Tired of patent wars? Use open source instead

Legal battles may be slowing proprietary innovation to a crawl, but open source software just keeps getting better.

As a geek and longtime tech reporter, there are few things I love writing about more than cool new technological innovations. It never ceases to amaze me what we humans can come up with, particularly when some good technology is fueling the effort.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are few things that sicken me more than patent wars such as the ones raging today in the software industry. I can't imagine a more colossal waste of time, energy and money, particularly when we already have copyright to afford all the protections we need in this area.

Yet patent wars are increasingly the reality in this software industry of ours, and it's becoming more and more difficult to find news of anything else -- particularly innovation. The one exception, I'd argue, is open source software.

If you're as tired of the nonstop litigation as I am, there is something you can do to fight back and defend innovation. That something is to use and support open source software instead.

News of Fresh Disasters

Google, of course, is embroiled at the heart of today's lawyer-fest thanks to a never-ending stream of Android-related threats by Oracle, Microsoft and others. Microsoft, in fact, has wasted no time in jumping on Google's recent defensive purchase of Motorola Mobility by filing a fresh new lawsuit.

Then we have Apple repeatedly using misleading evidence in its efforts to beat back competition from Samsung.

Legal action, it appears, is the new innovation -- at least in the proprietary world, where patent war chests have come to count for much more than talent or creativity.

An Advantage for Business Users

Not so in the world of open source software, where patents don't play a role and where a global community of users and developers is working continuously to make software better and better.

Free software such as the Linux operating system and the LibreOffice productivity suite, for example, are the result of that ongoing effort, and more users and businesses are reaping the rewards of such innovation every day.

The Linux Foundation just shared some brand-new data highlighting Linux's growing use, and countless other studies are finding much the same thing.

Regarding open source software in general, we've already seen a compelling testament from the DoD in recent months, and just lately two studies came out demonstrating both the benefits of commercial open source software and the growing acceptance of open source solutions in the corporate world.

Innovation vs. Litigation

I don't know how things are going to play out in these proprietary software patent wars, but I do know it's not going to be pretty. And, as always, it is the users who will pay the price, both in higher prices and in fewer innovative offerings to choose from.

Luckily, creativity continues to hum along in the open source world. There are virtually infinite open source alternatives to just about any proprietary product you can name. You can download them for free, or you can buy them with official support from a commercial provider like Red Hat, for example. You can also donate money or code to help take such efforts even further.

However you choose to do it, you'll not only support the creation of more great software -- you'll also cast a vote for innovation over litigation. That's a message this industry needs to hear.

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
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