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Free software fans take a stand against software patents

Conference and a protest

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Free software advocates are holding a last conference on the software patents directive today, ahead of a parliamentary vote on the directive on 21 June. This afternoon, Association Electronique Libre and Open Standaarden will lead a demonstration in Brussels against the proposed legislation.

Open source luminaries Richard Stallman, founder of GNU/Linux and Alan Cox (of Red Hat fame) will join Green MEPs Monica Frassoni and Eva Lichtenberger to discuss the impact of software patents on the free and open source software community.

Stallman has spoken many times about the dangers of allowing patents on software ideas. He warns that if companies are allowed to patent software ideas, big business will ride roughshod over the smaller players, and the free software movement will be effectively strangled.

He says that the US should be a warning for Europe, as it is a case study of how difficult things can get for an independent developer trying not to infringe anything already patented.

When the developer inevitably does infringe a patent, he has three choices: avoid the idea, try to buy a license, or overturn the patent. No-one is obliged to grant licenses, they can name their terms if they do and it wouldn't take too many deals requiring a slice of gross sales to sink a product.

Big companies can ride out these kinds of difficulties by brandishing their own portfolio of patents, and signing cross-licensing deals. They can also afford to pursue their patents in the courts - a process that is notoriously expensive. Smaller players would not have that luxury.

Stallman, and other anti-patent campaigners, argue that the directive of computer implemented inventions (as it is formally known) would usher in just this kind of madness in Europe.

Anyone who can't make it to Brussels to register a protest, but who would like to make their voice heard, can sign up for a web demo against the introduction of the directive here.

The European Parliamentary committee will vote on its proposed amendments to the draft on 21 June, and the parliament as a whole is likely to vote on the directive on 5 July. ®

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