Irish developers protest against patents

Has Ireland's close relationship with IT giants such as Microsoft influenced its approach to software patents?
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

Three open source developer groups based in Ireland have written to Irish MEPs to urge them to oppose the software patent directive.

The Irish Linux Users' Group, the Irish Free Software Organisation and Irish KDE developers on Tuesday sent a briefing document to all Irish MEPs to explain why software must not be patentable.

Irish politicians have had an instrumental role in pushing through the directive. The Irish government had presidency of the EU during the first half of 2004 when the draft directive was voted on by the EU Council. Irish politician Charlie McCreevy is the EU's Commissioner for Internal Markets, which is the European Commission body that is responsible for the directive.

The European Commission recently rejected the European Parliament's request to rewrite the software patent directive, a decision that was met with fury by anti-patent campaigners.

KDE Ireland criticised the European Commission on its Web site for pushing through the directive despite the fact that the voting weights of the EU members have changed since the initial vote, which means that the EU Council members that voted for the directive no longer constituted a majority vote.

In the document sent to the MEPs the open source groups claim that the "vast bulk" of the companies holding speculative software and business-method patents at the European Patent Office are US and Japanese companies.

"The European Commission — where Charlie McCreevy, who was appointed as opposed to elected, sits — is using procedural dodges to get around the fact that this directive no longer has a qualified majority, and has pushed it through against the twice-expressed will of Parliament (where our elected MEPs reside)," KDE developers said in a statement. "It's a disaster for the European software industry; we're effectively handing the whole thing on a plate to a handful of US companies."

Anti-patent campaigner Florian Mueller said in an earlier interview that Ireland is dependent on the taxes of pro-patent multinationals such as Microsoft and therefore has a vested interest in the outcome of the patent directive.

"Statistics show that about 50 percent of all corporation taxes paid in Ireland are paid by the Irish subsidiaries of multinationals that use Ireland as their gateway to the EU," said Mueller. "The Irish economy is hugely dependent upon the likes of Microsoft."

Just last week Microsoft announced a new R&D centre that will create 100 jobs in Ireland, in addition to the 1,200 people it already employs in country.

But others disagree that there is a conflict of interest. Laurence Vandewalle, a political adviser for the Green Party, which is against the patent directive, disagreed with Mueller.

"In short, we do think that Ireland is a country which has a particular interest in this issue (but it is not the only one)," said Vandewalle. "But it has never been proven so far that there would be a personal conflict of interest of Mr McCreevy regarding the directive," said Vandewalle.

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