A senior Austrian MEP, who is a speaker on economic policy for the ruling political party in Austria and the vice-president of the largest political group in the European Parliament, spoke out against software patents to the Austrian Minister of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday.
MEP Othmar Karas said the EU Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions could pose a serious threat to SMEs.
"I share the concern of many software developers that the patentability of software could cause lasting damage to the interest of small and medium-sized IT companies," said Karas, in a letter to the minister, Vizekanzler Gorbach.
He said Austrian politicians and the EU Council should take advantage of the opportunity created by the Polish government's withdrawal of support for the directive, and rethink their position.
In an article in German on his Web site Karas said that software patents should be opposed for various reasons, including the fact that it will stifle innovation.
"It is neither understandable nor practical that a programmer who has a technical but no legal education should need to sift through European patent register databases in order to find out whether a method developed by him has already been protected by a third party," said Karas.
Karas' support is likely to have influence on both the Austrian and European parliament as he is a member and speaker on economic policy for the Austrian Conservative Party (OeVP), which is the larger of the two parties in the ruling coalition in Austrian government, and is the vice president and treasurer of the EPP-ED group, which is the largest political group in the European Parliament.
MEPs from other Austrian political parties have also expressed strong views against patents. Maria Berger, an MEP for the Austrian Socialist Party (SPOe) -- the opposition party in Austria, said in a statement last week that she welcomed the Polish decision and that the Austrian government should follow in its footsteps.
"Now it is also the Austrian government's turn to reject the draft directive," said Berger. "In this important matter, Europe needs a pause for thought."
Berger points out that the EU Council went against the wishes of the EU parliament when it passed the draft proposal in May and that if the Council does adopt the proposal then it is up to the EU Parliament to change it.
"Then the thing to do is to once again succeed in putting through those [amendments] that were made in the first reading and subsequently ignored by the Council," said Berger.
This view was also shared by Eva Lichtenberger, an MEP for the other opposition party, the Austrian Green party.
"We are glad that Poland's refusal to rubber stamp the directive will open the door to renegotiations among the Member States and make it possible to incorporate the major improvements to the directive that were proposed by the Parliament but have thus far been ignored," said Lichtenberger in a statement. "We believe that the Council should now only accept a clear and restrictive definition of patentable inventions."
Yesterday, the anti-patent campaign received another boost when Linus Torvalds and other open-source luminaries spoke out against software patents. Florian Mueller, who runs the anti-patent Web site where the group published their statement, said the site received approximately 350,000 page views yesterday, showing considerable interest in the anti-patent campaign.