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Linus, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf Oppose EU Software Patents
Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 07:28 AM EST

Linus, together with Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf, all European nationals, have sent a joint appeal to the EU Council, urging them to reject the May 18th directive.

For those who may not know, you could reasonably describe the trio like this: Linus=Mr. Linux. Widenius=Mr. MySQL. Lerdorf=Mr. PHP. Here's an interview with Lerdorf, and his bio and resume. Here is a paper on software patents by Widenius and here is his book on MySQL, and the bio says he wrote 95% of MySQL.

Without a doubt, they are three of the most respected programmers in the world of Free and Open Source software.

The press release issued by NoSoftwarePatents.com explains:

"The open-source programs that were created by Linus Torvalds, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf form three of the four parts of a technology stack commonly referred to as "LAMP" by the first letters of its components. The combination of Linux (operating system), Apache (Web server), MySQL (database) and PHP (programming language) is an industry standard that powers millions of Internet servers worldwide."

The three say that the language of the directive is deceptive and they say: "In the interest of Europe, such a deceptive, dangerous and democratically illegitimate proposal must not become the Common Position of the member states." Here is where they feel the line should be drawn:

"The proper way to distinguish between software patents and patents on computer-controlled devices is to exclude the processing, handling and presentation of information from the definition of the word 'technical' for the purposes of patent law, to disallow patents on innovations in the field of data processing, and to establish the hard and fast requirement that natural forces are used to control physical effects beyond the digital sphere."

Copyright is fair, they write, because it is available to all. Patents cost so much, a patent regime "would establish the law of the strong, and ultimately create more injustice than justice." Of course, justice may not matter to everyone, so they add that the EU can gain a competitive advantage by rejecting software patents, which I believe myself:

"For the sake of innovation and a competitive software market, we sincerely hope that the European Union will seize this opportunity to exclude software from patentability and gain a major competitive advantage in the information age."

Here is the official press release [PDF]. And here is the complete statement.

******************************

Appeal to the EU Council

by

Linus Torvalds, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf

23 November 2004

Later this week, on November 25th and 26th, the EU Competitiveness Council will convene and soon attempt to formally adopt a proposed "Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions", commonly referred to as the "software patent directive". On May 18th, the Council reached political agreement on a draft legislation, however, did not take a formal decision to adopt it.

We urge the governments of the EU member states, which are represented in the EU Council, to oppose the debateless adoption of the said proposal as a so-called "A item". In the interest of Europe, such a deceptive, dangerous and democratically illegitimate proposal must not become the Common Position of the member states.

We ask all webmasters to help prevent the legalization of software patents in the EU by placing a link to the campaign website www.NoSoftwarePatents.com.

The draft directive in question is deceptive because it leads laymen, and even those legal professionals who are not familiar with the intricacies of patent law, to falsely believe that it would exclude software from patentability. However, it is actually a compilation of the entirety of the excuses with which the patent system has, for many years, been circumventing article 52 of the European Patent Convention in order to grant patents on software ideas.

Those who say that the directive would not allow patents on software attach a peculiar definition to the term "software" that is hair-splitting. The proper way to distinguish between software patents and patents on computer-controlled devices is to exclude the processing, handling and presentation of information from the definition of the word "technical" for the purposes of patent law, to disallow patents on innovations in the field of data processing, and to establish the hard and fast requirement that natural forces are used to control physical effects beyond the digital sphere.

The legislation in question contains many provisions that appear to be helpful if one understands "technical" in a common-sense way. However, the patent system has previously expressed and demonstrated its own definition of that term, which is one that encompasses almost anything that a computer can possibly do. Moreover, article 5 (2) of the legislative proposal tears down all barriers to the patentability of software by expressly allowing so-called "program claims".

Software patents are dangerous to the economy at large, and particularly to the European economy. Lawmakers should heed the warnings of such reputable organizations as Deutsche Bank Research, the Kiel Institute for World Economics, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

At first sight, a patent appears to protect an inventor but the actual implications may be the opposite, dependent upon the field. Copyright serves software authors while patents potentially deprive them of their own independent creations. Copyright is fair because it is equally available to all. A software patent regime would establish the law of the strong, and ultimately create more injustice than justice.

In particular, we believe that the economic opportunities of the new EU member states are endangered by software patents. The many talented software developers in those countries should be given a fair chance. The average cost of a European patent is in the range from 30,000 to 50,000 Euros, and a company needs a very large number of such patents in order to be able to enter into "cross-licensing" agreements with multinationals that own tens of thousands of patents each.

The political decision on the patentability of software should be based on merits, economic logic and ethical considerations, not on whatever may have been the practice of the patent system in recent years. Let us all look ahead, not back.

If the EU Council adopted the legislative proposal of May 18th, it would do so without democratic legitimacy. The idea of a debateless and voteless adoption of an "A item" is only to speed up and simplify the process if a qualified majority is in place. In this particular case, there isn't.

As of November 1st, new voting weights apply in the EU under the Act of Accession. The collective number of votes of all countries that affirmatively supported the legislative proposal on May 18th amounts to 216, falling short of the required 232. It would set a more than regrettable precedent for European democracy if the EU Council adopted a Common Position on an insufficient basis.

Furthermore, the 216 votes include those of the Netherlands and of Germany against the will of the national parliaments of those countries. On July 1st, a broad majority of the Tweede Kamer passed a resolution that the Dutch government withdraw its support for the legislative proposal in question. On October 21st, all four groups in the German Bundestag took a similar position and criticized the legislative proposal of May 18th as a legislation that would allow software patents.

For the sake of innovation and a competitive software market, we sincerely hope that the European Union will seize this opportunity to exclude software from patentability and gain a major competitive advantage in the information age.


  


Linus, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf Oppose EU Software Patents | 114 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections here please
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 07:34 AM EST

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT threads here
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 07:40 AM EST

[ Reply to This | # ]

Linus, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf Oppose EU Software Patents
Authored by: pfusco on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 08:30 AM EST
What can I say, they hit the nail on the head. I hope that their plea is both
heard and heeded.

---
only the soul matters in the end

[ Reply to This | # ]

"Copyright is fair, they write, because it is available to all" --EXCEPT that...
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 08:47 AM EST
RE: "Copyright is fair, they write, because it is available to all".

EXCEPT that the problem with US copyright law is that it gives over 100 years of
protection. That is a long monopoly for any copyright and is unacceptable for
software copyright... I would think that copyright protection should be
restricted to 17 years or fewer (in the case of software programs only)!

Current US law gives an extension to copyright that is way too long for the
"other than software" works!

Reduce the copyright on software protection term to a reasonable number of
years... and I would support copyright as well!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Linus, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf Oppose EU Software Patents
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 08:55 AM EST
A well-timed hit on the head with a Clue Stick!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Voting weights
Authored by: moonbroth on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 09:14 AM EST
I was interested, so I checked:
As of November 1st, new voting weights apply in the EU under the Act of Accession. The collective number of votes of all countries that affirmatively supported the legislative proposal on May 18th amounts to 216, falling short of the required 232. It would set a more than regrettable precedent for European democracy if the EU Council adopted a Common Position on an insufficient basis.

Furthermore, the 216 votes include those of the Netherlands and of Germany against the will of the national parliaments of those countries.

The new voting weights are set out here. The Netherlands have 13 votes and Germany has 29, so if you discount those (as the paper suggests), you're down to just 174 votes out of 321.

Cheers, Nick

[ Reply to This | # ]

My mantra
Authored by: Vaino Vaher on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 09:55 AM EST
I have repeatedly written postings with approximatelly this content:
As long as we, the rest of the free world, don't emmbrace sosftware patents then Ballmers wet dreams will only apply to US companies and to use of free software within US.

Since successfull OSS is predominantly the work of non-US citizens, and most often also written outside of the US, and since the vast majority of the deployment of OSS is in countries other than the US, then we don't suffer from the US patent laws. We will continue to develop and use it.

This leaves the US at a competitive disadvantage, especially since the Asian vendors develop set-top boxes, mobile phones, home entertainment centers, pda's, vacuum cleaners and what-not based on linux, and will market them on all the growing markets. US companies will be forced to use proprietary, flawed and patent-plagued products, which will not compete well.
This will increase the off-shore'ing of jobs and hurt the american software industry. The lawyers will fight over the remains.
Not good for you, but I can't see that it would be so bad for the rest of the world. As long as we don't embrace the idea of software patents!

[ Reply to This | # ]

NYT Article today on Postposting the Patent Vote
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 10:11 AM EST
Article indicated the vote was postponed until December.

Can anybody get further details on this?

[ Reply to This | # ]

They will probably be ignored
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 10:14 AM EST
Without a doubt, they are three of the most respected programmers in the world of Free and Open Source software.

But how many politicians in the Council of Ministers have heard of them? One or two, probably. Certainly not a majority. And who are they, anyway? Do they control big-bucks contributions to the political parties which hold sway in the Council? I don't think so ...

In which case, a phone call from Redmond, WA is likely to be vastly more influential.

In summary - they might as well try it, but don't get your hopes up.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Maybe a practical joke would help?
Authored by: boban on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 12:33 PM EST
In either Europe or US (and preferrably both), maybe one of the legislative representatives could propose a law that would enable patenting elements of a story and elements of legal contracts, just to rub it in how dumb software patents really are?

Btw, the idea came from reading www.nosoftwarepatents.com

[ Reply to This | # ]

L, W, but T?
Authored by: IMANAL on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 01:26 PM EST
Ok, Lerdorf and Widenius. From the bios I know who they are. They're database
gurus. But the third guy? Please, help me out.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Stock Painting?
Authored by: red floyd on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 04:13 PM EST
SCOX was hovering around the line today -- a little up -- until just before the
closing when it shot up about 20 cents.

I'm no expert, but in my opinion, it looks like a paint job.

---
The only reason we retain the rights we have is because people *JUST LIKE US*
died to preserve those rights.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Still wondering why they work so badly,
Authored by: Avery Andrews on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 05:45 PM EST
and a coherent, grandma-ready explanation might ultimately be helpful in
preventing or even rolling back their spread.

Here's a thought. Traditional patents have been for kinds of devices and stuff.
Software patents on the other hand are basically a kind of 'method patent'. I
conjecture that allowing method-patent leads to terrible results because it's
relatively easy to dream up methods that have reasonably obvious utility, and to
describe them in high-level terms (object-oriented programming techniques are
highly geared to doing that) so that they cover a very wide range of processes
with enough precision to be patentable, and it's not even too hard to test them
a bit to make sure they really are useful. So you can lay `patent mines' all
over the place with enough probability that somebody will step on them to
justify the cost.

I think it's much harder to come up with useful kinds of devices and stuff, and
also much harder to test their utility. So perhaps one could patent cakes of
coffee grounds and dishwashing liquid, baked in the sun, but if noone is going
to want to use them, you've wasted your money (like laying landmines in Central
Antarctica).

[ Reply to This | # ]

Minimum Patent Law Language
Authored by: BitOBear on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 06:16 PM EST
Here is a rough version of what I think _should_ be included in patent language
world-wide:

1) Any implementation of any technology, algorithm, process or invention
described solely in terms of software processes or data executed on commodity
computer hardware shall not be patentable.

2) Any implementation of software processes or data executed or capible of
executing solely on commodity computer hardware shall deemed not to infringe on
any patent.

[With suitable definition for "commodity computer hardware" which
includes the case where a patent holder patents a device and the licenses it so
broadly that you can get it anywhere, reducing it to a common component.]

In plain terms, you cannot get a patent on software, and no software-only
solution, emulator, or whatever, can be held to infringe on a patent.

The two ideas must hang together equally so that people don't "make the
specialty device" and then go after the programmers who just wrote code.
The later provision prevents someone from making and patenting an electrical
matrix multiplier and then caliming infringement on anybody who does matrix
multiplication in software (etc).

As sa side effect, it prevents people from implementing something hideous in
hardware and patenting it and then preventing someone comming along and writing
an emulator that is better and faster. If your device can be emulated better
(or as well, or almost as well) in software than the device you have chosen to
build, you don't really advance the cause of Art or Science by preventing that
emulation. (IMHO of course... 8-)

These two terms *do* allow for the invention and patenting of all sorts of stuff
from the pedantic "cool new thermostat for the house" up through the
normal "assembly robots" and "holographic displays" and on
into the fantastic "warp drive or whatever" while still carving out
and keeping motile and sacrosanct the "pure modeling space" of
expressing ideas into data and processes as software within a computer.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Question
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 07:05 PM EST
In the inevitable trade war between the United States
and the EU-11 over software patents, which will become
unglued first? The fifty U.S. states or the eleven
European nations?

Don't Know

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT: Novell v. Microsoft
Authored by: marbux on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 07:12 PM EST
A June 11, 2004 Microsoft filing in Burst v. Microsoft lists two prior Investigative Demand matters of possible relevance to the Novell v. Microsoft WordPerfect anti-trust case, apparently initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice. They are described in the Microsoft document as:

Civil Investigative Demand No. 98-087 Relating to Microsoft Office (Office CID);

Civil Investigative Demand No. 20812 Regarding Microsoft's Acquisition of Stock in Corel Corporation (Corel CID)

The Microsoft document itself is a stipulated written supplement to a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition response, and describes the above as matters for which Microsoft produced relevant documents to Burst's lawyers.

The existence of the CIDs is important because it would have triggered a Microsoft duty to preserve potentially relevant records no later than the date Microsoft received the CIDs.

The Microsoft document in the Burst case is titled "Microsoft Corporation's response to May 13, 2004 Rule 30(b)(6) notice regarding prior production of MS-CC-BU 000000364288." It is included as Exhibit 13 in the PDF format exhibits (PACER registration required) to docket number 182, for which the November 15, 2004 docket entry reads:

MOTION for Other Relief Spoliation Instruction, Witness Preclusion, and Related Relief (filed under seal 10/29/04) Public Version by Burst.com, Inc.. Responses due by 12/2/2004 (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit 1-47)(Wecker, Bruce) (Entered: 11/15/2004)

---
Retired lawyer -- Free at last! I've got my freedom of speech back! marbux paw AT whiskers comcast teeth net (remove the animal parts).

[ Reply to This | # ]

Linus, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf Oppose EU Software Patents
Authored by: inode_buddha on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 07:56 PM EST
Linus just won CRN's "Top Executive of 2004" it seems. I'm reading the article here. Great interview, with pics!

---
"When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price." -- Richard M. Stallman

[ Reply to This | # ]

It's Not Over Until The Fat Lady Sings...
Authored by: darkonc on Tuesday, November 23 2004 @ 09:27 PM EST
(And there's an assassin in the crowd gunning for the fat lady).

We've gotten into this mess in the first place because Microsoft friends of the patent process managed to buy off members of the EU council into supporting Patents despite the interests of their national councils. It's entirely possible that they've been able to do more of that since then.

I'd say it's doubly important to ramp up the lobbying now that we're so close to the deadline.

---
Powerful, committed communication. Touching the jewel within each person and bringing it to life..

[ Reply to This | # ]

Linus, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf Oppose EU Software Patents
Authored by: robb on Wednesday, November 24 2004 @ 12:02 PM EST
The existence of a thriving open source community strongly indicates that existing market forces are more than sufficient to promote invention and innovation in the software industry as a whole. Furthermore, government intervention through the creation and grant of new property rights in the form of patents is both unwarranted and undesirable for the economic well being of the industry as a whole.

New property rights introduce costs such as registration to keep track of the rights and a legal system to resolve conflicts related to these rights. If the pace of invention is sufficiently slow, the opportunities for invention limited and the cost of invention sufficiently high then the costs and burdens of a patent system can largely be ignored. However, if the pace of invention is high, the opportunities for invention abundant and the cost of invention low, which is the situation is the software industry, then the costs and burdens of a patent system is hugely amplified.

The problem is that patents are seen as the status quo so those who oppose software patents are expected to bear the burden of proving that software patents are undesirable. This can only properly be done if we reframe the debate since we do not accept all of the assumptions that people who support software patents are making.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Most Respected? No.
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 25 2004 @ 04:08 PM EST
Re: "Without a doubt, they are three of the most respected programmers in
the world of Free and Open Source software."

I would edit that to:

"Without a doubt, they are three of the most respected programmers in the
world.

I have been a programmer for more than 20 years myself. I am just shy of a half
century as a member of the body politic.

Those people merit technical respect without question. They also (I think more
importantly) merit respect as genuine pillars of the community. If only more
people like this made the news.

Bless them all.

I also have made submissions and will make more submissions on this issue.

Software patents are bad for the vast majority of the community including
multinational corporations with massive patent portfolios.

I made my original submission on this topic in the year 2000. It is shameful and
frightening that this struggle has continued for so long.

Good for the people willing to stand up. Shame on those shadowy bad guys.

[ Reply to This | # ]

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