Brussels, 10 January 2010 — The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) calls upon the EU Parliament and member states to remove the intellectual property rights chapter from the EU – Korea Free Trade Agreement. According to the FFII analysis, the free trade agreement is a threat to software companies, companies that use software, and free software projects; this undermines innovation, competitiveness and legal certainty.
In October 2009, after more than two years of secret negotiations, the EU and the Republic of Korea initialed their free trade agreement. The agreement awaits ratification by the EU Parliament and member states.
The free trade agreement contains strong measures against patent infringements. It provides injunctions, high damages, seizures, destruction of production materials and removal of online software repositories. A suspicion may be enough for seizures and injunctions. An allegation may be enough to freeze assets.
FFII analyst Ante Wessels comments: “These strong measures may be justified against hard core counterfeiters. They are not justified against software developers. Software patents are so broad in scope, doubtful in validity, and so numerous that unintentional infringement is unavoidable in the normal course of business. Therefore, competitors and patent trolls can always find a stick to hit software companies, companies that use software and free software projects. The whole sector is at risk.”
The free trade agreement also contains border measures against patent infringements. Ante Wessels: “With the numerous software patents out there, all software products and all products containing software may infringe patents. An allegation is enough to have them seized at the border. Then they stay seized until a civil court case made clear whether a patent was infringed or not. This gives competitors and patent trolls enormous power – how many small and medium enterprises, and free software projects, have the money to defend against this? It is the contrary of stimulating free trade.”
The free trade agreement is based on existing EU legislation. “Exporting EU-style enforcement legislation to foreign trading partners is an (un)official goal of EU policy”, professor Annette Kur, Max Planck Institute Munich, remarked in a presentation in December. She added: “If and where legislation is (partly) flawed, export is no recommendable option.”
The severe consequences of flawed enforcement legislation were on display in the recent EU seizures of life saving medicine meant for developing countries. After these seizures became known, the Dutch Minister for Developmental Aid, Bert Koenders, said that he wants to change the EU rules on the enforcement of intellectual property rights, and that he would even like to violate these rules.
Ante Wessels comments: “The seizures of life saving medicine and the treatment of software developers as hard core counterfeiters are two consequences of flawed EU legislation. Europe should be well aware that if we export this flawed legislation, the agreement will be binding. We will not be able to repair our own legislation anymore.”
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The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) e. V. is a charitable association registered in Munich, Germany, which is dedicated to the spread of data processing literacy and consumer protection. It funds the development of public information works based on copyright, free competition and open standards. The FFII attained broad international recognition for its phrontistery role in the European debate on a software patent directive (2002-2005) and software-related patent reform.