Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Software patents and the EU

Much has been said about software patenting in the EU. The bigwigs in Brussels recently voted to adopt US-style legislation, that would allow software and algorithms to be patented. This is controversial because the USPTO have granted patents for things like the GIF image format, FAT32 file system and MP3 audio format which have left open source programmers in a difficult position when the patent owners have asked for licensing fees. It also lead to Eolas’ legal action against Microsoft last year over browser plugins, which also affects almost all other web browsers.
Now, part of that may well be down to the USPTO being careless in its investigation of prior art and simply handing out patents willy-nilly. But for those developing free software with no direct way of compensation, it’s impossible to pay fees without incurring a loss.
With the European elections coming here on Thursday some people in the open source movement have been trying to get people behind political parties who are against software patents, to prevent it from making it through the second reading in the European Parliament. In the UK, this means almost everyone except Labour, although it’s likely that a few individual Labour MEPs will be opposed to them. UKIP, the UK Independence Party, are naturally against them as they will happily jump on any bandwagon related to Europe doing something unpopular, and the Green Party have very clear policies on the issue and a voting record to match. Gervase Markham, one of the Mozilla devs, recommended those two yesterday based on an open letter by Alan Cox, but thankfully the field is much more wide open than that as I’d almost never vote UKIP and have my doubts about the Greens.
Thankfully, the other two key parties, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, are also opposed to software patents. The Tories are normally quite snug with big business but in this case they have their doubts. The LibDems are very much against the bill as it stands.
The aforementioned Register article has more, including quotes from various named politicians. If you haven’t yet made up your mind about who to vote for it may well be worth a read, although if you live in the north of England you’d better be quick as your postal vote needs to be posted tomorrow if it’s likely to make it in time.


  1. Neil, I think you are being too generous to the Tories. Their words in the Register article are weaselly – they attack the excellent amendments that the Parliament made to stop software patents – and several letters I have written to Tory candidates lead me to believe that they are happy with the directive as it stands.
    I would usually consider voting Tory, but not this time.

  2. You are also over-generous to the LibDems. The party has a policy against swpat but its MEPs don’t get it. They voted for swpat alst September and they still haven’t a clue
    A disillusioned LibDem