Letter from RMS to Tim O'Reilly
Here's a message that Richard
M. Stallman sent to Tim O'Reilly on March 11, 2000, in regard to
the statement by Jeff Bezos, CEO
of Amazon, which called for software patents to last just 3 or 5 years.
Please read more about this boycott.
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The idea that software patents should last 3 or 5 years has been
proposed for a decade now, as a compromise that would eliminate most
of the harm that software patents now do. Support for this idea from
Jeff Bezos is a good thing, since it may bring us a step closer to
action by Congress. Congratulations for helping to bring this about.
But such a law is far from imminent, and in the mean time, Amazon is
still responsible for its actions.
We singled out Amazon for a boycott, among the thousands of companies
that have obtained software patents, because Amazon is among the few
that have gone so far as to actually sue someone. That makes them an
egregious offender. Most software patent holders say they have
software patents "for defensive purposes", to press for
cross-licensing in case they are threatened with patent lawsuits.
Since this is a real strategy for self-defense, many of these patent
holders could mean what they say. But this excuse is not available
for Amazon, because they fired the first shot.
Bezos's letter reaffirms Amazon's continuing intention to engage in
unrestricted patent warfare, saying that the decision of when and
where to attack will be decided by "business reasons". I would gladly
join Bezos in supporting a bill to limit software patents to 3 or 5
years, but I believe we must continue to criticize and boycott Amazon
until such a bill is actually adopted--or until Amazon makes some
other suitable change in its own conduct to justify a change in ours.
This does not mean insisting that Amazon must go so far as to
terminate its own patents. Deterrence with patents is an inadequate
defense against aggressors armed with patents, but it is the only
defense, so I would not ask Amazon (or anyone) to refrain from using
patents for self-defense or for collective security. Rather, Amazon
and other software patent holders should abjure the use of patents for
aggression, and adopt a no-first-use policy. If Amazon does this, in
an irrevocable and binding way, I would have no further criticism of