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Patent Absurdity: how software patents broke the system
The film, funded with a grant from the FSF, explores the case of software patents, the history of judicial activism that led to their rise, and the harm being done to software developers and the wider economy. The film is based on a series of interviews conducted during the Supreme Court's review of *in re Bilski*, a case that could have profound implications for the patenting of software.
"The Bilski case before the Supreme Court is really the story of the judicial activism of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who during the 80s and 90s became dominated by patent lawyers who wanted an expansive reading of patent law. They opened the floodgates to the patenting of software ideas and business methods, previously held by the Supreme Court to be unpatentable subject matter. The price of that activism is being paid by today's programmers, who find it increasingly difficult to write software without risking being sued, and by businesses who have to face increased litigation and legal fees. Software patents block compatibility and standards, make programmers remove useful features, and are the cause of unknown amounts of frustration in the daily life of many individuals," said Ciaran O'Riordan, the director of the End Software Patents campaign, and a technical adviser to the filmmakers.
Dr. Robert Shafer, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, who created a free, publicly available HIV Drug Resistance Database to interpret HIV drug resistance tests and develop new HIV drugs (located at http://hivdb.stanford.edu/), described the film in light of the way software patents have hampered his work: "I'm glad to see a film that can explain the harm of software patents. I'm also looking forward to a favorable outcome in the Bilski case. However, biomedical researchers, medical care providers, and their patients cannot afford to wait the many years it will take before any Supreme Court decision has a practical effect on existing patents. There is a hardcore group of special interests who profit from the system the way it is now -- the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit, patent examiners who essentially receive credit for their work only when they issue or uphold patents, and the patent bar which benefits from cross-licensing and patent litigation regardless of how ridiculous a patent is. One of the saddest aspects of my experience has been to learn that the influence of the patent bar is expanding rapidly within universities through their offices of technology licensing."
Featured interviewees in the film include economists Ben Klemens and James Bessen, and legal scholars Dan Ravicher, Eben Moglen and Karen Sandler. The film also includes footage of the press conference at the Supreme Court organized on behalf of plaintiffs Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw, and their lawyer J. Michael Jakes.
Speaking about the release of the film, Luca Lucarini said, "I hope that my film can bring to light the harm that the US patent system is inflicting on our society through software patents. The goal of the documentary is to increase the number of informed citizens educated to take action, and so it has been licensed to allow everyone to share and distribute copies of the film."
"Patent Absurdity" is available under the Creative Commons BY-ND (Attribution-No Derivative Works) license, which encourages sharing and widespread redistribution by all who receive a copy. The film was made entirely with free software, in the Ogg Theora format.