Open-source software developers are second only to corporations in voicing opinions in a consultation process about the future of Europe's patent regime, the European Commission said Wednesday.
In a consultation proceeding conducted earlier this year by the Commission, businesses including IT vendors accounted for 40 percent of the 2,515 written submissions, while the open-source community accounted for 24 percent.
However, while companies replied individually, the open-source responses were mostly standard replies, and the bulk of these have been written by one person: Florian Mueller, the founder of the nosoftwarepatents.com campaign group that succeeded in sinking a previous proposed law on software patents.
"I published a reply on the Internet and it's been submitted by several companies and individuals," Mueller said in a recent telephone interview.
Mueller resigned from lobbying activities at the end of last year but he has returned in order to fight efforts for a single, community-wide patent.
At present, innovators have to apply to the European Patent Office in Munich for a patent. They then have to register their patents in each European Union country where they want to use their invention.
The system is four times more expensive than the system in place in the US and changing it has become a top priority in the EU.
At the beginning of this year the Commission, the EU's executive and regulatory branch, said it was making one final effort to reach agreement on the Community Patent, which has been a dream of European politicians for over 30 years.
It launched the consultation with industry, trade groups, academics and patent attorneys. The Commission's findings from the consultation have been made public ahead of next week's hearing on the subject in Brussels. Next week's hearing will conclude the process. The Commission will then have to decide whether to pursue the Community Patent or shelve the project.
The Commission claims that industry broadly supports the idea of a Community Patent. However, some of the most prominent industry groups, including the Business Software Alliance, urge the Commission not to pursue the Community Patent. They fear a replay of the lobbying fiasco that sunk last year's software patent directive, officially known as the directive on computer implemented inventions. That directive, if passed, would have brought the EU closer to a US-style patent regime. The US lets patents be applied to a much broader range of technology than Europe does at present.
"To start a debate about the Community Patent now would be like opening a Pandora's Box," said Francisco Mingorance, a European policy expert with the Business Software Alliance, an industry group that represents some of the largest technology companies in the world, including Microsoft Corp.
"Looking at the debacle over the proposed law on computer-implemented inventions, a lot of companies fear this could happen all over again but on an even broader scale in a debate about the Community Patent," Mingorance said.
Open-source lobbyist Mueller said, "The Community Patent is politically dead. It may remain as a long-term vision but in the short term big business doesn't want it, we don't want it, and more importantly large countries including Germany don't want it."