Software patents make a mockery of European ideals

The software patents directive shows Europe at its worst. Whose rules shall we play by now?
Written by Leader , Contributor

Whole countries opposed it, its proponents couldn't explain it, and its own parliament called for it to be completely reconsidered. Twice.Therefore, the European Council decided to approve it. Barring an exceptional parliamentary earthquake, the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive will be rubber-stamped by the European Parliament and will in time become law across the Union. It seems Bill Gates got more than a regal tap on the shoulder when he was visiting last week: if these are the punishments for heading a company convicted in Europe and America for anti-trade monopoly abuse, let us hope he is never rewarded.

This is a triumph of bureaucracy over democracy. It's said of newspapers that you only know how bad they are when you read what they say about something you know; this affair has highlighted the mandarin mechanisms of Europe at their baleful worst. The killer argument that won the day for software patents? "We are adopting the position for institutional reasons so as not to create a precedent which might have a consequence of creating future delays in other processes." Lay down your keyboards, ye knights of open source; you have lost your freedom in a noble cause.

Nobody who actually writes or cares about software supported this directive, but nobody in a position to stop it cared about software except as a cash cow, or cared about its producers except as ever-ready battery hens to be intensively farmed. The patents organisations want more patents, regardless of quality. The bureaucrats want more centralised control. The elected representatives either don't understand the issues or have been bought by big business.

For those of us who believe in freedom to innovate, this is a sad day. It is even sadder for those who stand by the ideals which gave birth to the modern Europe, and believe that our institutions act on our behalf against powerful self-interests.

But the battle's not over quite yet. Those who do fight for us need our active support, now more than ever. We must try, Europe-wide, to get the majority vote in Parliament that can overturn the directive. UK readers can contact their MEPs via writetothem.com. Make that effort now, before software patents become enmeshed in national law and then in untouchable international treaties.

If all that fails it may be time to ask ourselves what, as IT workers, a revolution would look like.

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