With the European Union's Council preparing to take up an important software-patent issue later this week, a group of open-source software pioneers, led by Linux developer Linus Torvalds, has issued an appeal to the EU Council to block the legalization of software patents because they are "deceptive, dangerous, and democratically illegitimate."
Torvalds was joined by Michael Widenius, developer of MySQL database, and Rasmus Lerdorf, the developer of the PHP programming language. The statement was published on the NoSoftwarePatents.com Web site Tuesday.
The software intellectual property issue has intrigued the European computer universe for several weeks and was galvanized by a comment by Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer last week. Speaking in Singapore to Asian government leaders, Ballmer warned that Linux violated more than 200 patents.
"People in the EU were shocked by Ballmer's comments," said Florian Mueller, campaign manager of NoSoftware Patents.com in an interview Tuesday. "We believe Ballmer's statements will heavily influence the Europeans. He did us a great favor."
According to a Reuters news service report, Ballmer told his audience in Singapore that governments thinking of using Linux risked being sued. He did not say that Microsoft might sue, however.
The software-IP issue before the 25-country EU is complex, with different countries weighing in on different sides of the issue. Essentially, the EU could continue its current patent policy, which most observers consider to be vague, or it could legalize patents. According to Mueller, a legalization of software patents could lead to increased enforcement.
The draft directive on software patents that is before the EU Council this week has been given a status of "non-support" by Poland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Austria, said Mueller, noting that opposition to the proposed directive seems to be growing. Microsoft has not directly weighed in on the current debate on software IP that is before the EU Council. Generally, the open-source industry favors copyright protection over patent protection.
"Software patents are dangerous to the economy at large, and particularly to the European economy," the open-source pioneers said in their statement. "Copyright serves software authors, while patents potentially deprive them of their own independent creations."