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From:Michael Widenius Date:May 14 1999 4:32pm
Subject:Software patents
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Sorry for posting this to the MySQL mailing list,  but this affects
directly the future of MySQL!

We here at TCX feel VERY strongly against software patents and we
would REALLY appreciate if you can forward this mail to anyone that
can help us affect the vote!

For example MySQL includes 10-50 unique algorithms;  To get a software 
patent for each of these would be very expensive.  It's also almost
impossible to check if the any of the above algorithms are already
covered by some patent.

You can find my own personal opinions about this topic at:



                       Software Patents in Europe

                         Your Business in Danger

                   (second posting with some updates)
          (sorry for sending again this message to some people)

The European Patent law is likely to change on June 24 and 25 1999 in
Paris, France, during the conference of the european governments who are
members of the Munchen convention. If you do not act now, Software
Patents are going to become legal in Europe and may play havoc with the
european software industry.

What does this mean to your business ?

Imagine that when you write software, you might be sued for each design
decision you take, especially when you implement algorithms published in
research papers or add features required by your users. That's what
happens in the US where big patent holders such as IBM, Hitachi, etc.
own tens of thousands patents on elementary software methods,
mathematical computation, user interface ideas, etc. and use them to sue
smaller companies like yours, grab money or require them to stop
publishing innovative software. That's what will happen in Europe if
your government agrees to change the Munchen convention which currently
make software patents illegal in 19 european countries.

Because any software includes thousands of patentable elementary
processes such as "use of the exclusive or function to change black in
white", a company like yours has 99%+ chance to infringe on someonelse's
patent without even being aware of it. Some patent owners may even
attack you with patents that you are not really infringing but the cost
of a lawsuit is high ; so does the risk to get bankrupt if you do not
accept their conditions when "they" are IBM or Bell Labs. There are many
examples like that in the US. It is called juridical terrorism. And a
new kind of company, which owns software patents but publishes no
software, is also emerging in the US to play a new game : sue without
risking to be sued.

Patents are generally harmful to small companies and independant
developpers because small and medium businesses do not have much time to
spend on patent searching. SMBs also find patent filing too expensive
(20 K Euros per year per patent for an efficient world wide coverage).

You have taken a high risk by creating a company in Europe and you have
succeeded. But have you filed patents in the US? Have you filed patents
at the European Patent Office just us so many US companies did by
playing arround with the european law ? What do you think would happen
to you if huge US competitors attacked you in Europe with their patents
and if the European law said "software patents are legal" ?

Do you think it is fair and democratic that people who live from
software patents, lawyers, IBM managers and employees from the european
and UK patent offices decide what is good for your business and what is
not, without even asking you ? That's what happened at the London
conference where all that software patents craze was started by the UK
government, mainly because UK does not enforce the European patent law
and does not want to. Moreover, nobody listened to the only british
independent software developer who was expressing concerns at the London
Conference, explaining that software patents are more harmful than
useful, that copyright is sufficient in the software business.

You may want to check the freepatents campaign web site in favour of
competition and innovation in the IT industry.

All the information to understand software patents is there. You should
read absolutely the article "An industry at risk" in the "Against"
section. Check also the links in the "Example" section and especially
the one that points to the text "Patent Searching". I strongly advise
you to test by yourself how difficult it is to search for a patent, even
with the best advice from the best experts in Bruxelles.

Can we compete with the US without patents in Europe ?

First, you must know that a patent has to be filed on a national basis.
This means it is already possible for you to file patents in the US. And
if you have not done it yet, you should do it right now if you wish to
export one day to the US. It would probably be very wise for you to join
other companies and create a mutual patent fund in order to get a better
protection level against patent lawsuits and make patent filing less
expensive. Now, what would happen if Europe legalized patents. Instead
of having to file patents only once in the US, you would have to file
twice : in Europe and in the US (and eventually in Japan). And US
companies could now use european patents to sue you in your Europe.
Therefore, legalizing software patents in Europe just means more costs
and more risks but has no effects on your ability to compete in the US
market. Keeping software patents illegal is actually an opportunity for
Europe because it allows small software companies to start a business
much more easily and reduces the juridical expenses for bigger

What can you do now ?

You must act urgently to defend your business. There are 3 possibles
scenarios :

  1. Ask your government to reject software patents - that is probably
     the best scenario from an economist point of view
  2. Ask your government to make a better patent law in Europe than in
     the US - this is the minimum to do otherwise patent offices will
     patent anything since they live from that
  3. Ask your government to propose a new law to protect software
     inventions and ideas - such law could be based on the "unfair
     competition" principle (patents can not last less than 20 years
     because of the TRIPS international convention and that is really
     too long for the iT business - only through a new law and new
     concepts, protection of software inventions could last less)

You may write directly to your minister of economy and industry, to the
european union (DG IV, DG XII, DG XV and DG XXIII), to your business
association and to newspapers in order to express you concerns with a
decision you may not want. You will find a list of people to write to at
this URL :

You may support this campaign or publish your opinion on by sending an email to jp@stripped

You may subscribe to our mailing list to receive news updates

You may also contact your friends in the software business, forward this
email and spread the word.

There are just 6 weeks left before it is too late, before the Munchen
conventions stops saying that "patents on software and business methods
are illegal in Europe", before 20 000 patents at the European Patent
Office, 75% of which were filed by huge US competitors, will be just
ready to attack and destroy your business.


Jean-Paul Smets.
+33-6 62 05 76 14
(I will be away in Japan for one week)

PS. URLs you must check
Software patentsMichael Widenius14 May