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Linus and friends lead charge against software patents

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Three of the big names in Open Source have publicly appealed for the EU Council to ditch the European directive on computer implemented inventions. Linus Torvalds, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf (creative forces behind Linux, MySQL and PHP, respectively), have slammed the current draft of the directive as "deceptive, dangerous, and democratically illegitimate".

The main issue is that the directive is tabled to be passed in a meeting on 25-26 November as an "A Item". This means it will not be discussed further, but will be waved through as is. Such a move would lack democratic legitimacy, Torvalds et al argue, because of the new voting weights in the parliament. These apply in the EU Council from this month onwards.

The countries that voted for the directive on 18 May fall short of a qualified majority, based on today's vote allocation. In addition, two governments, Germany and the Netherlands, whose representative supported the bill, have spoken out against its content, and Poland has withdrawn its support altogether.

The three open source luminaries also warn that software patents are dangerous to the European economy, and pose a particular threat to the new member states. Those who oppose software patents have long argued that far from giving small businesses tools to protect themselves from big companies, patents leave small business exposed. A patent is expensive to acquire and maintain - the average cost of a European patent is between €30-40k. Even then, it isn't necessarily defensible:

"A company needs a very large number of such patents in order to be able to enter into "cross-licensing" agreements with multinationals that own tens of thousands of patents each," the writers point out.

They conclude: "For the sake of innovation and a competitive software market, we sincerely hope that the European Union will seize this opportunity to exclude software from patentability and gain a major competitive advantage in the information age."

The full statement can be found here, in English, on the NoSoftwarePatents campaign website. ®

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