Linus Torvalds has not had a great year when it comes to patents. First, he’s seen his brainchild Linux operating system threatened by software maker SCO for patent infringement – a charge that could potentially undermine the entire open source movement.
More recently, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer has been dropping hints to Asian businesses that using Linux may infringe some of the patent rights held by the software giant.
Torvalds has also seen European regulators get in a mess trying to agree that software should be patented, and he’s desperate to stop them deciding that it should.
The EU has postponed its ‘final’ decision, which is now expected in 2005.
Aside from the sheer indignity of seeing SCO drag the Linux name through the legal mud, Torvalds has more fundamental objections to software patents. Torvalds, alongside Michael Widenius, one of the creators of MySQL, and PHP creator Rasmus Lerdorf, issued a joint statement warning of the dangers of allowing software to be patented: “Software patents are dangerous to the economy at large and particularly to the European economy.”
According to Torvalds, patents threaten to stifle true innovation in software development because the system favours large businesses over smaller developers.
“Copyright serves software authors while patents potentially deprive them of their own independent creations. Copyright is fair to all because it is equally available to all,” he says.