Linus Torvalds speaks out against EU patent law

Linus Torvalds speaks out against EU patent law

Summary: The creator of Linux has urged the EU Council not to adopt a draft directive on software patents as he considers it 'deceptive, dangerous and democratically illegitimate'

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TOPICS: Government UK
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Linux creator Linus Torvalds has made an appeal to the EU Council to oppose the adoption of the Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions, known as the software patent directive.

In a statement published on an anti-patent Web site, Linus Torvalds, MySQL co-founder Michael Widenius and PHP creator Rasmus Lerdorf, said that software patents must not be legalised.

"In the interest of Europe, such a deceptive, dangerous and democratically illegitimate proposal must not become the Common Position of the member states," said the three open-source luminaries. "For the sake of innovation and a competitive software market, we sincerely hope that the European Union will seize this opportunity to exclude software from patentability."

Linus Torvalds, Michael Widenius and Rasmus Lerdorf were not able to confirm the statement in time for this article, but MySQL co-founder David Axmark said all three had confirmed the statement by email to him.

In the statement, Torvalds, Widenius and Lerdorf explain the risks of the software patent directive, including concerns that relaxing the law on software patents could damage the European economy.

"Software patents are dangerous to the economy at large, and particularly to the European economy," said the open-source proponents. "Copyright serves software authors while patents potentially deprive them of their own independent creations. Copyright is fair because it is equally available to all. A software patent regime would establish the law of the strong, and ultimately create more injustice than justice."

People have been misled about the risks of software patents, according to the statement. "The draft directive in question is deceptive because it leads laymen, and even those legal professionals who are not familiar with the intricacies of patent law, to falsely believe that it would exclude software from patentability," it said.

The group says that if the EU Council adopts the draft proposal from May it would be undemocratic. This is due to a change in the voting weights of EU members which means that the council members which supported the initial proposal no longer have a majority vote.

Florian Mueller, the founder of the anti-patent Web site, said this statement comes at a vital time, as the EU Council is due to convene later this week and will soon try to formally adopt the proposed change to the directive.

The anti-patent campaign received another boost last week when the Polish government withdrew its support for the patent directive.

Topic: Government UK

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9 comments
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  • Who cares what Linus Torvalds thinks? Is he a lawyer? No! Does he understand European politics? No! Is he a successful businessman? No!

    Did he kick off a really useful concept in computer programming? Yes.

    Taking legal advice from Linus Torvalds would be like getting your suits made by David Beckham!
    anonymous
  • > Who cares what Linus Torvalds thinks? Is he a lawyer? No! Does he understand European politics? No! Is he a successful businessman? No!

    Aside from the doubtful nature of Torvalds' legal advice, these statements are so factually incorrect as to be ridiculous. This is not an issue of policy, but of laws that will dictate how computer programs can written.

    And the people it directly applies to are programmers like them.

    > Did he kick off a really useful concept in computer programming? Yes.

    No, he wrote a popular operating system - if this concept you're referring to goes by the label "open source", look a bit further back into the 1960s, when academic sharing of code under liberal licences was common, or more recently, to projects like GNU - this was already well established by the time Torvalds took up their free tools to tinker on his software.
    anonymous
  • Torvalds is right.

    I hope Europe doesn't make the same mistake that the U.S. has made. Software patents in th U.S. have created a situation in which programmers cannot risk writing code unless they are in the employ and under the protection of large corporations.

    Software patents stifle innovation and protect monopolies. To avoid being out-innovated and risk technological irrelevance, U.S. comanies are hoping the Europeans along with the rest of the world adopt the same form of restrictive software patents. If the EC establishes software patents they will be be putting themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with American companies. The Asians will never fall into the trap that is software patents and as a result will become the IT innovation leaders of the World.

    I hope the Europeans are smarter than this.
    anonymous
  • Linus is right.

    Patents must be not for software, because every day tons of people develop new ideas on software easily, but they do not have the means to patent it neither to protected him against the big corporations.

    You falacies Ad Hominem attacking linus, do not demostrate taht their affirmations are false or untrue. Also there are a lot of lawyers and successful businessmen against this non-sense patents. Also there are large businesses based on Open Source Software that are against this like Red Hat, MySQL, and others.

    Laws must protect the individuals against the abusse of the strongers, to compete in equal conditions.

    Best Regards,


    Carlos Vermejo Ruiz
    anonymous
  • Software problems have a lot of problems:

    Software patents cover really basic principles that any number of developers can and will independently invent. They're embarassing really. A program will involve hundreds and thousands of ideas, so will it need that many patents to cover it, or will it potentially infringe that many patents. Some ideas I see patented are so basic, its like a hardware person patenting the concept of using a nut and bolt to hold something together.

    Software Patents cover ideas so abstract that they are used to cover whole problem domains. In the physical world there exist many patents on specific implementations of corkscrew, but it is not possible to patent the concept of opening wine. With software patents, it is. Copyright in the software world does the same job as patents in the hardware world.

    In the past there has been no protection for file and communication standards. This has allowed competition and we have all benefited from that. Samba competes with Windows Server, Open Office with Word.

    Software Patents give legal enforcement to vendor lockin, and even worse, they allow vendors to sprout to the world about how Open their standards are, while knowing that all the benefits of competition and freedom to choose that come from open standards are lost because it becomes illegal for anyone else to implement the standard without permission.

    I suppose it would be like Ford patenting a specific screw thread in order to prevent independent oil filter manufacturers selling oil filters for their cars.
    anonymous
  • Copyrights are adequate to protect the software you wrote from being used without your consent and without an agreed fee. If you have a business and you 'pirate' your copy of WindowsXP and the 'Business Software Consortium' find out, they will prosecute you and win. If you 'create' a program which uses Dynamically Linked Libraries from other programs and you do not have permission to use these libraries, you can be prosecuted and you will lose. In fact, 'copyright' will not be the only issue in cases such as these. The question now is: Of what value are software patents to the community and to an individual such as yourself? I can think of none; historically ideas are not patentable but their physical embodiments are. Software patents allow people to patent ideas. What's wrong with that? Well, can you imagine what would happen if arithmetic were patented? I'm sorry, you can't use the function 'X' for the next 17 years because I wrote about it.

    Now, what other value can software patents have? Will you, Joe Schmoe, become a millionaire because you patented some bit of code which everyone will want to use? Dream on! The greatest benefit of the software industry is not in the sale of the software itself but in the services which grow around it. Why is IBM so interested in Linux? Why do they spend milliions each year promoting and developing it? So they can sell it? No! The money is in the services and that's what they concentrate on.

    As mentioned by others, many people come up with the same idea and implement it in software - who should take credit for the software, the creators or the first person to the patent office? A lot of code must also be similar due to the mere fact that there are only so many efficient means of accomplishing a task and computer programmers have historically sought the 'best way'. Patents will mean that you must negotiate before writing code. Furthermore you must waste vast amounts of time and money researching every line of code you write because it may be patented. What a joke! Patents can only hinder software development and the large services sector built arouns software. This is not good for producers of software, it is very bad for the services industry because they too must produce software to improve interoperability and so on, and it is not good for the customer who has a problem that they need to solve quickly and with as little cost as possible.
    anonymous
  • I think comparing david beckham making you a suit with linus torvalds talking about software patent law is unfair.

    When you want a suit, definitely you will go to your tailor or a shop. That's natural. When policy makers want to do a study of a proposed law on specific industries, they usually consider industry leaders, labor leaders, small business owners' opinions.

    How is this different from software patent laws? Linus is just making sure that open source movement is being heard. As should all of us.
    anonymous
  • A brave Anonymous from Bath (wherever that may locate) said :

    > Who cares what Linus Torvalds thinks? Is > he a lawyer? No !

    And forgot that lawyers never make the laws. They interpret it.

    > Does he understand European politics? No!

    Yes he does, for that issue is rampant since several years, and he add studied it, and already made justified comments on it.

    > Is he a successful businessman? No!

    Yes he is, having won millions from the RedHat rise at the bubble peak and cashed-in in times.

    > Did he kick off a really useful concept
    > in computer programming? Yes.

    > Taking legal advice from Linus Torvalds
    > would be like getting your suits made by
    > David Beckham!

    I see it more like asking Beckham advises on projected modifications to the game rules.
    Why should my lawyer know better ?
    anonymous
  • I understand that Microsoft applied for a patent for the "double click" feature found in one of its hand held, remote, devices. Do you suppose that means that any device manufactured from now on that utlizes the double click feature found in almost all software will legally require permission from MS?
    We are in deep do-do if that is so. Perhaps I cannot even say do-do. Maybe only one "do".
    anonymous