Software Patents in Europe

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Karlsruhe, June 2005

Memorandum on Software Patentability

We, the undersigned, share a vision of Europe as a lively, creative and competitive part of the world. This vision is based on the principles of participative democracy and the freedom to innovate; these rely on Europeans being free to develop software and to distribute their work, free from the threat and the restrictions of software patents.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) play a central role in all areas of the economy today, and they are the foundation of the knowledge economy, in which Europe continues to excel.

Our vision is to see the European ICT industry become the most vibrant in the world - and the European Parliament shared this vision, when it made the necessary amendments to the directive on computer-implemented inventions during its first reading on 24 September 2003.

That directive is better known as software patent directive because in its original version it not only allowed patents on computer-aided inventions, it also allowed patents on the algorithms and logic of the software itself.

In what was the one of the best and most laudable examples of democratic participation, companies and non-profit organisations together outlined the likely harmful consequences to democracy, competition, innovation and employment.

On 18 May 2004 the Council of the European Union frustrated those democratically-reached positions - they restored the original proposal with unlimited patentability of software. They ultimately adopted this position on 7 March 2005 in defiance of regional and national political processes, as well as the scientific findings by the German Monopolkommission, which regularly reports about dangers to competition to the Federal Government of Germany; the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT); the Boston University School of Law; Deutsche Bank Research; Price Waterhouse Coopers; and the US Federal Trade Commission.

Patents on software are among the worst threats to knowledge-based industries, by restricting software development: they make computers less secure, less reliable and prevent competition on a basic level. Lack of competition and uncalculable legal risks raise the cost of ICT and cost jobs wherever the economy depends upon them.

The most essential discoveries in the field of ICT were successful because they were not patented, for instance the invention of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee. If software patents are enacted, the world will never know which discovery could have been the next World Wide Web.

On 6 July 2005, the directive will once again enter the European Parliament for its second reading: In the interest of Europe and its democratic roots we urge you to once more make the necessary amendments to turn this software patent directive into a directive that allows patents on computer-aided inventions, but clearly prevents software patenting.

Georg Greve
Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)

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