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This week, Linux evangelist Bruce Perens criticised OpenForum Europe for supporting software patents in the European Community. Graham Taylor, Director OpenForum Europe, has penned this open letter in response.

As you will be aware OpenForum Europe was recently a signatory to a letter organized by EICTA in support of the revisions proposed by Arlene McCarthy relating to software patents. OpenForum Europe draws its members from both the business user and supplier communities (including HP, IBM, Red Hat, SCO, SuSE and SUN) and has consistently adopted a pragmatic approach to the perceived business needs of users as reported by our members and by independently commissioned research.

Unfortunately this pragmatic approach is not welcomed in all quarters and our recent support of proposed revisions on software patents at the EU has created much negative and extreme comment from some members of the OSS community, based on incorrect information on our position. As a result we are today posting the following response on the website and writing to Bruce Perens and others clearly explaining our position and credentials. We hope this will provide greater clarity on our thinking and true beliefs.

“Comments in the press may give the impression that OpenForum Europe (a) seeks to represent the Open Source Community, and (b) supports proposals for software patents in Europe.

OpenForum Europe wishes to make it clear that it does not attempt or ever has attempted to represent the wider Open Source Community.

Suggestions made to the contrary are false.

OpenForum Europe can only seek to represent the opinions and interests of its members.

OpenForum Europe was invited to comment on software patent proposals currently under consideration by the EU, a task which was undertaken with some misgivings in light of the acrimonious nature of the debate, which it observed was damaging the presentation of OSS in the quarters where influence was most necessary. It sought to find a consensus amongst its members, the members comprising representatives from corporate OSS development and supply companies and business users of Open Source Software.

Informal discussions indicated the degree of polarisation and concern that surrounds the software patent debate. There are clear and real concerns on the potential impact if Europe follows the same route as the US. Political soundings made it clear that a position which denied all software patents was unlikely to either succeed in Europe, or be viable in isolation with the rest of the world. As a result, representations were made by OpenForum Europe in January to ensure that the software patenting process made strenuous efforts to support the interests of Open Source developers; that patents should only be granted by exception where real innovation and technical contribution had been made and could be evidenced. Furthermore if any such patent was to be included in any interoperability standard then there must be special rules on licensing which allows free access for such purposes. Copyright would be the preferred mechanism rather than patenting which should not be applied without rigorous scrutiny by people with real skills and experience in software development.

OpenForum Europe's position is that a lack of clarity about the intent and purpose of software patents would be potentially even more damaging to the interests of European software developers. Our focus is to ensure that as much as possible is done to ensure that any patents are carefully granted and not used in anti-competitive ways; in particular they should not be used to prevent the development of Open Source alternatives to proprietary products. It is this respect that we are supporting the positive revisions proposed in Arlene McCarthy’s opinion now being considered by the European Parliament for the granting of patents.

OpenForum Europe was set up as a not-for-profit, independent organisation to accelerate the take up of GNU/Linux and OSS by business. It does this by using business language to explain the opportunities and tackle the business issues that its research highlights are the main obstacles to progress. It sees the OSS opportunity to improve business efficiency and effectiveness as immense – it is nothing to do with anti any one company – it is all about achieving a new improved business model – more effective, lower cost, more choice. No evangelism – just hard business sense.”

Yours sincerely
Graham Taylor
Director
OpenForum Europe

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