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Software Patents: Here we go again. . .
An urgent Message from the VOICE President

by Roderick Klein, © April 2006

As president of VOICE, I urge all VOICE members and readers of this news letter to support the non-profit organization FFII. I am not talking about financial support here, although it would be welcome. FFII is a European organization that has been fighting against the introduction of software patents in the European union. So far they have been very successful in doing that with all the people supporting them. Currently, however, the European Commission is undertaking another attempt to establish software patents, this time trying to bypass the European Parliaments decisions.

The situation

First, some background information. Many people confuse copyright with patents. Essentially, a patent is a government grant to an invention you describe. You obtain this patent from the patent office and it normally protects your invention for 20 years. If somebody else creates something that infringes your patent, you can ask him to license the technology from you or you can defend your rights in court.

Is it so bad that you can get a patent on a piece of computer algorithm or concept? In theory, this may seem fair for the inventor. However, the difference between theory and daily live is shocking if you look at what actually gets patented. More than 99 % of the software patents approved by the European and the United States patent offices should have been rejected as trivial patents at the first review. Famous examples are:

If you still think that these are exceptions, take a look at this whole archive of examples. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Patents of this kind number in the thousands.

The bottom line is: Software patents are already abused

For instance, Microsoft seems to mean business with intellectual property and stopping competition.

An example of a patent-only company—in my opinion—is Acacia Technologies Group. Read some of the claims they have and decide for yourself.

One of the things that may really bring a boost to companies that only own software patents would be if software patents are instated in both North America and the European Union. Actually, the European patent office is already granting such patents but because of the current legislation they can hardly be enforced.


From my perspective, the above makes software patents a threat to innovation and especially open source software, and many people share that view. Many large open source companies like, for instance, RedHat and Suse already file software patents with patent offices themselves purely as an insurance against possible lawsuits. Small companies and spare-time developers neither have the resources to also do so nor to endure expensive and time-consuming infringement lawsuits. So if software patents get established in Europe too, many of them will have to think twice about software development. This would deal a hard blow to the open source community.

This threat also affects OS/2 and eComStation. The simple truth is: OS/2 and eComStation owe a lot to the open source software community. OpenOffice.org 2.0 for OS/2 and eComStation is in the pipeline, we have Firefox and Thunderbird, as well as SANE for scanner usage. This is just a random pick out of the long, long list of applications that we use on OS/2 and eComStation that are open source. Almost every OS/2 user is bound to have a vital open source application running on his system.

Counter measures

To support FFII, you can do two things:

Please hurry, the closing date is the 12th of April 2006!

Formatting: Christian Hennecke
Editing: Christian Hennecke

FFII: http://www.ffii.org
Amazon one-click patent: http://cse.stanford.edu/class/cs201/projects-99-00/software-patents/amazon.html
IBM toilet patent: http://news.zdnet.co.uk/business/0,39020645,2123791,00.htm
Archive of example software patents: http://swpat.ffii.org/patents/samples/index.en.html
OSDir.com article Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer hints at possibility of Microsoft litigating against Linux: http://www.osdir.com/Article8470.phtml
Acacia Technologies Group: http://www.acaciatechnologies.com/technology_dmt.htm
FFII information about European Commission consultation: http://consultation.ffii.org/
Fax to authorize FFII for representation: http://patinfo.ffii.org/faxcollect.en.html