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Apple, Microsoft sign death warrant for oss

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A proposal to extend patent protection in Europe could threaten the existence of open-source software unless the European Parliament amends it, say advocates of freely distributed programs such as Linux.

However, companies such as Microsoft and Apple Computer argue that they need broader patent protection to prevent open-source companies, which give away their software and make money through service, from effectively expropriating their development costs.

A European Parliament committee will debate the issue on Monday, and vote on it a month later.

European Parliament member Michel Rocard, a former French prime minister heading up review of the software patent directive, wants to protect open-source software by limiting the scope of patent protection.

Like all programs, open-source software must interact with a computer's other software to work, such as a word processor running on Windows.

Writers of free software cannot properly design their programs without information on how propriatory programs interact with other software.

Rocard and other advocates of open-source software argue that coding essential for interoperation needs only copyright protection, while Microsoft and others want patent protection for portions of software used to "talk" to other programs.

A software directive lacking Rocard's amendment could "be the death knell for open source software," said Thomas Vinje of Clifford Chance, who represents a number of software groups. Allies include Oracle and Red Hat, a distributor Linux.

Patent holders can license their software but open source software is distributed and redistributed at no cost, so there is no way to collect license fees.

"If you allow anyone to get this information for free you have no way of having any kind of license," says Francisco Mingorance, director of public policy for the Business Software Alliance trade association, which includes Microsoft and Apple.

The inventors "are deprived of their original investment," he said, expropriating their property.

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