[FSFE PR][EN] FSFE: "Microsoft locks in customers and pushes software patents to prevent competition."

Joachim Jakobs press at fsfeurope.org
Fri Apr 21 12:37:08 CEST 2006

FSFE: "Microsoft locks in customers and pushes software patents to prevent 

"Microsoft's software locks in users and now the company is lobbying to get 
this lock-in effect legalised by software patents" is the basic message of a 
feature article Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has published on its 
website [1] today. 

The article - written by FSFE's vice president Jonas Öberg and FSFE's lawyer 
Carlo Piana explains: "Any Business - regardless whether it is a small 
startup, a global car manufacturer or a public authority - regularly runs a 
net consisting of GNU/Linux-, Unix- and Apple-based machines on the one hand 
and Windows on the other. Communication works fine within these two worlds. 
But not in between. There, co-operation lacks - n ot due to a law of nature 
but Microsoft does not want Windows to be understood by other operating 

The European Commission at present is trying to force the software giant to 
publish interoperability information that allows seamless communication 
between these two worlds. FSFE supports the Commission as third party since 
the original investigation in 2001. Monday, April 24th a five-day trial - the 
longest in European history - starts in Luxembourg.

The outcome of this suit will be seminal for the future information society: 
"Developers have been struggling to use reverse-engineering to replicate the 
behaviour of a Windows server, but this is a very cumbersome method and it 
has its limits: Without proper documentation of the protocols and 
specifications, any competitor will always lag behind the company that can 
introduce arbitrary changes of the interface language, as Microsoft has been 
doing," FSFE president Georg Greve explains. "Software patents could add a 
whole new dimension to this problem: Not only would any competitor find 
themselves in an extremely disadvantaged position in trying to compete with 
the monopoly. If patents are granted on these interfaces, implementing 
interoperability constitutes potential software patent infringement. 
Competition itself could de-facto become illegal."

So while Microsoft is still fighting to not publish specifications and 
protocols to enable equal grounds for competition, at the same time it 
lobbies hard to establish a legal basis for the software patents it has filed 
throughout the past years. Paradoxically, the same European Commission that 
fights so hard to even the grounds for competition in European Court supports 
this quest that threatens to make competition itself de-facto illegal.

The feature artice points it out: "Even if the company is forced to publish 
its secret software protocols or leave key features out of Windows, a 
European software patent law might eventually let it stamp out competition 
from Free Software. Though two previous attempts at enacting a European 
software patent were defeated, Charlie McCreevy, Europe's commissioner for 
Internal Markets and Services could well resurrect the project this year."

Translations of this feature article can be found in Spanish, French, Italian 
and German early next week. 

About the Free Software Foundation Europe

    The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSF Europe) is a charitable
    non-governmental organisation 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
    of these issues, securing Free Software politically and legally, and
    giving people freedom by supporting development of Free Software are
    central issues of the FSF Europe, which was founded in 2001 as the
    European sister organisation of the Free Software Foundation in the
    United States.


[1] http://www.fsfeurope.org/projects/ms-vs-eu/article-20060421.en.html

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