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<title>Software Patents in Europe</title>
<meta content="Information about software patents - a problem for companies, developers and users." name="description" />
<meta content="computer implemented inventions software patent law copyright ideas computer program compatibility and interoperability companies software developers users non-free Free Software legal uncertainty costs pay smartphones" />
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<p id="category"><a href="/activities/activities.html">Our Work</a></p>
<h1>Software Patents in Europe</h1>
<div id="introduction">
<p>
We are working towards a world where software does <em>what software
users want it to do</em>. For this, software users must be able to
participate in the development and distribution of the software.
Software patents block this goal by adding <em>legal and financial
risks</em> to software development and distribution and by giving the
patent holders legal power to completely prohibit software developers
from using the patented ideas.
</p>
</div>
<p>
To understand how patents work, it is important to realise that
they have almost nothing in common with copyright. While
copyright is granted on the the work of an author, such as a
computer program, patents are granted on ideas that could be
used inside a computer program. So when thinking of patents,
think of "symphony combining wind and string instruments" and
not "Beethoven's 2nd symphony."
</p>
<h2 id="about">A problem for everybody</h2>
<ul>
<li>Software patents add legal risks, and therefore costs, to software
development.</li>
<li>They specifically inhibit the development of useful software by
blocking compatibility and interoperability.</li>
<li>Patents are incompatible with software because software is
so complex - too many ideas are used for it to be practical to
count them and check them against existing patents</li>
</ul>
<p><a href="http://en.swpat.org/wiki/All_businesses_are_targets">Software
patents are a problem for everybody </a>, no matter if big or small
companies, individual software developers, users, non-free or Free Software.
</p>
<ul>
<li>The <em>companies</em> have to spend more money for their legal department, to
register patents, to negotiate patent crosslicensing, and to defend
themselves against patent claims. While for some time software patents were
a nice tool for big companies to prevent newcomers from competing with them,
they also have to face companies who only sue others on software patents,
and never do any software development by themselves. Against them, any
software company can only loose.</li>
<li>For <em>software developers</em> software patents mean legal
uncertainty: whenever you start programming you might violate patent law. You will
never be able to find out if you violate a patent. Even if you read a
software patent you might not realise it covers what you are currently
implementing. With patents, we have to pay money to register them. On the
other hand with copyright, everyone of us, even those who just program as a
hobby, can write a program, and afterwards it will fall under copyright
without any additional costs. In fact, software patents can dispossess us
as they can prevent from using the rights we get from copyright, e.g. to
distribute the program to others. </li>
<li><em>Users</em> would have to pay for all those costs. Some people
estimate that the patent costs for smartphones are about 20% of the actual
price payed by the customer. </li>
</ul>
<h2 id="status">The current status</h2>
<p> The <a
href="http://www.epo.org/law-practice/legal-texts/html/epc/2013/e/ar52.html"> European Patent Convention states that software is not patentable</a>.
But laws are always interpreted by courts, and in this case interpretations
of the law differ. So the European Patents Office (EPO) grants software
patents by declaring them as "computer implemented inventions". We will
continue to work with our <a href="/about/fsfnetwork.html">sister
organisations </a>, our <a href="http://www.ffii.org">associated
organisation FFII</a>, and others to inform people about the dangers of
software patents. We will explain the legislative that they have to make
the laws more precise so that the patent offices have to act as intended.
We will continue to get rid of that problem. </p>
<p>In the US our sister organisation is working to <a
href="http://www.fsf.org/blogs/software-patents-after-bilski">build
awareness to the harm caused by software patents</a> and in New Zealand
the government understood the problem and <a
href="http://news.swpat.org/2010/03/new-zealand-govt-against-software-patents/">recommended
in April 2010 to include computer programs amongst inventions that may not be
patented</a>. </p>
<h2 id="actions">Selected FSFE actions</h2>
<!-- the following artciles should be tagged and added as related articles -->
<!--
<p>From 2004 to 2005 we wrote open letters about software patents addressed
to <a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040510.html">all citizens of Europe</a>,
<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040531.html">the German President Prof.
Köhler</a>, <a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040706.html">Fraunhofer
Gesellschaft (FhG)</a>,
<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040802.html">IBM</a>, <a
href="/activities/swpat/letter-20040906.html">the Dutch prime
minister</a>, <a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20041004.html">Allianz
Group</a>, <a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20041101.html">Mr
Barroso</a>, <a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20041206.html">President of
the European electricity industry Hans Haider</a>,
<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050103.html">Mr LEE Jong-wook</a>, <a
href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050207.html">Nout Wellink is the Chairman
of the Board of Directors and President of the International Bank
Settlements</a>, <a
href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050307.html">Catherine Parmentier Chief
Executive Officer of EUROCITIES</a>, <a
href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050405.html">Mr Provoost president of
EICTA</a>,
<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050502.html">Charlie McCreevy</a>, and
<a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20050606.html">Josep Borrell Fontelles,
President of the European Parliament</a>.</p>
-->
<!-- the following things should be removed and the tagged news added. -->
<ul>
<li><p><strong><a href="/news/2013/news-20130612-01.html">German Parliament
tells government to strictly limit patents on software</a></strong> On
Friday the 7th of June the German Parliament decided upon a joint motion to
limit software patents (see English translation by BIKT). The Parliament
urges the German Government to take steps to limit the granting of patents
on computer programs. Software should exclusively be covered by copyright,
and the rights of the copyright holders should not be devalued by third
parties' software patents. The only exception where patents should be
allowed are computer programs which replace a mechanical or electromagnetic
component. In addition the Parliament made clear that governmental actions
related to patents must never interfere with the legality of distributing
Free Software.</p></li>
<li><p><strong><a href="/activities/swpat/current/unitary-patent.html">EU: the
unitary patent</a></strong></p></li>
<li><p><strong><a href="/activities/swpat/letter-20101222.html">Letter to German
competition authorities - 2010-12-22</a></strong> Free Software Foundation Europe's
concerns regarding the acquisition of Novell's patents by CPTN Holdings</p></li>
<li><p><strong><a href="/activities/ipred2/ipred2.html"> 2007-present: IPRED2
- The Criminalisation Directive</a></strong> A proposal has been made
by the European Commission to criminalise and increase the penalties and
invasive investigative measures for patents, copyrights, trademarks, and
all other laws lumped together by the term "<a
href="/activities/wipo/iprip.html">Intellectual Property</a>". It looks like
patents will now be excluded from this directive, but the legislative
process is still ongoing and there are many other harmful aspects of this
directive that must be corrected.</p></li>
<li><p><strong><a href="/activities/gplv3/gplv3.html">2006-2007: Version 3 of
the GNU GPL</a></strong>: During the 18 month public consultation for
the drafting of GPLv3, FSFE worked to assist community participation.
Among other benefits, GPLv3 offers better protection for free software
developers against patent litigation. Our licences can only solve a small
part of the harm of software patents, but they can make free software
development easy in some ways.</p></li>
<li><p><strong><a href="https://blogs.fsfe.org/ciaran/?p=49">
2006-July-12th: Participation in EC hearing</a>:</strong> Ciaran
O'Riordan represented and made a statement on behalf of FSFE at this
hearing organised by the European Commission on the future of the patent
system.</p></li>
<li><p><strong><a href="/activities/swpat/fsfe-patstrat-response.html">
2006-March-31st: Response submitted to EC patent
questionnaire</a></strong>: FSFE has submitted its response to the
European Commission's questionnaire titled "On the patent system in
Europe".</p></li>
<li><p><strong>2005-July-6th: Software Patent Directive Dropped</strong>:
After years of struggle, the European Parliament finally rejected the
software patent directive with 648 of 680 votes.</p></li>
<li><p><strong><a href="/activities/swpat/second-reading-bullets.html">
2005-July-1st: Bullet Points on the Second Reading</a></strong>: One
week before the second reading vote by the European Parliament, FSFE sent a
simplified explanation of the core areas of confusion. This was delivered
in six languages which were produced on short notice by the FSFE
translation team. </p></li>
<li><p><strong><a href="/activities/swpat/memorandum.html"> 2005-June-28th:
Karlsruhe Memorandum</a></strong>: The Free Software Foundation Europe
has published, on June 28th 2005, the Karlsruhe Memorandum against software
patents. This memorandum collected more than 200 signatures at this year's
GNU/LinuxTag conference in Karlsruhe. Citing scientific evidence, the text
argues that software patents in Europe will hurt jobs and innovation. Among
the supporters are leaders of some of Europe's biggest trade union groups.
All MEPs received a copy of this.</p></li>
</ul>
<h2 id="subpages">Navigation</h2>
<ul>
<li>
<h3><a href="/activities/swpat/background.html">Basic information</a></h3>
<p>
What are patents, what are software patents, and why would anyone want them?
</p>
</li>
<li>
<h3><a href="/activities/swpat/documents.html">Background documents</a></h3>
<p>
How do software patents influence very different areas of society and economy?
</p>
</li>
<li>
<h3><a
href="http://en.swpat.org">End Software Patents</a></h3>
<p>
Goal of this website is to build an information resource for campaigns against software patents worldwide.
</p>
</li>
<li>
<h3><a
href="https://wiki.fsfe.org/Transcripts#patents">Software patents presentations</a></h3>
<p>
List of transcripts, such as Richard Stallman's 2004 talk: <a
href="http://www.ifso.ie/documents/rms-2004-05-24.html">The Dangers
of Software Patents</a>
</p>
</li>
</ul>
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