How you can fight software patents today
The newly launched swpat.org wiki is an effort to build the case against software patents and to make the work of previous and existing campaigns understandable and reusable to outsiders and newcomers. By using a public wiki, swpat.org also provides an answer to the always-difficult question: "What can I do right now to fight software patents?"
The wiki approach was chosen because in a field this vast, no one knows everything but everyone knows something. There are two types of information to gather. First is the press articles, studies, statements from experts, and statements from interest groups. These are too numerous for anyone to have a global overview of, and the importance of each depends and the politics, economy, and culture of each region.
The second type of information is the high-quality output of previous anti-swpat campaigns. Previous campaigns have done great work on making the case against software patents to judges, patent offices, and politicians. Interacting with these institutions requires using specific jargon, so these documents are written to be understandable by an expert in a specific institution in a specific country or region.
There's a new debate about patent legislation in New Zealand. How much effort would it take for someone in New Zealand to find the documents produced by the campaigns in the European Union and the USA and distinguish the important or reusable points? Hopefully the swpat.org documentation will make that easier, and the coming debate in New Zealand will surely generate more information which swpat.org will in turn try to help make accessible to the rest of the world.
The target audience of swpat.org is thus people who want to start or participate in campaigns against software patents. swpat.org won't tell people which are the best arguments. Instead, swpat.org will document the whole range of arguments, and will attach all the evidence we can find from studies, statements, and press articles. The decision of which arguments are best is a decision to be taken locally by each specific campaign.
Another motivation behind this project is to increase the continuity and coordination among anti-swpat campaigns in general. Existing anti-swpat campaigns focus on particular regions. It would be useful to coordinate at the global level -- you can bet the big patent owners have been doing so for a long time. When some people think of coordination, they think of a coordinator, but that's not swpat.org's approach. Instead, coordination will be helped by making the work of each campaign more transparent and clear. Then each campaign can follow or ignore the work of each other campaign.
Continuity will be increased because as campaigns start and stop, and individuals come and go, the information on swpat.org will always increase. This is particularly necessary in political campaigns because working within the rigid procedures of government institutions leads to bursts of work followed by quiet periods.
During the quiet periods, the gathered information gathers dust, some websites disappear, and motivated people don't find any active campaigns they can put their energy into. By adding an ongoing documentation project, we can reduce the amount of knowledge lost.
So, what can you do right now to help fight software patents? Take a look at swpat.org and add your favorite argument, add a link to that interesting article you remember seeing last year, send a link to a local software group and ask them if they can add information about legislation or court cases in your country or region. Writing articles isn't necessary. A good wiki is built sentence by sentence, link by link.
The Bilski court case and the recent consultation by the European Patent Office are two good examples of sources of information to be mined. Dozens of organizations submitted amicus briefs summarizing their best arguments and legal justifications for their pro- or anti-swpat positions. Unlike press statements where companies try to be vague and offend no one, in these briefs everyone lays their cards on the table and states their position. So these briefs contain all the details, if someone would just read them and make notes.
There's also awareness work and pressure campaigns which are useful regardless of whether the procedures are accepting input, but this work too needs preparation and coordination to be effective. World Day Against Software Patents, September 24th, is one such good initiative.
SMEs and consumer organizations should be helping. If they're not helping in your area, then hopefully by documenting why they're helping in other areas, we'll help people convince them to become active in their area.
Well, there you go. I hope I've shown why this is a worthwhile, sensible project, and I hope you've got ideas for things to add. Don't worry about finding the right place to add your contribution. The important thing is to add to the info. As things grow, I'll review the pages regularly to keep things organized or adapt the structure. So, if you could either take a look now to add your soapbox topic, or pick up the habit of adding links to swpat.org whenever you see an interesting article or website, that would be a great help.