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Ask HN: Would a "union" of programmers work to end patent trolls?
15 points by eof on Nov 26, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments
Without getting into labor theory too much; it suffices to say that unions are typically organized around marginalized workers. /usually/ (hollywood writers, pro atheletes excluded).

Programmers are not marginalized except in the most link-baity of articles.

I would have no problem, as a programmer, of swearing allegiance to some list of facts that could easily be improved upon but might look something like this:

* Math should not be patentable * If you have a math patent and use it defensively, that is okay. * If you have a math patent and you use it aggressively, that is decidedly NOT okay. * Features and ideas should not be patentable. * It is okay for specific implementations of features to be protected by law, maybe by patent, maybe by copyright.

If you or your company conflicts with /any/ of the above statements, you are declared evil. If you are evil I will NOT work for you and will work within the law; primarily by whining on the internet, to assure that you lose your capital, your programmers, and thus your ability to do harm to the world.

Signed, eof and 100k other hackers.

Something like this?

I like the concept. That we both feel the need to put quotes around "union" suggests the term might be too loaded to use for programmers, but fixing that's as simple as hanging a label on it like "Independent Programmers For Innovation".

Of course, you give it a title like that, you almost have to turn it into a PAC at some point...

I kind of hate to admit that the notion of forming a programmers PAC instantly appealed to me. Like most everybody, I dislike the way the political machine functions in D.C. these days, but fighting fire with fire - having a big influential lobby - appears to be the only thing that delivers results (particularly when you get huge companies with big lobbying efforts like Microsoft and IBM lined up in favor of protecting software patents; it's necessary to at least counter-weight them, and that takes a lot).

Long term one can aim for fundamental reform of our political system. Short term, a PAC might just be a big help. And on the upside, programmers have three great things going for them right now: high incomes and great jobs; well organized, with highly active communities online; countless of the most successful companies in America cease to exist tomorrow morning without them.

There are probably 10,000 programmers (less?), that if they chose to not show up to work over the next year, it would materially damage companies like Google / Facebook / Microsoft / Apple. The influence is plainly there to stop software patents, it simply needs to get organized.

ACM's Software Engineering Code of Ethics[1] is great place to start.

[1] http://www.acm.org/about/se-code


Create a github account/repo on this. Write the initial draft. Discussions goes into issues. Changes in pull request. Signing by staring the repo.

Unlike a factory, patent trolls don't need you to work for them. If it's just a lawyer in an office, what's your bargaining power?

This might be a place to start, but I could see it evolving (with donations from programmers and the tech industry) into an organization that can hire some full-time lawyers, so it can challenge some of these patent cases where they begin with the small businesses instead of letting them build up steam.

The theory would be to substantially influence the companies that can more or less directly dictate policy to the politicians in DC. Companies like Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Google, Facebook, Apple and so on have the ability to massively influence DC thinking.

If that group, in a united front, decided they wanted to do away with software patents, that's the direction DC would head accordingly.

The bargaining power of a union would be that eg Microsoft would lose its talent and would rot accordingly, if the best engineers refused to go to work for them.

Bill Gates circa 1998, asked about starting over from scratch and his thoughts on that concept, responds in part by noting that Microsoft's success could be dramatically altered by removing just perhaps 30 people (and the follow-on talent that would want to leave with those people):


Microsoft is a bigger beast today, in terms of employees (by a factor of roughly four fold), but he's probably spot on that you can dramatically alter the course of a software company such as Microsoft by removing some key talent pillars.

The problem is the patent model itself.

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