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You are here: Home FSF News New Documentary Film "Patent Absurdity: how software patents broke the system"

New Documentary Film "Patent Absurdity: how software patents broke the system"

by peterb Contributions Published on Apr 19, 2010 02:14 AM
New documentary film "Patent Absurdity" is set to expose how the judicial activism that led to the patenting of software has broken the US patent system's promise of promoting the progress of science and useful arts

BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA -- Monday, April 19th, 2010 -- The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today announced the online release of the documentary film "Patent Absurdity: how software patents broke the system" by independent filmmaker Luca Lucarini.

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 lega 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, 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.

Because anyone can show the film, the web site is compiling a list of screenings, including a premiere at the Connecticut Film Festival

Highlighted Early Reviews

"...probably the best introduction to a complex area for non-technical users" --Glyn Moody, ComputerWorld

"It’s well worth watching, both for the opportunity to see so many of the people who are influential in software freedom philosophy and law and for the great explanations of the issues around the *Bilski* case and the mission creep which has led to software patents. Share it with friends, as this issue is only going to get more important as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) promotes criminalization of patent infringement." --Simon Phipps, board member of Open Source for America and the Open Source Initiative

"It's a 30-minute movie, mostly of interviews. There's a great Beethoven symphony at the end that starts to degrade as music patents spring up... In short, it's priceless." --Pamela Jones, Groklaw

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software — particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants — and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at and, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

About Free Software and Open Source

The free software movement's goal is freedom for computer users. Some, especially corporations, advocate a different viewpoint, known as "open source," which cites only practical goals such as making software powerful and reliable, focuses on development models, and avoids discussion of ethics and freedom. These two viewpoints are different at the deepest level. For more explanation, see

Media Contacts

Peter Brown 
Executive Director 
Free Software Foundation 
+1 (617) 542 5942 


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