[OT] Software Patents in Europe

Kristian Rink kristian at zimmer428.net
Tue Sep 12 10:03:50 BST 2006


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Folks;

sorry for the off-topic, but this is somewhat interesting (not to say:
important) to most of the open-source / Free Software users at least in
Europe, and as I think there should be some awareness of that issue
threatening Free and Open-Source software in a massive way: The
European government once again talks about changing European patent law
in a way that would "harmonize" patent rules and legislation all across
Europe. The name of the game is EPLA (European Patent Litigation
Agreement), and, given that this will make it to life, software patents
might become reality in Europe sooner or later (even if the European
parliament explicitely stopped a directive trying to enforce software
patents in late 2005). 

Why bother? By now, software patents are "legal" in the US and in
Japan, leaving Europe to be one of the last "big" places in the world
where software patents are not really enforceable. Even though they are
illegal, the European Patent Office (EPO) has granted > 30,000 patents
on software and algorithms the last twenty years, which might become
enforceable as soon as EPLA is "in place". Even worse, given that by
then "patent law" is almost the same all over the globe, it would allow
"big companies" for pursuing patent infringements in a way more
effective, way more massive way than now. This is a severe threat at
least to Free and Open Source software, this is why we should care
(it's also a threat to small and mid-sized software developing
companies, but that's even another story). Even by now, GNU/Linux users
sometimes have to experience the consequences of software patents and
similar "intellectual property" rights, for example talking about MP3
codecs not being included in standard distributions or GNU/Linux
software per default being unable of playing video DVDs protected using
the CSS scrambling system. Having patents enforceable world-wide could
make this _drastically_ worse - imagine your GNU/Linux system being
shipped with a Gimp being unable of opening patented JPEG images...
imagine your OpenOffice not being able of reading MS Office
documents... imagine one day your Evolution mail client not being able
of sending mail anymore because most servers might have been adopted
patented sender-policy software preventing "illegal" senders
(potentially spammers) from relaying mail... Not a nice idea, is it?

Probably, most of the people around here can't really do much about
that, as this by now is happening in the European Parliament and
getting involved there is a difficult and tedious procedure. However,
even you can do a few things on that:

- - If you're a European resident: Call your MEP(s) and discuss the issue
with them. Raise awareness.

- - If you're a weblog writer: Collect information, write about things,
tell people what's the point, and why they should care (software
patents also will cut down competition talking about "proprietary"
software - even more once the US-American patent law might have been
changed to a "first-to-file" policy [patent will be granted to the one
to file it first] instead of "first-to-invent" [patent might be
rejected because an invention ain't new). Raise awareness.

- - Get yourself informed, read about things (I collected a few of the
recent links on [1]), stay informed and be aware.



Sorry for the long OT and thanks for your patience - I really think the
issue is too worrying to be ignored.

Kristian


[1] http://dm.zimmer428.net/index.php/archives/180



- -- 
Kristian Rink *  http://zimmer428.net * jab: kawazu at jabber.ccc.de
icq: 48874445 *  fon: ++49 176 2447 2771
"One dreaming alone, it will be only a dream; many dreaming together
is the beginning of a new reality." (Hundertwasser)


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