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Red Hat, MySQL and others create new anti-patent lobby

Seeking to persuade European Parliament to ditch US-style patent plans.

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A new lobbying group has been formed to fight against the software patent directive due to re-appear in the European Parliament soon.

The NoSoftwarePatents (NSP) campaign is supported by US Linux manufacturer Red Hat and Swedish open-source database company MySQL, as well as German software and Internet services provider 1&1 Internet.

According to NSP's campaign manager, Florian Muller of SWM Software-Marketing: "NSP marks the first time in Europe that a group of companies has got together to fight against the idea of software patents in general. It is very much a political problem that needs to be solved at a political level."

The campaign targets specifically the "Patentability of computer-implemented inventions" directive, known as the software patents directive, that has been making its way through the European Union legislative process.

The EU is considering an overarching patent standard for computer-implemented inventions, which includes but is not confined to software, bringing into line the myriad interpretations being given by different national courts throughout Europe. The issue has proved highly contentious, with supporters of open source and free software asserting that copyright laws are enough to protect business innovations and calling for all patents to be outlawed, while large businesses have pushed for a US-style approach allowing for "business methods" to be patented.

NSP will work in tandem with the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), a Europe-wide non-profit association that has fought against laws permitting European software patents. "Our campaign is meant to be complementary to FFII's efforts," Mueller said. "We explain the issue of software patents in a way that is easily understandable even to those who have just begun to learn about the subject, while FFII's website provides a lot of depth and generally presumes that you already know a lot about the subject if you go there."

Those involved with the NSP and FFII are concerned that in November, the Council of Ministers may, as the FFII says, "nod through" the proposed EU software patents directive, allowing software patents to be enforced throughout Europe on a similar basis to the US. The directive is set to return to Parliament for second reading after it passes before the Council of Ministers.

Some Members of Parliament (MEPs) and the Council on the directive have clashed over the issue. The sides flared again in May after MEPs accused the Council of discarding European Parliament amendments from September 2003 that would have protected software from being patented.

According to Mueller, the NSP campaign will attempt to influence the governments of 12 European countries on the issue of software patents in the hopes that they will apply political pressure to the EU.


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