Ubuntu's Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life: 'Whole Patent System Is A Sham'

from the and-he-should-know dept

Mark Shuttleworth is probably best known for three things. Selling the certificate authority Thawte Consulting to VeriSign for about $575 million in 1999; using some of that money to become the second self-funded space tourist; and using some more of it to found and sustain the Ubuntu version of GNU/Linux.

Given that history, perhaps it's only fair that his title in the Ubuntu community is "Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life". It was using the equivalent acronym "sabdfl" that Shuttleworth took part recently in a Google+ chat organized by Muktware, where he had some scathing things to say about Microsoft's use of patents:
the biggest mistake Microsoft made was to decide that patents would be an effective defence against new competitors because that stops you from really innovating yourself
And about the patent system in general:
The whole patent system is a sham, unfortunately. Patents were invented to encourage inventors to publish their trade secrets, because society would benefit from the disclosure. But we now allow patents on things you could never keep secret in the first place, like software and business methods and medicines. That's insanity. Innovation happens because people solve problems, not because they might get a monopoly on it.
Shuttleworth's successful record in business means that his words ought to carry more weight with supporters of patent monopolies than they might if he were just a free software project leader. After all, in a world where money talks, half a billion dollars just dismissed the patent system as a "sham."

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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Trails (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 8:36am

    Bah

    He's just another piracy apologist who wants to download free movies, but can't come up with a business model to make back the $100 million every movie requires as minimum fixed costs and-

    sorry, I was stuck in copyright troll mode. Hang on, kick lever over to patent troll mode and -

    He's just another patent theft apologist looking to profit off of all the hardwork that microsoft has done, and couldn't come up with a successful software product if he had half a billion dollars to- uh, I mean...

     

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  2.  
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    Matt Tate (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 8:40am

    Re: Bah

    Sure, this open source business model may work for a developer with half a million dollars to burn and a passion for free software, but it would never work for a patent troll who can't innovate his way out of a wet paper bag (patent pending)!

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 8:50am

    Re: Re: Bah

    Sorry, I already have a patent on the "wet paper bag" business method.

     

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  4.  
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    Greevar (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 8:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Bah

    I hold the patent on patenting a wet paper bag. Pay up or get sued into poverty!

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 8:57am

    So, what you are saying is that we should all agree with what he says because he made/has 500 million?

    So, that would mean we should also agree with all the bank executives that messed up our economy because they too have a lot of money....

    ...and going along with the same logic, we should NOT agree with anything Techdirt says because none of their contributors has hundreds of millions sitting in their bank.

    Does that sound about right?

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:00am

    It's always interesting to see someone who benefitted from a monopoly whine about others. Do you understand that Thwate was a Certificate Authority which is an organization that verifies identies for code signing and page verification? This is a type of monopoly because there are a limited number of trusted CAs.

     

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  7.  
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    MonkeyFracasJr (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:01am

    Re:

    I concede your point, however I believe Glyn's point was that Mr. Shuttleworth is a successful business operator and presumably due to his ability to innovate.

     

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  8.  
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    chedderslam (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:02am

    honest question about patents

    i have read this here internet site for a LONG time, and i think the reason my business and what not does so well is that Mike and company just "get it".

    but now i find myself on the other side of things. i have come up with something that:
    - has not been done before, not QUITE this way
    - it is unique enough that it deserves a patent under the current broke system
    - it will be worth a lot. A LOT

    some extra info:
    - it is a physical object, let's say "tactical" in nature, for want of a better word.
    - looking for funding, from either a gubment grant or private loan, though i hate to give up ownership for a little now that costs me a LOT later

    i TOTALLY agree with the WASTE that software patents are(and i have written software, myself, taht helps feed my family).

    but, seriously, how do i do this against, say, Raytheon or haliburton or some company with BILLIONS and lawyers that cost BILLIONS and win? seriously? how?

     

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  9.  
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    Greg, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:04am

    Re:

    You have no idea what you're talking about. There are quite a number of trusted CAs and there's nothing stopping anyone else from forming a new one aside to capital investment costs. There are serious requirements to becoming a trusted CA.

     

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  10.  
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    MonkeyFracasJr (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:06am

    Re: Monopolies

    from Wikipedia:
    "A monopoly (from Greek monos / μονος (alone or single) + polein / πωλειν (to sell)) exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity. (This contrasts with a monopsony which relates to a single entity's control of a market to purchase a good or service, and with oligopoly which consists of a few entities dominating an industry)"

    I bolded some words for emphasis.

     

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  11.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:17am

    Re: honest question about patents

    I see Shuttleworth's argument is that the patent system itself is broken not that patents, as originally envisaged is a bad thing. It's become (becoming) a bad thing in that it's now applied in ways that aren't about what patents were originally supposed to do. Open up trade secrets.

    Should you need a patent for your product to bring it to market and compete with the raytheon's of the world by all means get one.

    It's not hypocritical to use a broken system when you must for its original purpose, as you propose to do, and still see the flaws and weaknesses in the current way the system is applied. It's not like the legal system provides an alternative, after all.

    You can remain critical of the patent process as its broadening and abuse continues in the United States, Europe,Canada (my home) and elsewhere while using the system as it was originally designed to be used.

    Apply for your patent, chedderslam. And good luck in the marketplace.

     

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  12.  
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    Simon, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:23am

    Re:

    The problem is getting out of hand. There is a list of CA's in Firefox listed here : https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=ttwCVzDVuWzZYaDosdU6e3w&single=true&gid=0&output =html .

    That's a hell of a lot of monopolies...

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:26am

    Re: Re: Monopolies

    I stand corrected, it is an oligopoly not a monopoly. Regardless, he benefitted from a closed system with very limited competition and very expensive requirements to become a competitor.

    Now that he is trying to compete against the larger player (Microsoft) he doesn't like the rules of the game. This is the hypocrisy of the tech sector - people love IP protections (or exclusivity agreements in this case) when they are in their favor and whine about how unfair the system is when they are not.

     

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  14.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:28am

    A lotta things

    There are a lot of things that you can criticize Mark about, but his opinions/rants about patents are right on the $$ as far as I'm concerned! FWIW, I hold a US software patent, which is (IMO) novel enough to deserve a patent. Unfortunately, most software patents are "patently" bogus, including about 90% of Microsoft's and Apple's. Just MHO... So, I am not in favor of a blanket denial of software patents (business process patents are another issue), but I would like to see the various patent offices hire really qualified personnel to review those submitted. At this point in time, that is not happening, and many such patents are granted for obvious, trivial, and otherwise ridiculous ideas.

     

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  15.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:30am

    Re: honest question about patents

    There's nothing you can do. You may as well quit now.

    Some big company will come along, sue you into oblivion for allegedly infringing on the patent for 'tactical buttered cheese' which barely peripherally kinda-sorta maybe applies to your invention, you will not be able to afford your own legal defense.

    While they're bankrupting you, they'll completely ruin your reputation via some erroneous media scandal which is rooted on absolutely nothing.

    Later they'll offer you a pittance, and you'll take it while begging them to accept your accursed patent.

    Later, you'll change your name, emigrate to Sweden, and live out your life as a not-quite-prosperous bar owner in a very small town.

     

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  16.  
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    Jeff Rowberg (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:32am

    Re: honest question about patents

    Disclaimer: I'm in the middle of actually doing this with another design. I haven't finished yet, but things look good and it seems like it's only a matter of time before I succeed if I play my cards right.

    1. Use NDAs where appropriate early on.
    2. Employ trade secrets as often as necessary during development.
    3. Publish the design online (OSHW etc.).
    4. Be the first to market and nail the quality and support aspect of the business.
    5. Profit!

    A published design is not patentable in any country (except in the US by the original designer up to a year after publication, as far as I know). This should prevent other people from patenting you out of your own competitive field. Being the first to market with a good product gives you a much better chance at real innovative success than a patent portfolio would.

    Ideas are inherently unprotectable, whether or not they are ownable (which I believe they are not). There are a lot of smart people who can probably figure out exactly how your widget works very quickly and come up with a functionally similar design no matter how you try to protect it. There are vast resources in foreign countries that you can't hope to either control or compete with on scale and availability, so compete on time, quality, support, and branding instead. It might not be easy, but it sure is a lot less headache and psychological stress then trying to use IP laws in any way, shape, or form.

    And yes, there is a possibility that someone like Raytheon or Halliburton really can do it better, faster, and cheaper than you can. But if that's true, then what right do you really have to stop them, really? Just because you thought of it first doesn't give you a fundamental right to any percentage of profits made from the idea or its derivatives. (I'm not saying you believe this, but it does seem to be the predominant mode of thinking among people today.)

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:38am

    Re:

    2/10. Try willfully misinterpreting the writer's intentions more creatively next time.

     

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  18.  
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    Atkray (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re: honest question about patents

    So you don't see any downside?

     

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  19.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:55am

    Re: Re: Re: honest question about patents

    Exactly, it'll be an adventure and it'll make a good story later in life for his bar patrons.

    ;-P

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 10:12am

    Ubuntu might be "open" but they're known for not listening to their users and making dictatorship calls without ever consulting the community. They're no different from M$ (except for the patents obviously, since they own 0)...

     

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  21.  
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    Overcast (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 10:19am

    Sony kept the rights on BetaMax tight.

    How many people owned one of those? Wonder why Sony didn't keep the rights so tight on BluRay..

     

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  22.  
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    Overcast (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 10:19am

    Oh yeah, IBM kept the rights tight on MCA Architecture - how many of you owned a PC with an MCA bus?

     

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  23.  
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    Jeff Rowberg (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 10:24am

    Re:

    ...except that Canonical gives away all of the source code for their entire OS. If you don't like how they're doing it, you're completely free to fork the project. Try getting that kind of freedom from MS. Open-source doesn't necessarily mean "directed by users."

     

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  24.  
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    Trails (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 10:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Monopolies

    Thawte invested a great deal in entering that market. There are (lots) of others players. While there is certainly a cost barrier to entry, in terms of becoming a CA, so what? There is a cost barrier to entry in setting up a hotdog cart.

    His point is very cleverly hidden from anyone who doesn't speak English in this sentence, fiendishly written in plain English:
    "Patents were invented to encourage inventors to publish their trade secrets, because society would benefit from the disclosure. But we now allow patents on things you could never keep secret in the first place."

    Try addressing that rather than dismissing his concerns as opportunistic whining.

     

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  25.  
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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 10:53am

    Innovation happens because people solve problems, not because they might get a monopoly on it.

    That's what I said! And I usually point to James Burke's excellent series Connections for a big pile of examples.

    I also think this remark from The Ascent of Man is relevant.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Monopolies

    you can put your trust in your the CA your neighbor created to to secure online communication just like you can put trust in your neighbor to hold your money and pay you interest instead of using a bank

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 11:43am

    Re:

    what you are saying is that we should all agree with what he says because he made/has 500 million?


    You should really brush up on your reading comprehesion skills before you embarrass yourself like that.

    The article explicitly says that his words should carry weight to people who believe that only rich people understand patents. You know, like the assholes who claim that Linus and RMS don't understand business because they're not multi-millionaires.

    Seriously, please complete a third-grade reading comprehension class before posting again.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 1:22pm

    Re: the patent system itself is broken not that patents, as originally envisaged is a bad thing.

    Patents were originally envisaged as a legal mechanism for stifling competition. What was so good about that?

    Patents are currently being used as a legal mechanism for stifling competition. What is so different about that?

     

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  29.  
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    Prashanth (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 1:28pm

    Ubuntu, Profitable?

    Mark Shuttleworth's Thawte Consulting was certainly profitable, but Ubuntu? It was supposed to be profitable a long time ago, yet after 7 years it still isn't.
    (Full disclosure: I use Linux Mint, a derivative of Ubuntu, and I support the way Ubuntu is trying to make inroads into more mainstream markets.)

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    JEDIDIAH, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 1:38pm

    They take more than they give.

    No. Canonical gives away someone else's stuff.

    Canonical got an OS for free. What they do give away they have to give away because that's the terms they received it under.

    In truth, they contribute very little of their own effort and even that is of dubious value. Thus the "WTF? Listen to the users for a change" kind of remarks.

     

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  31.  
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    kamereon (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 1:49pm

    Re:

    Actually, Ubuntu are listening to the community more than any other distro. :-) You must be living behind the moon...

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 2:06pm

    Re:

    His point wasn't that you should listen to the rich just cuz' their rich, but ratter that the rich are more to get listened to.

     

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  33.  
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    bugmenot (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 2:27pm

    Re: They take more than they give.

    You mean, beyond providing CDs for free, employ 500 people including many Debian developpers, bringing Linux for the masses, create an easy to use distro, certify hardware that works out of the box, have deals with HP, Asus, Acer, Dell, Lenovo, etc to provide Ubuntu pre-installed, invest in server and cloud technologies you can download and use for free, provide repositories, packages and upgrades for free, etc? Yeah, they do so little...

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 3:01pm

    Re: Re: They take more than they give.

    And Redhat does the same, with MUCH better quality support. Oh and *BSD do the same... etc. You're not making a point. Most open source software have some sort of distribution deal with some sort of "maker". Ubuntu aren't gods nor are they doing anything new or better than anyone else. As a matter of fact, users tend to LEAVE ubuntu once they understand linux, because of the limitations and will to ignore the community.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 3:03pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm guessing you mean people answer in the forums..... that's your moon.

     

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  36.  
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    vegetaman (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 3:59pm

    Re: Re: Re: They take more than they give.

    I have no gripe with Ubuntu. I started out with Slackware 9.1 or so back in early/mid-2000... After going crazy with that for awhile, I finally settled on what I believe was Ubuntu 5.04. I followed it up through 6.06 and finally quit upgrading around 9.04 (starting to get a few issues with my older hardware on my Linux box). My Linux box got me through 4 years of college and I never felt any more limited by Ubuntu than any other distro I tried (newer Slackware, openSUSE, Fedora, RedHat, Mint, DSL, etc.). Plus, I couldn't beat the 6-month release schedule, either, and I participated in many of the alphas/betas of new versions. Fun times; unsure why you're bagging on them so hard?

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    dwg, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:42pm

    Re:

    Holy shit. That's the worst fail yet, although I haven't read to the bottom of the page yet.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    dwg, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 4:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Monopolies

    See--this is why I put that disclaimer in about not reading to the bottom. You've worsened already.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Christopher Wood, Nov 29th, 2011 @ 9:17pm

    Full patent quote

    That quote is shortened without acknowledgement... here's the full thing:

    "The biggest mistake Microsoft made was to decide that patents would be an effective defence against new competitors, because that stops you from really innovating yourself. So Microsoft wasted most of a decade, thinking they could use patents to defend the castle. Meanwhile, others were innovating for real.

    The whole patent system is a sham, unfortunately. Patent authorities cannot realistically do their job; it's an impossible job to do, and the patent system has slowly been twisted to do the exact opposite of its PR. It's not, as many think, a system to defend the little inventor against the big bad corporate. Instead, it's a system to ensure the big bad corporate doesn't get any scary new competition. Patents were invented to encourage inventors to publish their trade secrets, because society would benefit from the disclosure. But we now allow patents on things you could never keep secret in the first place, like software and business methods and medicines. That's insanity. Innovation happens because people solve problems, not because they might get a monopoly on it. The reason this is not being changed is simple: legislation evolves to suit those who can influence legislators. And large patent holders tend to be influential in that regard."

     

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  40.  
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    kamereon (profile), Nov 29th, 2011 @ 11:47pm

    Re: the moon

    I was actually thinking about the vast improvements they have introduced concerning the involvement of users into bug tracking, code reviews, package building, translations, answer tracking, FAQs, specification tracking, and so on...

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Anatoly Volynets, Nov 30th, 2011 @ 12:52am

    the concept

    Just one small fix: it's the very concept of patent is wrong and thus -- the entire system. The same applies to copyrights, trademarks, even trade secrets.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    AC, Nov 30th, 2011 @ 8:59pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Bah

    Um, sorry, but I hold the business model patent on using patent lawsuits to sue people into poverty. Pay up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Lowey, Nov 30th, 2011 @ 11:16pm

    Re:

    Any post which begins "So, " is always going to be an opinionated opposition piece with very little thought or credibility.

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    market, Dec 1st, 2011 @ 7:45am

    Re:

    Toyota is a monopoly you think, beacause only Toyota can make Toyotas?
    Check your medication.

    In the world there is only one monopoly, and that's Microsoft. Globally.

    You don't believe competition is necessary for evolution?

     

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  45.  
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    mickrussom (profile), Feb 9th, 2014 @ 2:25pm

    Mark Shuttleworth is a toxic destroyer

    upstart - junk
    mir - stupid
    juju - stinks
    openstack from canonical repos - brokenstack, broken beyond belief
    Ubuntu LTS - 12.04 has had THREE kernels, 3.2, 3.5, 3.8. And to top it off, not bringing in 3.10, the actually decent one of the bunch.

    Mark is a dolt, a destroyer, a fragmenter and a scum.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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