German parties unite against software patents

The four main political parties in Germany are supporting the fight against European software patents
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

The German Parliament will on Thursday discuss a proposal put forward by the main opposition party that demands changes to the EU Council's proposal on software patents.

The Conservative party (CDU/CSU), which is the main opposition party to the Socialist SPD government, on Tuesday introduced a motion which seeks to tone-down proposed pro-patent EU legislation.

Each of the four main political parties in Germany has expressed its support in making changes to the EU Councils pro-patent stance. The governing Socialist party, led by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, is due to publish a similar proposal next week.

The German political parties objections follow a vote in May by the EU council in favour of changes to the EU Software Patents Directive that would allow the widespread patenting of software in Europe. The council was due to adopt an official position on this issue on 24 September, but this has now been delayed till the end of November.

Florian Mueller, a German software developer and campaigner against software patents, told ZDNet UK that the cross-party consensus will send a strong message to the EU Council -- particularly as Germany holds more seats in the European Parliament than any other country.

"This is great news and will probably mark a turning point for the EU Council," said Mueller. "Germany had a key role in the bogus compromise in May and now the German parliament has shown a broad consensus against software patents."

The Liberal Democrats (FDP) were the first to stand out against the EU Council's proposal in May this year, but as they only hold 8 percent of seats in German parliament their decision held little political weight.

In addition, the remaining two parties -- the Social Democrat (SPD) and Green parties --- are due to publish a document next week that includes a similar proposal to that made by the Conservative party. A spokesman from the Social Democrat party confirmed this to ZDNet UK.

The changes proposed by the German parties are that computer programs on their own should not be patented, and that a technical invention must involve a physical change -- not merely a software, business process, algorithms or data processing activity.

Mueller said that it is essential that the European software community continues to lobby their governments to prevent any changes to the law on software patents. He highlighted that the organisations which are trying to relax the law on software patents stand  to gain financially from software patents and are putting a lot of money into backing their cause.

"Those who want software patents are very powerful organisations and will spend millions on lobbying for the promotion of patents," said Mueller.

Mueller on Wednesday launched a Web site campaigning against software patents. He said that the purpose of this Web site is to explain the issues around software patents in simple language.

"There is a pressing need to have a Web site in Europe that can explain software patents in every ay language," said Mueller. "The Web site doesn't even require knowledge of what a patent is."

He said that his campaign is business-friendly as it is only against software patents, not other methods of intellectual property protection, such as copyright. He says his campaign has the support of three corporations: Red Hat, a Linux distributor; MySQL, the company which provides services for the open-source database; and 1&1, an Internet hosting company.

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