International organisation The EuroLinux Alliance announces Friday an online petition against the European Parliament's proposed introduction of software patents.
Opponents say introducing such patents will damage innovation and competition in Europe and claim it would particularly restrict small, independent companies and programmers.
The European Parliament expects in the next few months to issue a directive as to whether Europe should follow America's lead and introduce software patenting. This will be based on the findings of an unpublished report from the Intellectual Property Institute in Britain which will then be debated before being approved by the European Council of Ministers.
In the US companies have successfully patented very common programming techniques as well as e-commerce software and processes. Anyone who wishes to use these is obliged to gain permission and possibly pay a fee.
The EuroLinux petition against software patents has received the blessing of Europe's two main Linux distributors, SuSE and Mandrake, and is also backed by software companies in 12 European countries. These are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.
"Software patents are a major concern," comments President of MandrakeSoft, Jacques Le Marois. "Not only for the Linux & Open Source Software industry, but for the whole information technology industry."
"Software publishers and innovative Internet businesses in the US constantly face the risk of a patent war, just because obvious techniques such as publishing a database on the Web were granted a patent."
However, divisional director at the British Patent Office Peter Hayward says that the arguement of The EuroLinux Alliance is not the only view of this issue. "At the end of the day I have to say that the economic argument is not proven one way or another," he says. "There are other lobbies that are pro-patenting for innovation."
Frank Hoen, president of NetPresenter -- a Dutch Internet firm -- believes that this is a naive attitude given the situation in America. He warns that patents would hit the profitability of the European software industry hard. "Financial analysts should be aware that the software patent system, as it has evolved in the US, does generate many costly legal disputes but does not succeed in protecting real software inventors or investors," says Hoen. "It is a system which allows companies with a strong legal team, and often no merit, to rip-off or block innovative companies."
The online petition form, which can be found at the Eurolinux homepage, will be presented to the European Parliament within three months.