The battle against a change in EU law that would see software opened up to worldwide patent law is hotting up.
The key decision in the European Parliament will take place on 1 September but those opposed to the change have arranged a protest demonstration to take place next Wednesday, 27 August in Brussels, outside the Parliament in Place du Luxembourg.
The demonstration will then be followed by a small conference held within Parliament, organised by Belgian activists, Eurolinux and FFII in which they hope to persuade MEPs to vote against the measure the following Monday.
At the same time, FFII is planning an online demonstration in which websites stop access to their site and post instead a protest page against the issue of software patent. The theory behind it is that with patents introduced, website owners will not be able to know whether they are inadvertently infringing an old patent or not.
This is music to our ears. On the balance of all the evidence, the case for allowing software patents into European law is far from argued. Moreover, the evidence from the US is that introducing this proviso into law will have an overall negative effect on the IT industry. It smacks more of protectionism than free and open markets. And it would be a severe blow against the fledgling open source community which has already achieved so much in a very short period of time.
However, as we pointed out in June, the case against patents has been damaged by the protesters' approach. Politicians - especially the MEP that put forward the directive, Arlene McCarthy - have been barracked as opposed to persuaded and all the arguments put forward have only been argued from one minority position.
If the releases put out by the organisers of the demonstrations and conference demonstrate anything, however, it is that they have become far more politically aware. For example, the arguments put forward now against a change in the law are that it would:
- Reduce innovation and increase monopolies in such a basic asset as software, thus harming consumers choice and value for money and depriving citizens of a healthy information society
- Undermine e-commerce by legalised extortion from patent holders
- Jeopardise basic freedom of creation and publication (a software patent holder could censor publication by the author of an original program)
- Cause legal uncertainty to copyright holders through patent inflation, since they won't know they are infringing someone else's patents until blackmailed or sued
- Endanger SMEs and professionals who do not have the resources for patent buildup and litigation, and currently concentrate most jobs and innovation in European IT
- Introduce a fundamental legal contradiction by using patents to monopolise information (software is only information) instead of its original purpose of dissemination of information on inventions
Now, that, as they say, is more like it.
On top of that, we also have a number of economists who have looked into the issue and concluded that introducing patent law on software "will have serious detrimental effects on European innovation, growth and competitiveness". It's a good critique and adds more weight to the anti-patent argument - you can read it at Research in Europe.
The demonstration will start at noon at Place du Luxembourg (not hard to find) and will last until 2pm, at which point the conference will start and finish, it is estimated, at 4pm.
So if you feel strongly about the issue, about open source or about software development in general, now is the time to put your money where your mouth is and get to Brussels for the day. It's easy to get to. You can even get the Eurostar direct from London. ®