The Armageddon Option

Anonymous sources say that for Microsoft the case with the European software patents is already closed. That they have in a file enough votes bought in the European Parliament to effectively legalize the software patents, and already have popped the champaine. And that there are already approved plans how exactly to marginalize the free / open source software by using the patents as a weapon.

In this situation, the F/OSS supporters have to consider what they can do against this, in this new situation.

Obviously, not much. But, still, we have some options.

Here is one that I call for myself “the Armageddon option”. Because it is similar to the nuclear “red button” that may open the door to a mutually assured destruction.

In the business ecosystem, a huge software multinational with a powerful patent portfolio and a lot of money is often thought to be the ultimate predator, the top of the food chain. However, it is not so. There are predators that are almost invincible to it, but would bite pieces of its flesh happily. By now, they are too small to endanger it effectively – but, if they are given the opportunity to grow enough, will finally take on it, and eat it.

These are the patent litigation companies. Having no production of their own, they are invincible for patent retaliation – a software company must rely against themselves only on its raw financial power and influence, that are far less effective. So, they are in a strong position against it.

What the PLCs miss currently is a huge patent portfolio. It can easily be supplied by the F/OSS developers, who have created a huge lot of software technologies.

The basic of the deal is simple: a contract between a PLC and a developer who created something patentable. The PLC pays to the developer to register a patent; the developer gives to the PLC the right to litigate for him everyone who violates this patent, and to retain 90% of the net profit generated by this litigation. The usage of the patent in F/OSS must be explicitly legalized in the contract, and thus shielded by a litigation by the PLC.

The onset of heavily patent-armed PLCs will stimulate the authors of proprietary software to either move it to the F/OSS domain, or to die. The process will start with the small to middle companies, and will gradually move to the larger ones, as the PLCs grow and the amount of litigable software companies decreases. Finally, it will arrive at the largest ones – and, after the food on all other levels is gone, the PLCs will have to unite and take down even the biggest mammoths.

Smallest software companies and the individual developers will be initially left alone, since they don’t own enough to be worth litigating. With the depletion of richier and easier targets, smallest companies and maybe even richier inidividual developers may also be attacked. Here, the agreement to spare the F/OSS will come handy.

Such a development has an awful lot of negative effects. To start with, will practically devastate the software industry. Most F/OSS will probably survive, but everything else will be destroyed. Which means also a lot of companies that contribute, or plan to contribute to the F/OSS, but make an existence from some proprietary software. The reputation of F/OSS in the eyes of the society may be jeopardized. And, the effect may transfer upon other areas of technology, that are not protected by the “don’t touch F/OSS” agreement, thus poisoning the tecnological development of the humankind as a whole.

There are many other backsides to this development, too. Only one thing ever is worse than it – and this is the complete victory of the megacorporations that are against the F/OSS. Because the software is more and more in everything around us, and if all of it becomess closed property of a few, these will be the Masters of the World, and we will have an uber-Orwellian New Order. (Remember, “free software” is a slur – software doesn’t think or care for freedom; “free” here concerns not its freedom, but the freedom of its users. That is, all of us.)

So, if the things start going real bad… maybe it will be time for the Armageddon option.

Will it be a good thing? As good as a nuclear MAD, of course.

But we are already at war. And if the other side presses us too badly… we will have no other way.

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