EU to push patent-free eGovernment


The European Union is on the cusp of writing public procurement rules which favour patent- and royalty-free technologies, according to software giants who argue that the rules echo Chinese public procurement laws. 

Software giants are worried that the pending European Interoperability Framework (EIF) will give technologies that have open specifications an advantage in public sector bids.

These giants want the European Commission to change the EIF "to ensure that innovators who own patents and other intellectual property (IP) can participate in the procurement of eGovernment services in Europe," according to a statement by the Business Software Alliance (BSA).

The Alliance counts Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Dell and HP among its 80 industry members.

"Because of their positive effect on interoperability, the use of […] open specifications […] has been promoted in many policy statements and is encouraged for European public service delivery," according to a draft EIF seen by EURACTIV.

The BSA alleges that in its current form, the EIF will encourage companies to give away their patents and relinquish any royalties in order to clinch public sector contracts, like providing eGovernment services, for example.

The EIF contains "worrying echoes of Chinese policy," Francisco Mingorance from the BSA told EURACTIV.

The European Committee for Interopable Systems refuted the BSA's claims and said the EIF does not in any way undermine patent rights or force governments to procure "IP-free" software.

ECIS, which includes IBM, Nokia, Oracle, Red Hat and other companies, said that together its companies have some of the “largest patent portfolios on the planet” and would never do anything to undercut their own intellectual property.

They agreed China does a poor job of protecting IP rights but argued that the EIF is unrelated to that discussion.

“Open standards ensure that software competes on price and innovation, rather than locking in users because they will lose access to their data if they switch to another software package,” said Thomas Vinje, an ECIS spokesman.

“Defining openness does not imply a preference for software that is free of copyright or other intellectual property. On the contrary, it promotes competition, both for open source software and for software on which the owner wants to charge royalties,” Vinje continued.

Chinese government procurement provides privileged access to companies who give away their intellectual property rights to a product.

The row over Chinese public procurement laws recently came to a head when the EU's trade chief warned the bloc could limit the ability of Chinese companies to bid for public projects unless European companies are given the same access to the Chinese market.

The EIF is due to be adopted by the Commission in the coming weeks and unlike other EU rules, it is not subject to the approval of the European Parliament and the member states. 

In 2006, the European Commission started to revise the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), which is part of the EU Directive on the Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to Public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens (IDABC).

At a 2009 conference in Malmö, Sweden, EU ministers declared their intention to promote interoperable standards "to empower businesses and citizens through eGovernment services designed around users' needs, better access to information and their active involvement in the policymaking process".

Though interoperable standards form part of the EU's Digital Agenda, the Commission openly admits it has found these standards hard to define (EURACTIV 14/04/10).

Kroes has championed the use of open standards which are publicly availably in the belief that it would save public money (EURACTIV 10/06/08).

The EU has fought with Microsoft on antitrust cases involving interoperability. In 2008, the giant was fined $1.3 billion for failing to license its protocols to open source software developers at a reasonable price. 

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