Florian Mueller, a lobbyist against European software patents, has admitted that the crisis that put the issue on the map - the suspension of a massive project by the City of Munich to migrate computers from Windows to Linux - was the result of a PR "stunt".
Mueller made the admission in an upcoming book, No Lobbyists As Such: The War over Software Patents in the European Union, which recounts his part in convincing the European Parliament to ultimately scrap a proposed directive liberalising European Union patent law.
In the summer of 2004, after months of unsuccessful efforts to generate interest in the issue, Mueller and other campaigners decided to try and focus attention on Munich's LiMux project, which they argued could be put in danger of patent litigation if the directive went through.
"Microsoft wasn't going to do us the favour of using its patents to sue open-source users across Europe... Not until long after the final decision on that EU software patent directive," Mueller wrote. "We had to provoke a real crisis. Right away."
Mueller helped draft questions for the Green party to put to the mayor of Munich on how software patents would affect the Linux migration. Wilhelm Hoegner, head of Munich's data processing office, was already wary of the legal complications patents might pose, and decided to put the project on hold while the issue was more thoroughly investigated.
Mueller announced the decision to the press, receiving a huge response, as the story was picked up by mainstream news agencies and write-ups from major journals such as Der Spiegel, as well as the international press.
At the same time, Mueller said he was criticised by open-source groups for making open source seem like a dangerous option.
"The strongest point I could make in my defence was that none of the other approaches had generated anything like a comparable level of press coverage in 30 months of trying," he wrote.
The move helped to turn political sentiment against the patent directive, which was ultimately scrapped by the European Parliament last year.
"No Lobbyists As Such" is published in May.