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Software Patents -- a danger to democracy - 06 June 2005
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<h1>Software Patents in Europe</h1>
[ <a href="/activities/swpat/swpat.html">Introduction</a>
| <a href="/activities/swpat/background.html">Background</a>
| <a href="/activities/swpat/status.html">Status</a>
| <a href="/activities/swpat/documents.html">Further Reading</a> ]
</center>
<br />
<center>
Open Letter
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040510.html">2004-05-10</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040531.html">2004-05-31</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040706.html">2004-07-06</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040802.html">2004-08-02</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040906.html">2004-09-06</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20041004.html">2004-10-04</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20041101.html">2004-11-01</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20041206.html">2004-12-06</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050103.html">2005-01-03</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050207.html">2005-02-07</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050307.html">2005-03-07</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050405.html">2005-04-05</a>]
[<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050502.html">2005-05-02</a>]
[2005-06-06]
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<h2>Software Patents -- a danger to democracy</h2>
<h3>6 June 2005</h3>
<p>
Josep Borrell Fontelles is the President of the European Parliament.
</p>
<p>Dear President of European Parliament,</p>
<p>
On July 6th, European Parliament will have to decide on the "Software
Patents" directive. By relying on undefined terms and ineffective
limits, the text that the Council has handed to the Parliament would
allow patents on software standards, business methods, and website
development.
</p>
<p>
Unfortunately, with all the technical and legal debates about the
text, the real world effects of software patents are often no longer
discussed. FSFE would like to take this opportunity to discuss five of
the 30,000 software patents so far granted by the European Patent
Office. These would gain additional legal grounds to be enforced
against Europeans for 20 years. Of course, the rate of software patent
application will also rise sharply if this directive passes in its
current form.
</p>
<p>
<a href="http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=EP287578">EP0287578</a>
covers compressed audio including the "mp3" format.
<a href="http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=EP933892">EP0933892</a>
covers making videos available via the Internet.
<a href="http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=EP633694">EP0633694</a>
covers video-on-demand, such as transmission of live events.
</p>
<p>
These three monopolies on common techniques for distributing
information would gain additional legal grounds overnight. One example
of a webpage where all three patents are being infringed is the
"Hearings of the Commissioners-Designate" page on the Press Service
section of the
<a href="http://www.europarl.eu.int/press/audicom2004/index_en.htm">europarl
website</a>.
</p>
<p>
<a href="http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=EP689133">EP0689133</a>
covers the use of "tabs" on a webpage, that can be clicked to see the
information related to the tab's label.
<a href="http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=EP537100">EP0537100</a>
covers the use of reduced-size images ("thumbnails") as clickable links
to full sized image.
</p>
<p>
The
<a href="http://www.europarl.eu.int/code/photo_gallery/album1/default_en.htm">Conciliation
Committee Photo Gallery</a> of the europarl website uses both of these
techniques. Thumbnails for the photos, and tabs for the languages that
can be chosen.
</p>
<p>
If that proliferation of the patent system to include software ideas
is not reversed, the European Parliament, and the majority of MEPs --
most of whose websites build upon these or other patented techniques
-- will remain patent infringers. Naturally, the political value of
MEPs acts as a safeguard against litigation. The patent holders will
permit the MEPs to use those techniques, or at least keep turning a
blind eye to their infringements.
</p>
<p>
This is not true for ordinary citizens and businesses, however. Their
most economical solution is to play dumb and hope they don't catch the
eye of a patent holder. However, something like a venture capitalist
investment, might inspire litigious desires.
</p>
<p>
All five patents are commonly infringed, generally by people who are
unaware of the existence of the patent. If a website owner was made
aware of the last two patents, they could redesign their website, it
might harm their site's usability, but they could avoid those patents.
The first three patents mentioned make it difficult to impossible to
offer video or audio over the Internet, in any way.
</p>
<p>
It is therefore up to the holder of the software patent to freely
determine which citizen can seek and impart the first hand information
about what their representatives are doing, and which cannot. The very
basics of a democratic society are in danger.
</p>
<p>
As is shown by the europarl website, software development is not only
undertaken for commercial purposes. It is done for social benefit and
for practical reasons. This is in contrast to the traditionally
patentable fields such as pharmaceutical or machinery, where
participation in development or distribution implies that the company
has sufficient funding to seek legal advice and possibly defend
themselves in court or counter-litigate if the need arises.
</p>
<p>
Of the example patents above, only one is owned by a European company,
the other four are held by non-European entities. This is roughly
equivalent the overall situation of software patents in Europe, of
which only 23% are held by European entities.
</p>
<p>
In the interest of European democracy and economy, we encourage you to
take a firm stand against software patents and vote for the amendments
that define terms clearly and put a limit to the patenting of software
ideas.
</p>
<p>With kind regards,</p>
<p>
<a href="/about/people/greve/">Georg Greve</a><br />
President<br />
Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)<br />
<a href="/">fsfe.org</a>
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