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June 30, 2005

The proposed European Directive on Computer-Implemented Inventions (the "Software Patents" directive) is bad news for SMEs, according to the Irish Free Software Organisation (IFSO). "It will allow large software companies, mostly from outside the EU, to monopolise the software market in Europe and endanger the jobs of the vast majority of indigenous software developers working in small businesses or as individuals," said Glenn Strong, chairman of IFSO.

This view is shared by the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME), which represents 11 million companies employing over 50 million people in Europe1.

Strong continued, "Software patents would expose all software companies to an increased risk of litigation. For an SME, the costs of defending an alleged case of patent infringement or seeking to have a wrongly-granted patent overturned would be prohibitive. Large companies, on the other hand, can afford to defend and pursue litigation and will have much larger patent portfolios at their disposal. It will be all too easy for them to use software patents to demand license fees from European SMEs and to stifle competition."

Software is already protected by copyright law, which is granted at no cost and outlives patent terms. "Copyright gives developers suitable protection for their work," said Strong, "whereas patents, which monopolise ideas, prevent others from developing competing products. We already know that the software market is particularly conducive to monopolies; patents will only make the problem worse."

There are 43,000 software patents that have already been granted by the European Patent Office, nearly three-quarters of which are held by non-European companies. The patents are currently unenforceable, and have yet to have any effect. However, the directive, as it stands, will legitimise the patents. "The nature of software development is such that it is likely that almost every complex piece of software infringes one or more of those 43,000 patents," said Strong.

The directive is also bad news for developers and users of Free Software (sometimes called "open source software"), which includes the software running thousands of web servers, email servers and other vital services. "As Free Software solutions are increasingly outperforming proprietary solutions, we can expect some companies to use patent law to hamper competition from Free Software," said Strong. "The freedoms guaranteed by Free Software make it incompatible with patent licenses. If this directive is passed unamended, the livelihoods of many European developers and users of Free Software will be at risk."

"The European Parliament opposed software patents at the previous vote on this issue. Our message for business, software developers and users is: get in touch with your MEPs to let them know that you oppose software patents and that you need them to vote to keep software truly free of patent monopoly restrictions," concluded Ciaran O'Riordan, speaking from Brussels on behalf of IFSO.

About IFSO

IFSO was founded in January 2004 with the aims of promoting and protecting software which comes with the freedom to study it, modify it and redistribute it: Free Software. Notable examples of Free Software include the GNU/Linux operating system, the OpenOffice.org office suite and the Firefox web browser. Free software developed in Europe includes the MySQL database system, the SpamAssassin email filter, the SuSE and Mandriva Linux distributions, and the KDE desktop. IFSO seeks the wider use of Free Software, and a wider understanding of the benefits that software freedom brings through independence, transparency and the ability to collaborate with others. IFSO works to ensure that new legislation does not restrict the writing of Free Software. IFSO would also like to see businesses which write, deploy or support Free Software being encouraged.

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[1] Source: http://www.ueapme.com/docs/press_releases/pr_2005/050621_Computer_Patent.pdf