Interoperability fears over Euro patent law

Software developers have slammed the EU's planned software patent rules as a major threat to interoperability.

Software developers have slammed the EU's planned software patent rules as a major threat to interoperability.

Simon Phipps, Sun Microsystems' chief technology evangelist, said that the software patent directive, which the European Parliament is about to revise, should maintain existing exemptions that allow reverse engineering in the interests of interoperability.

According to Phipps, "interoperability is key to the freedom of consumers" and protecting it required looking at the effects of the legislation on interoperability.

Jean-Francois Abramatic of software developer Ilog agreed. Abramatic said he wanted the parliament to re-examine the legislation to ensure that patent protection would not undermine efforts to create effective industry standards.

"Interoperability of any kind of software is a feature which benefits the whole community at large, so any action from legislators to encourage interoperability is welcome," he said.

Drawing on his own experience as former chairman of the World Wide Web Consortium, Abramatic said that the W3C had drawn up strict rules on declaration of patent interests to ensure that efforts to create common standards were not jeopardised by participants "patent farming" - that is, only declaring their intellectual property rights once a standard had been developed.

The conference also heard from Koen Martens of the Sender Policy Framework (SPF), an organisation developing an e-mail identification standard to combat spam, phishing and other forms of internet abuse.

Martens explained that his group lost a year's work after some of the programme's major participants left because Microsoft held patent rights on some of the technologies used to identify senders. Members feared Microsoft would exploit its patent rights and legally challenge technologies derived from SPF's work.

The conference in Brussels is hosted by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, the Green/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament and the Open Society Institute, among others.

The industry association of leading IT and telecom companies, EICTA, urges the European Parliament to back the proposed patent legislation, warning that Europe would become a "plagiarists' paradise" without the measures.

Simon Taylor writes for IDG News Service

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