SA minister slams software patents
The South African minister of public service and administration on Monday addressed the opening of the Idlelo 3 free software conference in Dakar Senegal, saying software patents posed a considerable threat to the growth of the African software sector. Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, also alluded to Microsoft saying it was “unfortunate” that the dominant office software provider chose not to incorporate the the Open Document Format but rather to pursue an attempt to have it’s own document format ratified by the ISO.
In a taped address for the Idlelo 3 conference, Fraser-Moleketi said that “open standards are a critical factor in building interoperable systems that are important to governments … In South African we have a document – the minimum interoperability standards – which includes the use of open document format or ODF.”
Fraser-Moleketi pointed out that ODF was adopted as an ISO standard in 2006. She said that it was “unfortunate that the leading vendor of proprietary office software, which enjoys considerable dominance in the market, chose not to participate and support ODF in its products but rather to develop its own competing document standard, which is now also awaiting judgement in the ISO process.
“If it is successful it is difficult to see how consumers will benefit from these two overlapping ISO standards. I would, however, like to appeal to vendors to listen to the demands of consumers as well as the free software movement. Please work together to produce interoperable document standards. The proliferation of multiple standards in this space is confusing and costly,” she said.
Fraser-Moleketi then said that software patents were and “issue which pose a considerable threat the growth of the African software sector” and how there had been “recent pressure by certain multinational corporations to file software patents in our national and regional patent offices. Whereas free software and open standards are intended to be open and encourage competition, patents are exclusive and anti-competitive by their nature.”
“Whereas there are some industries where the temporary monopoly granted by a patent may be justified … there’s no reason to believe that society benefits from such monopolies being granted for computer programs [and inventions],” she said.
The minister said that the “continued growth in the quantity and quality of free software illustrates that such protection is not required to drive innovation in software. Indeed, all of the current so-called developed countries built up their considerable software industries in the absence of software patents. For those same countries to insist on software patents now is simply to place patents as barriers in front of newcomers.
“African software developers have enough barriers as it is without the introduction of artificial restrictions on what programs they are and aren’t allowed to write,” Fraser-Moleketi said.
The minister said that it become increasingly important for Fossfa to lobby to keep this area of intellectual property open.
[Thanks to Karl for the tip]