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Our Work

Software Patents in Europe

We are working towards a world where software does what software users want it to do. For this, software users must be able to participate in the development and distribution of the software. Software patents block this goal by adding legal and financial risks to software development and distribution and by giving the patent holders legal power to completely prohibit software developers from using the patented ideas.

To understand how patents work, it is important to realise that they have almost nothing in common with copyright. While copyright is granted on the the work of an author, such as a computer program, patents are granted on ideas that could be used inside a computer program. So when thinking of patents, think of "symphony combining wind and string instruments" and not "Beethoven's 2nd symphony."

A problem for everybody

Software patents are a problem for everybody , no matter if big or small companies, individual software developers, users, non-free or Free Software.

The current status

The European Patent Convention states that software is not patentable. But laws are always interpreted by courts, and in this case interpretations of the law differ. So the European Patents Office (EPO) grants software patents by declaring them as "computer implemented inventions". We will continue to work with our partners and others, to inform people about the dangers of software patents. We will explain to the legislative that they have to make the laws more precise so that the patent offices have to act as intended. We will continue to work to get rid of that problem.

In the US our sister organisation is working to build awareness to the harm caused by software patents and in New Zealand the government understood the problem and recommended in April 2010 to include computer programs amongst inventions that may not be patented.

An upcoming development in 2022 is the introduction of a Unitary Patent System in Europe. This system aims to implement unified patent recognition in up to 25 EU Member States, as well as a Unified Patent Court that will handle all disputes related to unitary patents. There are concerns that having such a cenralized and unitary system would furrther stifle the spirit of sharing and cooperation inherent in Free Software, if software patents are allowed to exist in this system.

Selected FSFE actions