[Fsfe-ie] ok, patent letter being sent now, please take a look asap

Ciaran O'Riordan ciaran at member.fsf.org
Fri May 14 15:51:32 CEST 2004

Between other things, the letter to Mary Harney never got sent, but here's a
letter.  I want to send it immediately, so can I get the go ahead from
another committee member?

I'm going to attach the 13 pages of the US FTC report about software
patents, and I'm sending it to ~8 people.  (Thanks to Fergal Daly for
collecting the email addresses.)

Any comments, asap (includig typos and apostrophe's)

(Yes, it is a bit rough, but I want to send it before they all put their
weekend hats on.  This is being discussed on monday morning.)


To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you regarding EU directive COD/2002/0047 "on the
patentability of computer implemented innovations", which will be discussed
by the Competitiveness Council on the 17th and 18th of this month.  Members
of Irish Free Software Organisation (IFSO) have been involved in this
directive since June of 2003 and we would like to offer our assistance.

The Right to Write Software

For software to be competitive, it must allow it's users to share data with
other people.  To do this, is has to be able to read and write the files
that software users have created with the market leaders' software.  If
companies are allowed to patent techinques required for writing certain file
formats, compatibility could be made illegal.  By rendering alternative
software packages useless, competition would become a puppet show, and a lot
of innovative software would go unused.

In addition to data compatibility, software users expect a certain level of
functionality.  If a new piece of software is to enter the market, it must
do the work of the current market leader, plus something new.  This
incremental or cumulative development style is how the software industry has
progressed, but if software developers are prohibited from implementing
widely used features, new products will cease to be competitive.

Software already has "ownership rights" in the form of copyright.  Use of
copyright is instant, free, and doesn't intefere with other peoples work.
In contrast, patents would leave even independent software development open
to patent infringement charges.

An open letter from 14 notable European economists said:

 ``Unlike most complex technologies, the opportunity to develop software is
   open to small companies, and even to individuals. Software patents damage
   innovation by raising costs and uncertainties in assembling the many
   components needed for complex computer programs and constraining the
   speed and effectiveness of innovation.''

The full letter is available at:

Free Software, also known as "Libre Software", or "Open Source"

Free Software is software that comes with royalty-free permission to run,
study, modify, copy, and redistribute the software.

Since the mid-ninties, some businesses have been builing a new business
model based on the fact that it costs nothing to give people these rights,
and there's no barrier to entry into the market.  These businesses make
money from providing software development services such as writing
extensions, customisation, system setup, technical support, etc. and each
new company contributes to the pool of Free Software.  The European
Commissions' Information Society Initiative recently released a report on
"Free / Open Source Software F/OSS", which says:

    ``On the provider side, F/OSS creates new opportunities for software and
    service providers, which may be a unique opportunity for the European
    software industry - somehow this may be a proverbial "second and last


Software patents are particularly harmful to Free Software, moreso than
unfree/proprietary software because Free Software cannot require per-copy
royalties, so Free Software projects find it virtually impossible to get
permission to use patented technologies.

The US Federal Trade Commission

Finally, we'd like to draw your attention to the October 2003 report by the
US Federal Trade Commission.

The report is 315 pages and covers the US patent system as a whole, but I
have excerpted and attached the 13-page section specific to the patenting of
software.  In the printed copy, this section begins on page "44" of chapter
3 (each chapter staring at 1), or page 153 in the complete digital copy
which can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/os/2003/10/innovationrpt.pdf

Software patents were introduced into the US in 1986 by a court decision
rather than any democratic legislative procedure, and because the US was the
first economy to permit software patents, their decision was made without
the benefit of being able to study the effects of software patents in other

The US held the dominant position in the software industry long before 1986,
so the existence of software patents in the US should not be construed to
imply that they benefit the industry.  In contrast, we believe that if
software patentability spreads into Europe, it would stagnate the industry
in a manner which would benefit only the very large software companies -
none of which are European.

Last September, we were pleased that Ireland's MEPS, along with the majority
of the European Parliament, voted to adopt a set of amendments which would
clarify that software innovations are excluded from patentability.  For the
reasons given above, we believe it is clear that the introduction of legal
software patents would be disastrous for Europes software developers and
software users, and we ask that you support the decision of the Irish MEPs
and the parliament.

Please contact us if you would like any further input from IFSO, we would
be glad to oblige.

Ciarán O'Riordan
Irish Free Software Organisation: http://ifso.ie

More information about the FSFE-IE mailing list