I want to explain a little what this actually means, as ideas like copyright, patents and other Intellectual Property rights are confusing enough as is in normal life.
We generally have two important sections of the law we use.
- Copyright. This is the ability of people to own their creative works. I have a lot of copyright ownership in Bitcoin Classic, as do many others.
I license this using an open source license to everyone with the explicit purpose that nobody can limit any other person how this code can be used, copied or ignored.
- Patents. The ability of people to own an idea. You have to actually convince the government your idea is novel and pay a lawyer and other fees to get a patent. Only since about 10 years or so are patents (unfortunately) applicable to software.
A patent owner would have to license his patent to any person or company individually.
How does this apply to Bitcoin?
A company like Blockstream that owns patents on SegWit and other technologies can try to activate SegWit, which means that all software everywhere will have to implement their patents. They can write the code themselves and hold full copyright, but they will always have to ask permission from the patent holder to actually publish their software.
One of the main advantages of Bitcoin is that it removes the central hub. No central bank, no Microsoft, no IBM to ask permission to use this technology. This means that any person or company can try to innovate and do something new, without asking permission and without paying royalties. We have learned from innovations like the Internet that this is extremely useful and powerful.
And this is exactly what Blockstream is trying to take away from Bitcoin.
A patented technology, owned by Blockstream (or any other company) should never become part of the "Consensus rules", because the moment it does Bitcoin loses its ability to out-innovate the competition.
How can we solve this?
The obvious solution is to not activate SegWit or other technologies from Blocksteam. But we don't always know about patents before they get approved. There may be 18 months between the application of the patent and it being approved. And after it has been approved we may not even find it in the large number of patents that exist.
This is not a new problem, 10 years ago we, in the free software and open source community, finished a copyright license that tried to address the patenting issues. The GNU Public License version 3] has a patent clause. It recognizes that companies like Blockstream will have to publish code for others to run in order to make anyone actually use the technology they wish to patent.
Any company that publishes code under the GPLv3 gives unlimited and never expiring license to run that code to anyone that wants it. This includes a license to use any patents that cover that open source code.
How would people feel about we start to insist that our full node client of choice has a similar clause in the copyright notice. And reject any technologies that are not implemented in that client, and published explicitly by the owner under the license that has a patent clause. This may be useful to insist on for 2nd layer technologies too, like for instance the Lightning Network.