Debian and Software Freedom Law Center publish software patent FAQ

Debian provides a useful guide for understanding patents

Software patents have, unfortunately, become an inescapable part of working with software. They're of particular concern to free and open source projects (FOSS), but like many matters legal people have a lot of questions and misinformation to deal with. That's why the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and Debian have created the Community Distribution Patent Policy FAQ.

I don't usually do "pointer posts," but this time I think it's worth making an exception. The Debian Patent FAQ is very useful reading for anybody interested in working on free or open source projects. As always, it has a biggie-sized disclaimer to ensure that it's not mistaken for legal advice. If you need advice on software patents in a particular situation, speak to a lawyer. If you or your project are contacted by someone threatening to assert a software patent against you, the FAQ invites you to contact the SFLC or another qualified attorney.

Sadly, the way software patents work today means that sometimes ignorance really is bliss — or at least slightly better protection when it comes to patent infringement claims. According to the FAQ:

U.S. patent law creates disincentives for searching through patents, even though one of the main justifications given for the patent system is that the patent teaches the public how to practice an invention that might otherwise be secret. "Willful" infringement subjects the infringer to enhanced damages when they are aware of the patent and intend to infringe, and reading patents increases the probability that subsequent infringement will be found to be willful. Moreover, we find that developers often assume that the patents they discover are broader in scope than they actually are, and thus such developers become overly or needlessly worried. If, despite this, you do intend to conduct a patent search, you should seek legal advice first.

Totally counter-intuitive, isn't it?

It's a short FAQ, but well worth reading. Even if you don't actively develop FOSS or participate in a project that does, it's useful info for everybody in helping to understand the software patent landscape.

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