May 14, 2004

Anti-Microsoft protest planned for EP session May 17

Author: Chris Preimesberger

UPDATED A prominent member of the European Parliament and representatives of a German political party are planning to lead an anti-software-patent protest Monday in Brussels during a scheduled legislative hearing on software patent issues. The protest, designed to call attention to Microsoft's corporate support of the Irish presidency of the European Union, will include the distribution of CD-ROMs containing free software to Irish diplomats as a reminder of the existence of alternative software products.

On the other hand, Microsoft says it's "confused" about what the two diplomats think its "corporate support" of the Irish EU leadership actually is.

The EP has been in the process of legislating international software patent regulations for several months. The version of the law that was originally sanctioned by the Parliament had been celebrated by free software advocates, who believed that it would put a stop to software patenting altogether.

However, since the first version was drafted last September, a new version of the law has since been written by the Irish government, which currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the Union. The new edition has trimmed most of the anti-patent amendments added last September, and it is expected to pass a legislative session on May 18. Mandrakesoft issued an alert to this situation earlier this week.

Olga Zrihen of Belgium and the Virtueller Ortsverein party of Germany said in a written statement to NewsForge that they believe Microsoft is utilizing unfair political and monetary influence in its continued "sponsorship" of the Irish EU presidency. The inference is that Microsoft, which is in favor of strong patent laws, has unfairly influenced the Irish diplomats into rewriting the law.

Zrihen and Virtueller Ortsverein were not specific in describing the nature of the Microsoft sponsorship. NewsForge was unable to reach either by telephone Friday night.

"We're a little confused as to what is meant by 'corporate support,' " Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler told NewsForge late Friday after reading the Zrihen-Ortsverein letter. "Does this mean the sponsorship of an event, a booth, or a table at an event? Microsoft does have field offices and employees in Ireland. We have an ongoing effort to reach out and build collaborative relationships with many countries. But I don't know what else they are talking about."

"We have the right to question this situation," Zrihen said in the statement. "The presidency of the EU, which is a central element of the European legislative process, and is supposed to obey the democratic principles, accepts to be sponsored by a private company whose economic interests are directly put into cause by a legislative proposition on the agenda of the Council," she said in the statement, written in awkward English. "Furthermore, knowing that the 'compromise' proposal emanating from the Irish presidency rejects all of the European parliament's first lecture amendments, which corresponds to the demands of Microsoft, there is a feeling of great worry."

Back in March, the European Union fined Microsoft the equivalent of $610 million U.S. for continuing anti-competitive practices. The sanction is under appeal by the Redmond, Wash., company.

For more background, see Paul Meller's story in ITWorld.

Category:

  • Government
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