Thursday, March 24, 2005

ARE NONPROFITS BECOMING THE OPEN-SOURCE MOVEMENT FOR BUSINESS METHOD PATENTS? The Nonprofit Innovation Alliance (NIA) has announced that four of the nation's most prominent nonprofits - United Way of America, the American Diabetes Association, Network for Good and Electronic Frontier Foundation - have joined the growing movement against business method patents to help promote ongoing access by America's nonprofit organizations to innovative technology.

As nonprofits recognize the threat posed by business method patent abuse, there is growing support for collective action to protect technology access for America's charities," said Shabbir Safdar, Acting Secretary of the Nonprofit Innovation Alliance. "The fact that the United Way of America, American Diabetes Association, Network for Good and Electronic Frontier Foundation have pledged their support for the NIA sends a strong message: business method patents are bad for the nonprofit sector and should be eliminated."

These four organizations have pledged support for the NIA's goals because they believe that nonprofits are best served if technology vendors and service providers help declare the nonprofit industry as a "business method patent-free zone."

- This is nonsense squared. Patents will always be bad for alleged infringers - that's the whole point. This is the same sentiment being expressed by many on the fringe of the open-source community - "I can't be bothered with the esoterics of patents and patent law, thus any claims made by patentees in my area of business are invalid ab initio." The fact that a fledgling enterprise (patently speaking) is lacking in sophistication should not serve as a basis for denying others their right to protect technology as they see fit.

The main problem for non-profit organizations is that they are exposed to the risks of developing technology via patent infringement, without effectively being able to exploit the rewards in return. Sure, the United Way can file for patents, and even obtain some significant protection, but what do they do with that patent once it issues? Sue other non-profits? Sue their own benefactors?

Now, I'm not taking away from many of the valid arguments regarding the abuse of the patent system, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not the answer. These organizations have massive lobbying networks throughout Capitol Hill; why not propose a more favorable tax incentive for licensing (as opposed to donating) patents and other intellectual property? If they want to be more nasty about it, why not use the NIA (or some other consortium of non-profit organizations) to aggressively deal with patent and other IP issues through reexamination efforts?

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