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Munich OSS switch to go ahead, patents or no patents

Merely paused for thought, says mayor

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Patent fears will not derail Munich's move to Linux, city mayor Christian Ude has told a press conference. Earlier this month the city put the brakes on its Windows to open source migration while the implications of pending EU patent legislation could be examined, but Ude has now said that the project will go ahead, and that the city administration is merely pausing to consider matters for a few days (Heise.de report, in German).

He reiterated that the city of Munich had declared for open source, and although the city has delayed calling for tenders, the migration would commence over the next few months. The patent question in Munich was actually raised by Green Party Councillor and open source supporter Jens Muehlhaus, who drew attention to possible patent issues in a number of areas. This might seem slightly ironic, but Muehlhaus and the other city councillors are no doubt well aware that they risk exposing both the city and themselves to major costs and liabilities if they embark on a major project without due diligence.

And comment given to IDG news service by city spokesman Bernd Plank is significant in this context. "Even if we can't say what the impact would be," he said, "that would still be sufficient answer to give the city council."

The Register isn't entirely up to speed on duties, responsibilities and legislation covering German administrations, but in the UK what'd be happening here is that once the council was aware of potential liabilities it would then have a duty to consult council officers over their extent. Having consulted, it would then take a decision. And it could, as Plank appears to be saying, go ahead even if the officers' answer was 'don't know', although in that case it might be vulnerable later to queries about the rationality of its decision.

Munich appears to be poised to go ahead despite feeling that the EU software patents directive, which was agreed earlier this year and is due to be ratified next month, could expose open source software to infringement lawsuits. The directive is currently being resisted in the European Parliament, but as EU ministers have a long and inglorious record of overruling the elected representatives, there is a very real likelihood that it will indeed go live. Would other administrations take a similar decision, or would they be more likely to take the line of least resistance?

It seems rational that the less heroic administrations will be more inclined to hold off until they see how the Munich project goes, and whether anybody sues. ®

Related stories:

IBM promises no patent assault on Linux
Patent fears halt Munich Linux migration
MS offers 57% price cut as Paris tilts to open source

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