Brussels, 4 July 2005. 1737 companies from across Europe with a combined turnover of more than 3 billion euros and over 30,000 employees have joined together to call on the European Parliament to protect them from software patents and preserve the IT sector's current competitive and innovative character. These companies are watching anxiously as the Parliament votes for the second time on the 6th of July on the crucial directive "on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions", also known as the "software patents directive".
Rufus Pollock, Director of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (UK) which represents the companies on this issue, stated:
- If we want to preserve a competitive, innovative and successful European IT sector -- vital to achieving the Lisbon Agenda goals -- it is essential that the Council's common position be amended. We believe the set of twenty-one compromise amendments being put forward by MEPs from all political groups is what is needed to achieve this goal and to avoid the worst-case scenario of a US-style software patent system. As it stands, the current text of the directive will impose software and business process patents across the EU.
Statements from SMEs
Robert Osfield, Director of Openscenegraph Professional Services said:
- We're very concerned about the adverse affect on our business if we don't make sure that software is excluded from patentability in this directive. Europe loses purely from the cost of licensing software patents, as the money goes predominantly to foreign business: over three quarters of all software patents granted in Europe are owned by non-EU business. If the EU wants to sustain growth then its must plug the sieve that is leaking money from Europe.
Toby Churchill, CEO of Toby Churchill Ltd said:
- The prospect of US-style software patents being implemented in Europe seems to be a very dangerous and retrograde step for any small to medium sized software company. In very nearly all cases, copyright seems to be sufficient IP protection. A small company attempting to challenge a large company over patent infringement carries the attendant risk that the larger company will identify patent infringements (or suggest possible ones) by the smaller company - which does not have the resources to investigate the claim. This encourages frivolous patents because of fear of litigation.
Ian Lynch, CEO OF IRL Computer Systems Ltd said:
- Software patents kill the incentive for entrepreneurs to innovate. If we produce an application, whether closed or open source, we are at much lower risk without patents than with them. Software has developed quite nicely in the UK education market to this point without software patents.
About the Companies
OpenSceneGraph Professional Services, is based on the west coast of Scotland, and was founded in April 2001, by project lead Robert Osfield, to provided a fulltime and long term commitent to the OpenSceneGraph project and its growing community of commericial, academic and non commerical users.
IRL Computer Systems Ltd was the only IT company to get to the finals of the UK Small business of the Year Award 2000 after winning the Midlands region competition. The company also won a DTi Smart Award in 2002 for software development.
Toby Churchill Ltd. are a 35-man company based in Cambridge, UK, which manufactures and markets Lightwriters, communication aids for the disabled. Their products are software-intensive and are arguably Europe's biggest manufacturer in the field. The company won the Queens award for Export in 1995 and 1996.
The patent statistics themselves show a strong concentration of patents in the hands of a few large corporations, particularly from the US and Japan. These corporations cross-license their portfolios to one another and create cartels to exclude smaller players
A recent academic study commissioned by the BSA shows European SMEs only own 10% of granted European software patents
Hartmut Pilch and Holger Blasum
FFII Munich Office
info at ffii.org
rufus.pollock at ffii.org.uk
About FFII -- http://www.ffii.org
The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) is a non-profit association registered in several European countries, which is dedicated to the spread of data processing literacy. The FFII supports the development of public information goods based on copyright, free competition, open standards. More than 600 members, 3,000 companies and 90,000 supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions concerning exclusion rights (intellectual property) in data processing. The FFII maintains offices in Munich and Brussels and national supporter groups in most European countries.