Open Source Industry Australia (OSIA) has expressed its disappointment over the coalition's refusal to accept that patent law or the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States could be improved.
On 27 August, OSIA sent a survey to a number of representatives of parties in the Australian Parliament to "establish the understanding of each of the parties with issues relating to open source and their overall support for open source".
OSIA received responses from the Greens, the Australian Democrats, the Australian Labor Party and the coalition.
Part of the survey asked the parties to state whether they support "preventing spurious patents from hampering software innovation". The Greens, Democrats and Labor answered yes, while the coalition said no and that they think "spurious patents do not exist and patent law will stay the same under the FTA, so there is no problem."
OSIA quoted the coalition as saying "[we believe] we have a patent regime that works well and has sufficient checks and balances to ensure that a patent application complies with the Patents Act and that it is new, inventive and useful.
"This is designed to stimulate innovation, whilst providing appropriate protection to owners of legitimate intellectual property.
"The coalition would also like to correct the record on the AUSFTA. Australia will not be making any changes to our laws concerning what can be patented in Australia as a result of the AUSFTA. Nor will there be any change to Australian practice regarding the grant of patents in relation to business methods or software. Business methods and computer software inventions are already patentable in Australia provided they meet the patentability requirements set out in the Australian Patents Act. This has not changed under the AUSFTA."
OSIA said in a statement it was disappointed with this position.
"It's like someone's calling their baby ugly. Despite a strong start Australia missed the boat on the IT revolution over the last 20 years. Without recognition of the damage being done to open property by bad patent implementation, Australia could squander its open source lead over the next 20," OSIA said.
OSIA also said they would like the Labor party to be "less equivocal in their opposition to spurious software patents" and for the Coalition to stop denying reality and "recognise the grave danger facing the Australian software industry".
The Democrats pointed out that they introduced a Bill into federal parliament supporting the use of open source and open standards in 2003 and that the Bill addresses many of the questions raised in the survey.
"We were very pleased to see that the Democrats have already introduced a Bill mandating government use of open data formats into Federal Parliament, and that Labor will support 'active consideration' of open source," said OSIA director Brendan Scott.
However, overall, OSIA said it was pleased with the key findings of the survey which showed that each party believes that open source has an "important role to play in the Australian economy".
There is also a general acceptance that mandating open data formats where practical for government data is crucial. The Labor party, the Democrats and the Greens are actively supportive of open source procurement, while the Coalition is silent on the issue.
"The survey report can be taken as a strong endorsement of open source by all major parties," Scott said.
OSIA found that the Democrats and the Greens were more straightforward and less qualified in their responses while in some areas, the Coalition and Labor seemed to be "hedging their bets".
OSIA said that that the coalition "seems to have a mantra they kept repeating about business doing their own evaluations".
OSIA praised the parties for their recognition of the need for the storage of government data in open formats, and for the interchange of data with government in open formats.
"We were pleased to see that the two parties which sent attachments --Coalition and Democrats-- sent them in open formats -- rtf and pdf respectively. The single most important aspect is the storage of data in open formats," said Scott.
"It is a necessary precondition to effective competition -- whether it's for open or closed source programs -- if government data isn't open, it is impossible to effectively compete. You can hardly have a competitive software market when every taxpayer needs brand X to lodge their tax return or check their entitlements. The government needs to mandate the storage of its data in open formats as a matter of urgency. They all said they support it, why isn't there legislation in place?," OSIA said.
OSIA welcomed Labor's proposal to link procurement to industry development. "We see open source as the best means by which more Australian ICT firms can develop and sell solutions, products and services into the local and international markets".
When asked whether the parties support the presentation of government data on the Internet in a form compliant with the standards set out by the World Wide Web Consortium, the Democrats said they "totally support compliance and oppose attempts to sidestep W3C compliance and attempts to gain 'ownership' of the net by setting non compliant standards".
The Labor party said there is "plenty of room for improvement in the presentation of government Web sites" while the Coalition said it has already "required that from 1 December 2000, all Web sites were to follow the W3C guidelines to a sufficient extent that they pass recognised tests of accessibility".