Linus Torvalds & Friends Speak Out Against Patents

By | November 23, 2004

Linus Torvalds and other Open Source advocates have urged the European Union to fix the patent system.

Linus Torvalds, the founder of the Linux operating system, Michael Widenius of the Open Source database MySQL and Rasmus Lerdorf behind the widely used PHP server-side scripting language, have published a letter urging members of the European Council to exclude software as patentable from a new patent Directive on ´computer-implemented´ inventions.

´The political decision on the patentability of software should be based on merits, economic logic and ethical considerations, not on whatever may have been the practice of the patent system in recent years,´ they write.

They also urge the Council to heed the fact that following Poland´s withdrawal of support for the current draft last week, it no longer has the majority approval it needs to be ratified.

The UK patent office supports the current draft of the proposed Directive that allows software to be patented when making a ´technical contribution´. That is, software that improves the control of a robot arm would be patentable, whereas an accounting package would not.

The office says Europe needs a patent Directive to avoid being drawn into the more liberal patenting system of the US, where any application that makes a ´useful, concrete and tangible contribution,´ can be patented. Patents are also needed because while copyright offers protection from copying of the ´source and object code,´ there is nothing to prevent a rival arriving at the same solution by developing a product entirely independently.

However, patent expert Greg Aharonian said that the arguments are twisted. Despite the UK maintaining the need for patent law to avoid a descent towards US style litigation, there will be little to choose between them.

The Open Source leaders are similarly concerned. ´The legislation in question contains many provisions that appear to be helpful if one understands “technical” in a common-sense way. However, the patent system has previously expressed and demonstrated its own definition of that term, which is one that encompasses almost anything that a computer can possibly do,´ they write.

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