[FSFE PR][EN] Software patents are putting the wealth of the software patent lobby over the health of citizens in Europe and around the world.

Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) press at fsfeurope.org
Mon Jan 3 12:16:11 CET 2005

For the attention of The Director General of the WHO

Dear Mr LEE Jong-wook,

Software patents grant a monopoly on their specific idea. The patentee
can grant or withhold authorisation to use that idea and unilaterally
define the terms under which such authorisation is granted or
withheld. This is before even a single line of source code has been
written. In fact: lawyers are generally in a better position to obtain
software patents than the majority of programmers are. Each program
consists of thousands of ideas -- each of them potentially subject to
patent claims. Even though the European Patent Convention explicitly
excludes software from being patented, so far 30,000 software patents
have in fact already been granted in recent years.

The discussion [1] about a formal introduction of software patents has
been ongoing for several years and we would like to make you aware of
the effect of software patents on telemedicine, an area of great hope
for many.

Today, we are seeing the first steps in the telemedicine area. Instead
of being delivered by traditional post, X-Ray scans are transferred
electronically, reducing the availability timescale from days to
seconds. Physicians will soon be able to monitor individual patients
remotely, something that will in particular offer possibilities of
increased medical coverage for people in remote areas all over the
world. Given the demographic development in northern countries and the
increasing medical needs of potentially wealthy elderly people; that
particular idea was patented years ago. [2]

The database of the European Patent Office currently contains 69
patents directly referring to "telemedicine". That seemingly low
number should not let you rest easy. Not only is the number of
software patents likely to skyrocket after the formal introduction of
software patents.

Each application in the field of telemedicine will also depend on
basic software principles to function. These basic principals include
security, networking and data storage. Security in particular is key,
because the number of methods to make computer systems secure are
limited. There is no compulsory licensing of software patents, so
market tactics are likely to see many applications disappear in
courtroom battles before they have become available to patients. In
addition, besides having to refinance the legal costs, each
telemedicine and remote surgery application is likely to suffer from
known security holes and stability problems.

Software patents are putting the wealth of the software patent lobby
over the health of citizens in Europe and around the world.

That is why we believe software patents will adversely affect your
cause and are asking you to take a firm stand against software
patents. If you have further questions, need additional information or
would like to help us prevent software patents in Europe, please do
not hesitate to get in touch.

With kind regards,

Georg Greve
Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE)

About the Free Software Foundation Europe

   The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is a charitable
   non-governmental organization dedicated to all aspects of Free
   Software in Europe. Access to software determines who may participate
   in a digital society. Therefore the Freedoms to use, copy, modify and
   redistribute software - as described in the Free Software definition 
   allow equal participation in the information age. Creating awareness
   for these issues, securing Free Software politically and legally, and
   giving people Freedom by supporting development of Free Software are
   central issues of the FSFE, which was founded in 2001 as the
   European sister organization of the Free Software Foundation in the
   United States.

   Further information: http://www.fsfeurope.org

[1] http://fsfeurope.org/projects/swpat/swpat.en.html

Georg C. F. Greve                                 <greve at fsfeurope.org>
Free Software Foundation Europe                  (http://fsfeurope.org)
GNU Business Network                        (http://mailman.gnubiz.org)
Brave GNU World                            (http://brave-gnu-world.org)

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