Moving to Freedom, .Org

Jeremy Allison on Innovation and Patents


Jeremy Allison is fast becoming one of my heroes. Not only for the great technical work he has done with Samba, but also for his principled support of free software. He quit Novell in protest after they signed their patent pact with the devil, and he and the Samba team gave an early vote of support to GPL v3 by moving Samba to the new license soon after its release.

He also regularly contributes thoughtful essays to Tux Deluxe. I just found “The Innovation Game” in my feed reader, which has some positive points about innovation in free software, but also deals with a depressing subject, Microsoft and software patents:

So who could possibly be against this wealth of the commons? People wishing to own innovative ideas, that’s who. Not just one specific implementation of an idea, but the very ideas themselves. I’m referring to software patents, which have recently been used in a very direct threat against Free Software development.


Many companies own software patents, but Microsoft is the only software company that has so utterly rejected the Free Software ethos that every new piece of Free Software that others welcome and immediately attempt to commercialize is seen by them as a blow to their survival. Microsoft has painted themselves into a corner where they feel that for them to continue to be successful, Free Software must die. I don’t mean cease to exist of course, that’d be impossible. But die in the sense that Microsoft would like to be paid for every commercial use of Free Software, thus destroying the very principle behind the movement, and destroying any innovation it creates. No one wants to be an unpaid employee. It’s not enough for them to take this common wealth and make money on it the way all others do, they want to be able to bleed it dry without having to participate on the same terms as everyone else.


Software is human thought, human ideas. It’s as pure as music or mathematics or physics. People who promote software patents want to own the very thoughts in your head. A world with widespread software patents, globally enforced, is best described in the very prophetic words of George Orwell in “1984” describing “Big Brother”:

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.”

No unauthorized innovation allowed in Oceania, all ideas must have an owner. For the good of “innovation”, with its original meaning, Free Software must be free of software patents.

—Jeremy Allison, The Innovation Game