Richard Stallman at UCI

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I got to see Richard Stallman speak today at UCI. He is the founder of the free software movement (FSF) which has completely changed the landscape of software programming. In my opinion his work on the GPL has caused the computer software ecosystem to advance by leaps and bounds. It is at the expense of people being able to make money off of writing software, but has created an industry in software support services.

Stallman comes across like a quintessential computer programmer. Crazy facial hair and all. His presentation reminds me about how fine the line is between homelessness and brilliance.

The biggest takeaway point that I got from his speech was the observation that software patents are only hurting small software developers. Small software developers may patent their work, but they cannot go after say, an IBM, for using their patent because IBM will turn around and sue the small software developer for one of any of tens of thousands of patents which cover parts of what the small software developer is doing. So the small developer is forced to sign a cross-license agreement which gives IBM the ability to compete with the exact same technology. So in effect the patent system has actually served to create a paperwork drill which ends up invalidating the threat of software patents, but only for the large companies which hold patents.

This was just another great opportunity that I've had in the last two years. It's curious that going to Cornell I got to be exposed to lots of political leaders. In contrast being at UCI has allowed me to be exposed to lots of technological leaders: Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, and now Richard Stallman. It is another good day to be a professor in Southern California.

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