SMEs at a Disadvantage
Most industry observers agree that a U.S.-style system of software patents would leave European open-source developers and smaller companies worse off. Patents give the owner a monopoly on an invention, meaning if someone else independently arrives at a similar solution, they would still infringe the patent. "There is no need for any copying, as there is for there to be copyright infringement," said Grek. "The risk of open-source, or indeed, even proprietary, software being held to infringe patents is much greater as developers do not need access to the patented software; they merely need to fall within its claims."For large companies that can afford to engage in obtaining patents and protecting them in court, software patents are another way to fend off the competition, but for open-source and smaller organizations the picture is different. "The danger is that smaller software companies who cant afford high patenting costs will be swamped by large companies who go around patenting everything in sight," said Hann. Big open-source developers such as Red Hat Inc. can afford to play the same gameRed Hat has a policy of obtaining software patents for defensive purposes, pointed out Jonas Maebe, secretary of FFII Belgium. "A small company, or a hobbyist hacker, does not have that money regardless of whether they develop closed or open-source software," he said. Smaller companies are also usually unable to afford to provide the indemnity agreements being required by more and more customers, putting them at a further disadvantage, industry observers said. For example, the city of Munich may require such indemnity agreements from its suppliers when it dumps Windows desktops for Linux, but the agreements would cut smaller suppliers out of the competition, said Florian Mueller, head of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.
To read David Courseys analysis of the pros and cons of software patents, click here.