[FSFE PR][EN] Letter
press at fsfeurope.org
Mon May 10 10:50:07 CEST 2004
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Dear Fellow Citizens,
Have you ever heard of internet protocol (IP) telephony? This is
beautiful technology! While sitting at your PC, you click a
number and the computer dials for you automatically! To chat to
the person on the side you can use a headset plugged into your
computer. To arrange a meeting with friends you can have a
telephone conference with as many people as you want. And if you
and your partners own a webcam you can also see each other. With
a flatrate no connection costs are incurred.
The business opportunities are considerable: IBM expects cost
reductions of 30% for professional users. The market research
company Gartner expects the market volume to quadruple till 2007
(as compared to 2002). Definitely a very interesting field!
However - there is a road block called 'software patents': While
Copyright law prevents competitors from selling applications
(eg "Microsoft Word") under a different product name, software
patents protect ideas and make them a creative wasteland for many
years. Apple, for example holds a patent on a virtual wastepaper
Given the appropriate legal framework, Apple can prohibit
implementation of the idea of a 'paper basket' in any other
software application, regardless of the technical solution or
programming methodology and language used. Alternatively they
might choose to extort licensing fees from the programmer writing
the paper basket software for using the idea of a wastebasket.
Back to internet telephony. IP telephony is like an incredibly
complex house of cards of ideas: how to synchronise audio and
video? How to compress data such that users with low bandwidth
analog modems are not excluded? All of these ideas are necessary
for internet telephony to become reality.
The result of software patents: no IP telephony at all! Professor
Henning Schulzrinne from Columbia University (New York) currently
informs programmers to wait another 17 years, after which the
patents will have expired!
In the US there is a legal basis to enforce claims from software
patents. Outside the scope of the law, the European Patent Office
has been granting software patents for a number of years, which
could not be enforced for lack of legal basis.
Against good reason employed at the crafting of the European
system and against the will of the European Parliament, which
reaffirmed the undesirability of software patents in September
2003, the European Union's Council of Ministers now seeks to
force legislation similar to the US! Now - less than seven months
later - the European Union's Council of Ministers and the
Commission prepare to vote for the exact opposite of the
parliamentarian will. What an affront to our elected
This abuse of the basis of democracy will have severe economic
consequences: despite current law the European Patent Office has
already granted 30,000 software patents. How much creative and
hence economic potential is blocked for decade(s) by this? How
many jobs do software patents cost or prevent?
Who has an interest in monopolizing ideas and dealing with them?
In November 2003, the CEOs of Alcatel, Ericsson, Nokia and
Siemens wrote to the EU commission and have spoken in favour of
software patents. Did they know what they were doing? Obviously
not - especially the telephony equipment suppliers would do
excellent business in IP telephony.
Obviously, patent lawyers are interested in new and complex
regulation: after the European Parliament's decision the chamber
of patent lawyers issued a 12-page position paper, signed by the
president of the "computer software committee". From the point of
view of the more than 700 patent lawyers in Munich (to these
you need to add the legal personnel in companies and chambers)
this effort is justified when there is a threat of losing an area
of activity with the potential for growth. But can the European
economy afford to sacrifice its competitiveness in favour of these
partial interests?? As long as the public discussion is
dominated by patent lawyers in patent offices, lawyers in law
firms, chambers, associations and ministries one gets the
impression that these particular interests are the interests of
the entire society.
The nuisance of the patent system in the software field has been
scientifically explored by the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. In a 2003 study its researchers found out that the
more software patents a company holds, the less it invests in
research and development.
What happens in government, society and economy as a whole if
these developments are not stopped? We bar people from being
creative. We put societal development into the hands of
bureaucrats bullying us for their own benefit at every turn. To
use the words of the Czech President Vaclav Klaus "The EU is not
about freedom and openness, but about bureaucratisation,
regulation and harmonization". If we leave this discussion to
others, we may prove him right.
Dear Fellow Citizens you know us - www.fsfeurope.org and
www.ffii.org - as organisations fostering freedom in the digital
age (free software) and public information goods.
We will continue doing that work.
Software patents will enslave all software, but also free
software. So in consequence this might be much more: the
enslavement of society as a whole by the patent establishment.
Therefore we ask you for support in our struggle for freedom in
Europe! You can do this by:
1. Protesting to politicians and administrations of your country
2. Pointing entrepreneurs - not their patent department to
the dangers of software patents and asking your government to
fight for innovation and against software patents.
3. Contacting the papers in your region/in your professional
environment. Journalists have influence - but they first have to
recognize that you take this problem very seriously!
4. Supporting us with your donation: information on how to donate
is available at http://www.fsfeurope.org/help/donate.en.html and
Donations are tax-deductable in many European countries. If you
let us know about where to send it, receipts for your tax
authorities will be provided quickly. Also, in the case of FSFE,
please indicate whether you want to be publicly listed as supporter.
5. Participating in the demonstrations we are doing in Mid May in
many European capitals and cities,
Moreover you can sign FFII's "Call for Action II" via
With kind regards,
Free Software Foundation Europe
Foundation for a Free Informational Infrastructure
Joachim Jakobs jj at office.fsfeurope.org
Press Speaker - FSF Europe (http://fsfeurope.org)
In der Roede 24, 64367 Mühltal (Tel: +49-179-6919565)
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