The past few years have seen a gradual acceleration in the “Patent Wars” between Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, Nokia, Google, and other tech giants. Wielding massive intellectual-property portfolios like massive bludgeons, armies of attorneys have marched into courtrooms around the world in an attempt to extract hefty “licensing fees” from rivals, or ban competing products from store shelves.
In an exclusive Q&A session with Slashdot, Linus Torvalds—the engineer and hacker who drove the creation of the Linux kernel—added his voice to those who feel the patent situation as it stands is increasingly problematic.
“The patent problems people on Slashdot are probably familiar with: the system is pretty much geared towards people abusing it, with absolutely ridiculous patents being admitted, and it hindering invention rather than helping it,” Torvalds wrote. “The failures are many, and I don’t know how to fix it, but much stricter limits on what can be patented are clearly needed.”
Problems with copyright, he added, include “absurdly long protection periods, and some overly crazy enforcement.” Copyrights extending for 70 years after the death of an author, or 95 years from publication in the case of corporate authorship, are “ridiculous,” in his words: “Couple that with the difficulty of judging fair use, etc., and it really hinders things like archival of material, making of documentaries, yadda yadda.”
So while he doesn’t think IP protection is evil in itself, “it turns evil when it is taken too far.” Both patent and copyright protection, he wrote, has “been taken much, much too far.”
When it comes to Linux itself, Torvalds believes strongly in an open-source license that encourages “merging things back.” However, he emphasized that belief as a personal choice. “For projects *I* care about, and that I started and can make the licensing decision for, I think the GPLv2 is the right thing to do for various reasons,” he wrote. “But that does *not* mean that if somebody else makes another choice for his or her code, that wouldn’t be the right choice for *that* person.”
It’s been twenty years since the inception of Linux. When asked about anything he might have done differently, Torvalds replied: “I get asked this quite often, and I really don’t see how I could possibly have done anything better. And I’m not claiming some kind of great forethought—it’s just that with 20:20 hindsight, I really did choose the right big things.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t made mistakes. “But on the whole, I think Linux has done incredibly well, and I’ve made the right decisions around it.”