Software Patents in Europe

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No software patents, conserve competitive advantage!

September 6th, 2004

Dear Prime Minister,
Dear Dr. Balkenende,

The new Commission of the European Union would like to speed up the "Lisbon"-Process to make Europe the "most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010". This is a reasonable aim which is worthy of support by European citizens. However, the EU is considering legislation which will have adverse effects on the software market. We - the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) - would like to call your attention to this important issue. With your help it may be possible to avoid this problem before it gets off the ground in the EU.

Software patents are used to hinder competitors software innovation. This is the sole reason that a virtual waste paper basket is patented, the incorporation of applications into a website is patented, and or the ordering of gifts via the internet is patented. These ideas are not very innovative, but they are necessary to make the whole application run and be usable by anybody. It is just the same as with a car: To get access to the real innovations you need to use trivial features such as a steering wheel.

In the last few weeks we have seen what happens to project management in business and public administration because of a demanding project, such as in Munich. A member of the city council feared that the project might infringe a patent - and the project got into trouble for a whole week, although software giants IBM are interested in managing this project because of its international prestige. This was paralleled worldwide, as similar projects are supposedly threatened as well.

From now on any introduction of SAP will be in danger. The same way it might get impossible to implement additional security features to eliminate a bug in a web server - because there might at any time be someone who speculates whether the ideas behind the implementation are "protected" by software patents. For these reasons voices in the US would like to get rid of the innovation blockade which are "software patents".

30,000 software patents already exist in the EU; this contradicts the spirit of the present patent law in the EU. Three quarters of software patents are held by non-European companies. To give software patents a legal basis may be a decision which would make the EU far less competitive. That is why we would like to ask the European Council to revise its agreement on software patents of May 18th. Instead the Council should decide to make sure innovation can take place and not be restricted by software patents in the future.

During the dutch Presidency of the European Union you have the best opportunity to initiate this revision. In the interest of Europe you should not hesitate to make this revision.

Yours sincerely

Georg Greve
Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)