Version française

NO to Software Patents!

STOP Software Patents .EU petition.

Note: the French version of this document contains more links.

Short Introduction

A patent aims at protecting innovation by giving an inventor a temporary monopoly allowing him to sell his invention. In the software area, patents are useless, since the development costs and times are much lower than for industrial processes; the protection given by the copyright is sufficient, and even better, as it is free. In practice, the software patents (in the USA and in Japan, where they have a legal existence) precisely have the opposite effect. Many trivial or non-technical patents based on prior art (see below) are used to threaten companies. These companies could contest the validity of these patents in a court, but such lawsuits take a long time (several months or years) and cost a lot of money; in general, they prefer to pay a fee, without any legal basis. Individuals and, in particular, developers of free software could be threatened too.

The software patents deal with general ideas consisting of small parts of software (and not with complete software). Thus it is difficult, or even impossible, to write software without being concerned by numbers of patents based on elementary ideas (the Patented European webshop is a good example). And it is practically impossible to check (see the IBM vs Sun Microsystems lawsuit in the 1980s, for instance).

Who benefit by the software patents? Mainly large corporations, that have a lot of money and can apply for many patents on one hand and support the lawsuit costs on the other hand. This is in accord with what Bill Gates wrote in 1991. Even an owner of a really original patent could not benefit by it without huge lawsuit fees, because his software would probably infringe some trivial patents. Small companies that own patents (even trivial ones) but have no products may also benefit by threatening other companies, as they have nothing to lose.

Europe, France and Software Patents

According to a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, The Netherlands, 2004 (Rethinking the European ICT Agenda, paragraph 342 page 50): There are particular threats to the European ICT industry such as the current discussion on the patent on software. The mild regime of IP protection in the past has led to a very innovative and competitive software industry with low entry barriers. A software patent, which serves to protect inventions of a non-technical nature, could kill the high innovation rate. However, opinions on software patent in its current proposed form vary a lot. Many large companies operating on a global scale, including European ones, seem to be in favour of a software patenting regime. But most small enterprises are strongly opposed. Only very few European companies have prepared themselves for the consequences of a software patent regime. It raises the question how the introduction of the European software patent interacts with a European strategy based on widespread use of ICT's.

Miscellaneous links on software patents in Europe:

Trivial / Non-Technical Patents and Lawsuits

The list below is far from being exhaustive and I do not have the time to update it. But links to other sites are given on this page.