Open-Sourcers Launch Campaign To Weaken European Patents


A group of companies promoting open-source software launched a campaign in Europe Wednesday that is designed to bolster the use of copyright law at the expense of patent law in a move they believe will help safeguard the spread of open-source software.

The initial corporate backers of the campaign--which is called NoSoftwarePatents (NSP)--are Red Hat, MySQL AB, and 1&1. U.S.-based Red Hat is a Linux operating system and open-source pioneer, and Sweden-based MySQL claims it markets the world's most popular open-source database software. 1&1 is a German software and Internet services provider with nearly $600 million in annual revenues.

"This is the first time that a group of companies [in Europe] has gotten together to fight against the idea of software patents in general," said Florian Mueller, a German software entrepreneur who is managing the campaign, in an interview. "The issue needs to be solved at the political level." The campaign will seek to influence European nations to address the issue with new legislation that strengthens copyright protection for software rather than patent protection.

Large established corporations generally resort to patent protection to protect their positions over newer and smaller companies, e.g., open-source firms. The issue figures directly into IT organizations moving towards open-source software. For instance, the largest planned migration from Microsoft Windows to open-source operating systems is underway at the city of Munich. That migration effort has been slowed because of the copyright-patent debate. The NSP campaign seeks to influence patent legislation at the pan-European level.

"Software patents are used for anti-competitive purposes, stifle innovation, and would cost the entire economy and society dearly," said Mueller. "There is only a small group of people in the patent system that would benefit from them, and some large American corporations have ulterior motives."

Asked to identify the "large American corporations" noted in the campaign, Mueller declined to identify them by name.

The copyright-patent debate has a long history in the U.S., too, with both approaches being utilized to protect innovators, although there are some who argue that the IP regulations are sometimes used to thwart competition.

Mueller said the NSP campaign will attempt to influence 12 major European countries to work to water down patent protection for software. The grass-roots campaign seeks to eventually influence pan-European patent agencies, including the European Patent Convention to promote new legislation.

The final goal is to help spread open-source software by removing onerous IP regulations, Mueller indicated.