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Patent Activist Florian Mueller Shares EU Secrets

Patent Activist Florian Mueller Shares EU Secrets

"In the software patent debate the most important thing was to help politicians understand the technical and legalistic aspects of the issue as well as the economic implications," said Florian Mueller, founder of NoSoftwarePatents.com. "Lobbying is mostly about informing people."

By Jennifer LeClaire
06/26/06 5:00 AM PT

Florian Mueller is at it once again. The founder of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign that led to the European Union's landslide vote against a proposal for a software patent directive is ready for the next battle.

The same forces that supported the software patent directive he successfully defeated are now trying to pass the European Patent Litigation Agreement. This new war over software patents in Europe will officially break out on July 12 at a hearing to be held by the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.

As this new legislative process begins, Mueller has released a memoir-style book called No Lobbyists As Such -- The War over Software Patents in the European Union to tell the behind-the-scenes story of his last victory.

LinuxInsider caught up with Mueller to discuss his story and his future plans in the fight against software patents.

LinuxInsider: What led you to organize this NoSoftwarePatents campaign to begin with?

Florian Mueller: I felt there was a need for a multilingual Web campaign, and for an aggressive lobbying effort. At the time the campaign started, it looked like Europe might within a matter of months give software patents a stronger legal position. But with all the resistance our movement staged, it took longer and worked out well for us.

LinuxInsider: Did you ever think you could walk away victorious? If so, what made you so confident?

Mueller: It was going to be an uphill battle and I knew that. When we started, I told my campaign sponsors that we'd probably need a historic 'first' -- something to happen for the first time in EU history -- to succeed. And that's what happened: The European Parliament's rejection of the proposed software patent directive in July last year was the first time in EU history that the parliament dumped a proposal made by the governments of the EU member countries.

LinuxInsider: How did you rally support for your cause?

Mueller: The most difficult part was to get companies to provide funding. The next step was to launch the Web campaign, draw traffic to the Web site, and collect e-mail addresses of supporters.

LinuxInsider: Did this require you to educate yourself about the European laws? If so, how much time did you spend preparing and how exactly did you prepare?

Mueller: Yes, it was quite a learning curve. The procedures in the EU are very complex, more intricate than in the Washington, D.C., for instance. That's because the EU isn't a parliamentary democracy but a system in which most decision-making power rests with the governments of the member states, even though there is a European Parliament. I had to learn a lot about this, and I can't tell how much time I spent and when because it was a continuous learning process.

LinuxInsider: What was the most surprising thing you learned about the European Union's political process?

Mueller: In the EU there are some unwritten rules to which politicians and diplomats religiously adhere. The written rules may allow for certain things to be done, but the unwritten code of diplomacy says you're not allowed to exercise the rights you formally have. That makes things much more difficult to understand from the outside.

LinuxInsider: In your experience, how does the EU make political decisions?

Mueller: I recently heard that there is an estimated number of about 10,000 people involved with each legislative process if you include government officials, EU Commission staff, parliamentarians and their aides, and lobbyists. It's a multi-year process, and most of the time the EU system favors the largest corporations. The software patent decision was a rare exception.

LinuxInsider: Do you feel that small lobby groups can replicate your success in the EU parliament?

Mueller: Small lobby groups only stand a chance if they have leverage, and our leverage was the Internet. We utilized it to build a virtual network of activists throughout the 25-member union, and any other group that takes on a similar challenge will have to do something similar if it wants to build pressure on a pan-European basis.

LinuxInsider: How do lobbyists persuade politicians to vote one way or another?

Mueller: There are many different lobbying tactics. In the software patent debate the most important thing was to help politicians understand the technical and legalistic aspects of the issue as well as the economic implications. Lobbying is mostly about informing people. Our opponents tried to purposely misinform people, such as by denying that the proposed bill was about software patents at all, and ultimately they failed that way.

LinuxInsider: What were the biggest challenges you faced along the way?

Mueller: As odd as it may seem, the biggest challenge was to get funding for the campaign. In the political arena, our biggest challenge was that there are people whose careers are closely linked to the patent system, such as government officials who are in charge of patent policy, and who were able to influence decisions behind closed doors without us having any chance of stepping in and making our case.

LinuxInsider: How did you overcome those challenges?

Mueller: The fact that we had a virtual network of activists all across the EU made all the difference. There were situations in which we were able to fly in people from about ten different countries to Brussels (the de facto capital of the EU) within a week's notice.

LinuxInsider: How did getting involved in this change your life? And was it worth it?

Mueller: The personal sacrifice was huge. I had to live in a constant state of alert, and the phone would even ring all the time on certain Sundays. Initially I decided that it was worth all this because it's an important cause and because it gave me a look behind the scenes of political decision-making.

In retrospect, the fact that the software patent decision made EU history and that I got to make certain contributions to it justifies all the effort and all the sacrifice, but at the outset I didn't know how well things were going to work out.

LinuxInsider: Why did you decide to write a book about this experience and what do you hope readers will walk away with?

Mueller: I had two audiences in mind: people who felt potentially affected by software patent legislation and wanted to know how exactly we killed that proposed EU directive; and the ones who would like to understand how political decision-making works and what lobbying is all about. I basically wanted to share the things I learned with a larger audience.

LinuxInsider: Will you continue lobbying in related issues? Or will you leave it to others?

Mueller: I am presently involved in patent policy. The European Commission will hold a hearing on patent policy on July 12, and there is already a political debate over the future of the European patent system. However, I can't say how long I will be involved in this beyond that hearing. I never planned to spend years on this. I always just added a few more months at a time.

"No Lobbyists as Such" is now available on the Internet for download.


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