Software patents - fresh news and call for action 2004-05-17
As a follow-up to Mandrakesoft's latest flash regarding the upcoming decision of the European Council to legalize software patentability in Europe, here are some fresh news and information on what everyone can do to help.
If nothing changes, tomorrow, Tuesday May 18, the European Council, that is, the European body which represents all the governments of the European Union, will vote in favor of a directive that will legalize software patents in Europe. Last September, faced with a similar choice, the European Parliament voted major amendments to the directive text drafted by the European Commission, actually rejecting software patentability. However, the Council, ignoring all of these amendments, is going to vote in favor of a text that is even worse than the initial version of the Commission.
Why can the Council take a decision which will be so harmful to the European software industry? Unlike the Parliament, which is a place open to the public, where Members of the European Parliament have had time to study the proposal and hear many positions on the issue in order to take a well-thought decision, the Council is a closed body where, due to the alledged complexity of the subject, representatives of the governments have handed out the file to committees of experts.
These experts, who re-drafted the text and wrote position papers on why to vote it, are in fact mostly representatives from the national patent offices, backed by the heads of the legal departments of some big industrial companies, all of whom have a common interest: more patents mean more power for them, irrespective of the harm that will be done to the economy at large, and even to their own companies. In the name of "the Industry" and of "innovation", they manipulated the political decision-makers to make them believe that the new text did not allow to patent pure software, that it was a good compromise between the Commission and Parliament texts, and that not all of the parliamentary amendments could be kept because some of them were illegal with respect to international treaties such as TRIPS. All of this is plain lie.
In fact, if voted, the text of the Council would lead to a situation where big companies with large patent portfolios use these to lock their respective markets and prevent competition from innovative SMEs, and where "intellectual property" companies that do not create any software use their own patent portfolios to collect license fee rents from everybody. This is the situation which is happening in the US, putting at risk its successful software industry. This is what may just happen in Europe in a few months.
However, it is not too late. Because of growing pressure from computer professionals and from the public, and because they get more and more feed-back from the media, political decision-makers begin to get aware of the issues, and to have doubts about the sincerity of the patent lobby. In some countries, they have taken the file back from the patent offices
and some countries of the Council have just decided to switch from a voting procedure without debate to a voting procedure with debate, as the text gets less and less consensus among the members of the European Union.
More of theme can be convinced even more of them to reject software patentability.
In order to do that, please take some time to read about the issues at stake, and spread the information across your friends and business contacts, the press, your members of the parliament and your government.
It is essential that elected policy makers get back into command of the situation and do not leave the patent offices decide alone.
Here are some texts which can help you to present the issues to the media and to convince policy-makers of all countries of the European Union.
A very readable analysis by François Pellegrini explaining the legal and economic issues of software patentability:
A thorough analysis by Jonas Maebe of the difference between the three versions of the directive, and why software patents are indeed illegal with respect to TRIPS:
Positions of the member countries of the European Union:
http://swpat.ffii.org/akteure/ (add "pt", "ie", "fr", "de", "be", "gr", etc to have the positions of the member countries)
The page of the FFII giving some directions for actions:
A recent paper published in the Washington Post describing the current situation in the United States:
"Patenting Air or Protecting Property? Information Age Invents a New Problem"
31 companies sued for using the JPEG image format (the plaintiff filed for a patent while recommending the adoption in international bodies of a standard including its patented technology):
A US company sues companies of on-line content distribution:
A well-documented file on the reference site Law.com:
Thank you very much for your help.
Mandrakesoft is the publisher of the popular Mandrakelinux operating system, one of the most full-featured and easy to use Linux systems available. The company offers its enterprise, government and educational customers a complete range of GNU/Linux and Open Source software and related services. Mandrakesoft products are available in more than 120 countries through dedicated channels and also from Mandrakestore.com, the company's online store. Number 1 in several countries, Mandrakesoft has won many awards for quality and technical innovation. "Born on the Internet" in late 1998, Mandrakesoft has offices in the United States and France. Mandrakesoft is traded on Paris Euronext Marché Libre (ISIN Code: FR0004159382/MLMAN; Reuters code: MAKE.PA) and the US OTC market (stock symbol MDKFF).