Open Source Leaders Slam EU Patent Plans

The three most famous European authors of open-source software today issued an appeal against software patents in Europe.

Linux author Linus Torvalds, MySQL author Michael Windenius and PHP author Rasmus Lerdorf are urging the European Union Council, which will convene later in the week, not to adopt a draft directive on software patents that they consider “deceptive, dangerous, and democratically illegitimate.”

They also call on the Internet community to express solidarity by placing links and banners on many Web sites.

Open Source Ingrained

This announcement comes after an eventful couple of weeks on the software patent front. Recently the Polish government clarified that it does not support the legislative proposal in question, and Microsoft warned Asian governments that they could face patent lawsuits for using the Linux operating system instead of its Windows software.

The open-source programs created by Finland natives Torvalds and Windenius and Greenland-born 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 the Linux operating system, Apache Web server, MySQL database and the PHP programming language is an industry standard that powers millions of Internet servers worldwide.

Protecting the Strong

The joint statement by the open-source leaders stressed that software authors are well protected by copyright law while software patents establish “the law of the strong,” which creates more injustice than justice.

“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,” Torvalds, Windenius and Lerdorf agreed in their statement.

“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. “

Risk Mitigation

Analysts said the underlying issue here is risk mitigation. If Microsoft chose to pursue patent infringements against Linux, the action could make major impacts on enterprises that use the open-source software.

Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst and Open Source Practice Leader for the Robert Frances Group, told LinuxInsider that IT executives are increasingly concerned that software vendors, especially Microsoft, will use patent infringement claims to combat the competitive threat of Linux and other software offered under alternatives to traditional licenses.

“IT executives need to assess their enterprises’ tolerance for risk, then develop policies for evaluating and resolving any risk to the business IT can help mitigate,” Quandt said.

“IT executives who believe that open-source software entails risks should weigh the costs and benefits of indemnification and insurance and examine new technologies available to track prior art.”

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