Good News, Bad News

In a good news item, The European Union rejected a bill to establish “software patents”. They were trying to call it “computer-implemented invention”, and it did not fly. Basically, the “software patent” issue pits businesses who want to claim patent protection for things like, oh, particular types of widgets in graphical forms, not just esoteric algorithms for data processing, against the open source community. Such patents, say the open source developers, elevate trivialities to protected status and inhibit the development of open source software systems. And I agree with the open source people. Patent offices have a poor track record on distinguishing between trivial developments that are simply things that most programmers would be capable of producing from genuine pieces of coding worthy of the name “invention”. When patents are afforded to the former, the result is a bunch of corporate bean-counters dictating terms to application developers for including particular shaped buttons on forms and the like. Since the basic idea of patenting items is to reward placing intellectual property in the public domain with a period of corporate monopoly, trivial “software patents” are a form of theft: they can provide a period of corporate monopoly for ideas that are simply part of the usual and normal development of the field, not ideas that significantly advance the state of the art.

In a bad news item, scientists have come up with even more evidence that (1) global warming is real and (2) global warming is accelerated by human-made greenhouse gasses. The reaction is typical:

But a spokesman for the Bush administration — which has been criticized for not taking global warming seriously — was unfazed by the latest news.

“Our position has been the same for a long time,” said Bill Holbrook, spokesman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The science of global climate change is uncertain.”

Well, yes, science is uncertain in its findings, but what the White House spokesman is saying is that the sort of uncertainty generated by climate change studies is such that all the results may be safely ignored. This looks like further bad news on top of the original bad news. I think that it is not at all uncertain that there will be changes that affect day-to-day life for humans across the planet, even in the USA, if no effort is made to modify human contributions to greenhouse gasses.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.