EuroLinux Petition: Software Patents Free Europe

20,000 citizens and 50 companies have signed so far the EuroLinux Petition for a Software Patent Free Europe after one month. The current 20,000 individual signatures mainly consist of individual IT professionals, including 300 corporate executives (CEO, CTO, CFO, etc. ), about 50 companies and more than 20 non-profit associations.

Some more sponsors of the Eurolinux petition explained this week why they believe this activity is important. Philip Sargent, CEO of Metaweb, a Cambridge-based web-database development company at the heart of Silicon Fen, says: "we have seen the obvious and anti-competitive effect that software patents have had on the US software industry and we must not let it happen here. Despite the logical arguments in favour of software patents, the side-effects are demonstrably more important and far-reaching. There is definite and wide-spread hard evidence to support the case that software patent portfolios are mostly used as bargaining counters in takeover negotinations and in bludgeoning smaller companies without large legal staffs. The role of patents in helping to reward investment in developing new technology is unproven; even though that is their primary purpose in non-software industries. The difference is one of pace: a key new software idea is protected not by legal defence, but by investing in it and making it work. Increasingly we are seeing that most new key ideas, e.g.

the web, HTML, Linux etc. are provided free of patent restrictions and that this is both profitable and public-spirited. ", Klaus Weidner of WMP GmbH, Munich: "Patents are supposed to promote invention and progress, but software patents would have the opposite effect.

Interoperability between programs requires either open standards or reverse-engineering of protocols or file formats. If this would be prohibited by software patents, companies with a large market share would be able to stifle competition. In most cases, this would mean that large U.S. companies would dominate the European market, and any startup companies would be legally prevented from competing with them.

This would have disastrous results for the long term competitiveness of the European IT sector. ", James Carrier, Technical Director of BulletOnline: "As technical director of a high-tech company involved in the design of computer software, I am extremely concerned with the current situation of patent law with respect to software algorithms in the European Union which has been brought to my attention by the EuroLinux petition. I believe that the extension of patent law to cover software in any way, shape or form can only damage commerce and stifle competition and innovation throughout the EU, and I urge the Commission to act quickly to ensure that the current law - which clearly prohibits such patents - is enforced, rather than replaced with further, potentially damaging, legislation. ", Jürgen Siepman, attorney and legal adviser of Linux-Verband e.V., a German association that represents numerous Linux companies and professionals, warns: "Software patents are more than ever on the European Commision agenda.

Most decisions on this matter in Europe are currently taken under pressure, without studying their economic impact or even considering the democratic opinion. Under the pressure of patent professionals, the European Patent Office invented its own rules in order to grant more than 10,000 software related patents, more than 75% of which were filed by non-European companies. However, most of these patents can not be enforced currently because they were granted in contradiction with the written Law. Under diplomatic pressures, the general directorate for internal market at the European Commission, is now suggesting to include the self-invented practices of the European Patent Office into the European written Law.

This is very clever because it allows them to completely change the Law without risking any open debate and pretend they did not do anything. The European Patent Office has for many years enjoyed a reputation of great political skill. And please guess in which office Europe's chief software patent lawmaker served, before he moved over to Bruxelles. ", Figures: Number of individual signatures in large corporations: Siemens (54), MandrakeSoft SA (42), IBM (42), SuSE Linux AG (41), Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (32), Alcatel (29), Ericsson (28), ID-PRO (25), Atos (22), Nokia (22), France Telecom / Wanadoo (21), Oracle (13), SNCF (13), Alcôve (12), EDF (12), Belgacom / Skynet (11), SAP (10), Deutsche Telekom / T-Online (10)... Number of signatures by country: Germany (5292), France (4888), Denmark (1573), Sweden (1030), United Kingdom (876), Austria (654), Belgium (606), Italy (502), Netherlands (495), Spain (469), Finland (375), Switzerland (334), Czechia (298)...