Australian Linux bodies blast US free-trade deal

Australian Linux bodies blast US free-trade deal

Summary: Australia's national open source industry body, OSIA (Open Source Industry Australia), and Linux Australia have spoken out about their concerns over the proposed Australian-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), warning that the legal framework of the intellectual property clauses will put the entire Australian software development industry at risk.

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Australia's national open source industry body, OSIA (Open Source Industry Australia), and Linux Australia have spoken out about their concerns over the proposed Australian-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), warning that the legal framework of the intellectual property clauses will put the entire Australian software development industry at risk.

The companies have released a joint statement saying the introduction of a US style patenting system for software is "not in Australia's interest" and "will increasingly hamper Australia's ability to efficiently compete in global markets".

Open source spokesman, Brendan Scott, said the clause will have wider reaching effects than just the open source community.

"The FTA may introduce obstacles and legal traps which will have serious and harmful effects on almost all Australian software developers. It's a whole-of-industry issue for Australia," he said.

The joint statement lists numerous problems with the AUSFTA draft, foremost criticising the wording of the document that they say suggest a "harmonisation of Australia's software patents law with the US laws" when the US system itself " has been broadly condemned as flawed by many industry observers".

The statement also warns that software developers may run the risk of unknowingly breaching one of the many thousands of US patents with "non-trivial" pieces of software, leaving them facing hefty fines.

"Ignorance of such patents is no excuse. In future, Australian developers may not be able to make any software without the fear of paying ransom," the companies stated in the release.

It also says that many Australian developers may have already built products that infringe on US patent laws, leaving an opening for patent holders to "bring such legal hooks into Australia" and damage the industry.

"Most Australian software developers do not have the resources to check their software code-bases against the tens of thousands of software patents which may flood the market if Australia degrades its stringent software patent laws," they said.

OSIA and Linux add that the proposed AUSFTA also allows for "punitive damages", which may lead to Australian software developers being sued for exuberant compensation as a warning to others.

The statement also lists numerous financial inequalities the agreement would create between large and small Australian software developers, as it says "obtaining software patents is expensive".

"The introduction of US-style software patenting will before be a one-sided affair, and definitely not in the local industry's favour," it states.

Other financial concerns relate to Australian developers inability to "go toe-to-toe with large firms on IP legal issues", and the hoarding of patents by large ICT firms to hold competitive sway.

"By degrading Australia's patent system to match the US approach we will handicapping our local developers needlessly."

Scott warns that there is also "serious issues" with the introduction of legislation based on the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which he said was mandated by the AUSFTA.

"Anything which stops academic research into security and which also stops any endeavour towards software interoperability engineering is a serious problem for R & D in this country," he said.

Pia Smith, president of Linux Australia, said the proposed agreement would put "anti-competitive tools into the hands of large players, without any real accountability".

"It grants a monopoly over technology, innovation, competition, and even the research sector. The DMCA in the US has been used to threaten competitors, stifle innovation, halt research, jail developers, and systematically remove the rights of consumers," she said. "

Allowing the same to happen here, especially under an FTA where we lose the ability to fix the issues locally is naive, and dangerous to Australia."

OSIA and Linux state both the companies support the proposals made by UNSW's Baker & McKenzie Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, as a "starting point" to fixing the agreement.

These include tightening the criteria for software and 'business process' patent applications; establishing a public interest litigation fund; changing the ipaustralia.gov.au page to make lodged patents easier to track; limiting the implementation of DMCA-style laws; and introducing US 'Fair Use' amendments to Copyright Act.

"We also call upon all firms which purport to represent the interests of the Australian ICT industry and local developers, such as the AIIA, Software Engineering Australia, the ACS, the Internet Industry Association and Software Queensland, to make public statements about this topic," said Scott.

"Now is the time to make a stand to keep local software development unencumbered and efficient, so we have a chance to compete in the global marketplace."

Topics: Open Source, Government AU, Linux, Software, Software Development

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9 comments
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  • Yawn.
    anonymous
  • Originally posted by Anonymous....

    "Yawn"

    No one could blame you for yawning at all, your riveting insight made me tired too.
    anonymous
  • All talk.

    We don't need the US.

    GO WITH SOUTH KOREA! GO GO GO!
    anonymous
  • More yawning.
    anonymous
  • get rid of the patent system all together. Every one is mend to work together the better this world. patents that are shelved to be released on the market, unless developement has the patent near marketability. R & D cost can be refunded via the tax system.
    ozzie_robert
  • The FTA is just a sell out of Australia to the US in preparation to us becoming yet another US state.
    We just havent being mandated as a US state yet but wait it'll happen with the "Free Threat Arrangement".
    Negotiation in the FTA was one side and very hasty.
    Why do we need to accept any US based legislation being foised on us ?
    Did we try to force any of our legislation on them or did we receive any extra concession being part of the "coaliation of the wailing" - not bloody likely mate.
    Do we really no what is in the FTA - dont think so !
    anonymous
  • Why not develop a software equivalent to the Australian Plant Breeder's Rights but with the exclusion clause for GPL complient software. This allow for both software 'patents' yet allow for a fair go for developers who develop for the public commons not to suffocated. IP with Australian characteristics.

    Regards
    Alex Patience
    anonymous
  • It seems odd that the article would claim US patents stiffle innovation, yet where is Microsoft Ausralia? Cisco Australia? Motorola Australia? Granted Mitsubishi makes cars here, but those are primarily Japanese.

    Connecting to a $10 trillion US economy would be good for Australia and probably less good for America. Granted, the US patent system is broken, but so is many others. Or, perhaps we can use an older Indian style system where there are absolutely no rewards for investment if your competitor can steal.

    Don't stick your head in the sand people. I'll guarantee you Americans would rather buy Australian than buy Chinese products.
    anonymous
  • A free trade agreement with the US is worth while. All that needs to happen is the new incoming Australian government needs to renegotiate it on a fairer basis with the new incoming US government. The current incumbents mishandling of the negotiations with their lopsided focus on vested interests rather than the general public of both countries interests, means that the current FTA is less than it should be. I am certain that a fresh approach will create a better agreement for the citizens of both countries.
    anonymous