawback, however, is that you can't charge for the software. It's free. You may charge for packaging and shipping it, or charge for T shirts, cups, mousepads, tech support, and whatever you can come up with. But the software is free.

This is of concern for me because I was thinking of releasing my product in phases because I'm not your ordinary FLOSS programmer -- I have a lot of debt obligation and will not tolerate much risk. The first phase, although I'm certain will be initially unpopular, was to release the product in two versions: one full version as payware, and a second free version that's missing an installer, admin component, and manuals, replacing those things with a large README. After I felt confident that this was working, and the cashflow started to come in, I would then strongly consider moving to pure GPL code and charge for everything else. This could permit me to become popular again with the Linux community if I had not already damaged my reputation.

So my concerns are to have the power to fend off patent trolls as well as make a viable living at least for myself from this software.

Another thought that is troublesome is that when you release the source, the patent trolls can read your source and say, "In concept this looks like our client's work. I'm going to file a lawsuit on behalf of my client." In contrast to this, the proprietary software companies force the patent trolls, instead, to look merely at featureset before they can make an accusation in court that they need to see the source.

So, again, there's an amen for the GPL and the EFF.

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

Let us hope that my business, when I get it off the ground, does not turn out to be like this one. The most that "Toby" has gotten from this are some job offers, and evidently they were not enough to sway him from his current job. Perhaps that's what happened to Marc Fleury of JBoss, but he ended up contracting his company to another firm for quite a bit of money so that he was able to earn a salary of $100K in the first year. Some have good timing and the right design that's in demand, and others do not. Perhaps it comes down to that. Regardless, I have no ideals whatsoever to become another "Toby". I might as well give up now and get on with my life instead of all this moonlight coding rather than turn out like another "Toby". Hopefully it won't have to work out like that.

libervisco's picture
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Joined: 2006-05-04

This is a classic example of the harm that software patents can do. These patents are a minefield. You don't know on which one you will infringe when you start making your program, and the patent trolls are waiting.

As for the Toby guy I think he's right on actually. Smiling I used to think and still do that if you wrote a program than the mere fact that now you have that program is a reward in itself, not to mention the thanks and contributions that you get from the community after releasing it to them. In many cases this indeed is a fair compensation for the work they did on it. It is the same as when you build a chair (for a material world example). You've built it so you can use it to sit on it and the fact that now you have it and can sit on it is compensation enough for the investment of effort and time (and money) to make it. If you decide to sell it you will get payed only once, not every time someone decides to give it to someone else (which is what proprietary software licenses are designed to do).

If you want your software project to be a business then I think you just have to think of it as a business, and as with all businesses, not everything sells. If a certain kind of program doesn't sell, then hell.. it wont work. That has nothing to do with the Free Software philosophy itself. It has to do with business economics stuff, market interests.

I think there is a potential business in the kind of program you are making though.

However, thinking of it as a business doesn't justify making any of it proprietary software. Proprietary licensing is unnatural and unethical. If there is enough interest in your kind of program then you will be able to sell it without making it proprietary. So your objective is to build interest in your program.

So here is a suggestion. You are developing your program inhouse for now, as far as I know. That way you don't actually get any help doing it, and are doing it for a long time all on your own. But not only that; you are missing on a potential to induce interest in your software before it has even been finished. So why not finally release whatever code you have to the community and ask for help? That would build the community interest that you need.

Then alpha and even beta versions of your program can be free of charge so that others can contribute to development, while the stable releases are being released for a fee (note I'm not saying licensed for use, but release to the community for a set fee that a certain number of people must pay for it to be released). This is an idea that has much in common to what I presented before on libervis.com (which is the right place for FLOSS business models discussions as well).

Then you would repeat the same process for every next stable release. You keep the interest floating with free beta and unstable releases and cashing in on stable ones as enough people want to pay to get it (and with it have the four freedoms as well).

Your kind of program is however more suited for business users, I think, so I would dare to say it should even be easier because you could sell it through a support contract (much like RedHat and Novell do with their GNU/Linux distros).

Making any part of your software proprietary is not a necessity to make a software business. It is only a harm to society and even its economy (because every proprietary license is an essential monopoly over the licensed code).

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

Unfortunately I write much bigger programs than Toby does. My programs take years to think up on long commutes and working in real situations. Then, at night, it takes me years to build something, then revise, revise, and revise, sometimes scrapping huge chunks several times and going back at it again. I cannot cast aside the investment I have with such hard work. I am not writing video games here. This is real work.

Also, did Linus Torvalds release the kernel before he had something stable to build upon? No. He worked hard at it and then opened it up. He may have opened it up sooner than me opening up my work to the public, but then again I wasn't living with mommy and daddy and no other mouths to feed, with my education completely funded and no other bills to pay.

Even when Richard Stallman left MIT to work on GNU software, which he eventually was able to make an income from through indirect means, he already had few bills if any and no wife or children. Or am I wrong? That is the assumption I gained from reading about him.

It's not that I cannot let go. I just need a model of some human or some business out there that has let go under similar circumstances as mine, in order to show me the way.

a thing's picture
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Joined: 2005-12-20

RMS made a living by having people pay him to make customizations/raise something's priority, then including that in the main release.

supermike's picture
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Joined: 2006-02-17

a_thing: thanks for the insight. I need more info everywhere I can get it. You and libervisco are a blessing of insight and FLOSS faith.

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