Stallman fights European software patents

Control over software intellectual property causes a storm in Germany

Free software guru Richard Stallman will unveil the Patent Horrors Gallery in Germany Tuesday to highlight what many see as the absurdity and dangers of allowing software patenting in Europe.

The European Patent Office is expected to decide by the end of this week whether to allow software patents.

Software patenting would allow patentees to legally protect and control the most basic and general processes used in software programming. In the US software patents are allowed but are rarely as all encompassing. In Europe patents would include basic memory processes and general operating system tasks as well as more all-purpose practise. Patents that have already been granted or are filed in Europe include one-click purchasing, an Internet auction system, a web database publication and Internet cacheing for WAP.

Opponents argue that this is restrictive and would hamper the development of new software, particularly disadvantaging independent programmers, such as those who work on open source projects, including the Linux operating system.

Richard Stallman, who founded the GNU project promoting the open development of software, and also created the League for Programming Freedom, will headline the convention held near the European Patent headquarters in Munich.

The Association for the Promotion of a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) has put together the database of software patents as well as the European Software Patent Horror Gallery which will show some of the most extreme examples.

Arnim Rupp, FFII's patent data specialist, says that the database will highlight the dangers of software patenting to any software company. "By browsing through the EPO's patents you will quickly find out that this has nothing to do with protecting software let alone protecting innovative solutions," he says in a statement. "What this is really about is occupying complete problems."

The EuroLinux Alliance has also campaigned against the introduction of patents and submitted a petition of over 50,000 signatures opposing the change in October.

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