The lack of funding for the anti-software-patent cause
Posted Aug 28, 2010 6:10 UTC (Sat) by FlorianMueller
In reply to: Free Software friendly patent pools
Parent article: A very grumpy editor's thoughts on Oracle
Are you suggesting that all those small and medium-sized companies who stepped up and stated their opposition to software patents aren't sufficiently representative of the industry? The economic majority?
As much as I regret it because I'm against software patents and would prefer to see a lot of support for our cause, I have to answer your question with a clear Yes.
The "Economic Majority" website you linked to is actually a striking example. Let me quote from its current content: So far, 1,948 companies, with a minimum of 31,503 employees and annual turnover of 3,258,244,082 EUR [...]
So that's between EUR 3.2 billion and EUR 3.3 billion. Come on: IBM has revenues of close to $100 billion, so even if you just looked at IBM's European subsidiaries and then convert to EUR, it would dwarf that number; then Microsoft is around $60 billion, and so on.
Even if limiting it only to European companies, SAP alone has revenues north of EUR 10 billion.
But the website claims to represent an economic majority...
This is just one example to demonstrate the lack of support for the cause. There's actually something even more important to look at: do companies put their money where their mouth is?
If software patents were such a pressing problem for small and medium-sized companies, they would want to spend some money to address the problem politically and get rid of those patents. But there's never been any substantial funding. My NoSoftwarePatents campaign was more successful at fundraising than the entire FFII, which at the time had an annual budget in the EUR 100K range (just as a ballpark figure). That lack of resources is then visible because it means that they can't make a consistent effort with quality people. Politicians don't ask for a lobby entity's budget, but if they see that a cause is supported by people who for the largest part don't have any significant professional track record related to the issue, it reflects negatively on the cause.
More importantly even than professional expertise, the thing is that in those patent policy discussions large companies write letters to politicians about how many jobs are at stake and depend on strong intellectual property rights. Politicians aren't programmers (except maybe 1 in 1,000), so they look at it from an economic policy point of view, and ultimately they'll trust -- in most cases -- those who represent substantial economic weight.
I had a long debate with the FFII's founder and its current president on Facebook a few months ago about the state of the movement and particularly the question of economic weight and the related political clout. In that discussion, I also told them to be realistic about those numbers. They may be very proud of the support they got, but it doesn't impress politicians at all.
I told them that they never even raised EUR 200,000 in one year to the best of my knowledge. Then they argued that small and medium-sized companies just aren't political. I said that if there's a pressing problem, they will get political. I gave them an example that in my opinion shows how ridiculously little support there is for the anti-software-patent cause: there used to be a lobby group for leading European soccer clubs, called G14 (initially 14, later 18 members). I cooperated with that one because I advised and represented their biggest member (Real Madrid) at the time. The G14 had an annual budget at the time of about 2 million euros. Each of its member clubs had revenues between EUR 50 million and EUR 350 million at the time; there are lots of medium-sized IT companies in that revenue range. Lots. So 18 clubs of that size decided to spend ten to twenty times as much on a Brussels (EU capital) lobbying entity as the entirety of European IT small and medium-sized businesses on the fight against software patents. This shows that the G14 addressed a pressing problem; the FFII and my former campaign apparently didn't.
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