Microsoft is Guilty, but the Threat for the EU is in Software Patents

Telepolis has an excellent article (German, unfortunately) that explains how, even now that Microsoft was proven guilty, their tactics have already changed. Unbundling products like the media player and offering competitors access to MS interfaces (for a fee!) will not stop them from stifling innovation and destroying competition by unfair means.

They have started applying for software patents in European countries even though these are not legal here. They have been lobbying to legalize software patents in the EU. The result? Let’s look at the competition in the media player sector. Windows Media Player is a very average product. VLC or Mplayer are European media players that can play a much wider variety of media files with a lot less fuss and no need to cumbersomely install extra codecs. They also come with far, far greater functionality across the board, offering everything from built-in live encoding and streaming to very advanced picture processing. On top of that, they are free, and in some cases even funded by EU government grants. It is in the best interest of the EU to develop such Free Software, in the EU, through EU citizens.

But, and here’s the problem, there are potentially hundreds of very, very trivial software patents registered in the USA that could theoretically apply to these products. These software patents are registered willfully by big corporations for the express purpose of being abused as weapons against competitors. They do not benefit the “small inventor”, which is what patents were intended to accomplish. If these same patents were legal in the EU, and if the patent holders (not in every case Microsoft) were to raise charges against the projects, this could potentially destroy them. Even if a judge only orders a preliminary injunction, it could mean the death of the project as people look for different media players to fit their needs.

This is the threat, and the threat still remains. If you are an EU citizen, you should do everything in your power to say no to software patents — they stifle innovation, they massively strengthen billion-dollar companies at the expense of small and medium size enterprises and they cut into your own freedoms as a computer user, as a software developer, as an employee and as a person.

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