Small software companies in Europe should not relax despite the reprieve granted on software patents, warned well-known UK computing entrepreneur Bob Jones this week.

Protests caused the European parliament to delay a vote on proposals to implement US-style patent legislation here, but lobbying will continue from US-based multinationals and 'empire-builders' in the European Patent Office, warned Jones.

"Those who push this European Patent Office-backed proposal actually have the gall to argue this move will protect smaller businesses from the avarice of big business, but in truth the exact opposite will occur,” said Jones. “This patent lunacy is very much the agenda of the multinationals."

US patent laws allow patents for the concepts behind software, such as the controversial Amazon ‘one-click’ patent.

“We want to avoid something that doesn’t make any sense,” said Robin O’Leary, chief software architect at Equiinet, a company founded by Jones to sell Internet access servers based on Linux. “We hope that people will contact their MP or MEP, and sign the Eurolinux petition (see below – ed). We’re hoping to raise awareness of the underhand nature of [the proposal].”

If the legislation goes through, open source development will move out of Europe, as it already has done from the US, claimed O’Leary.

“A lot of software development work has ceased in the States, not because it necessarily contravenes the patent law, but small companies haven’t got the liability cover and can’t afford to take the risk,” he said.

“A lot of mainstream kernel development is happening in Brazil, and a lot of crypto software is coming out of Canada. European software development in cryptography is also at the forefront because it has been pushed out of America. If Europeans pass this law, it will move somewhere else.”

The proposals would add to costs for smaller companies, said O’Leary: “If this goes through, we would have to get legal opinions which would slow down our development. In the US, companies are forced to buy patent liability insurance. If this approach takes hold in Europe, it will be another tax on small business,” he said.

Like other activists, O’Leary is reluctant to accuse the people behind the proposal, particularly Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy, of ill intent, blaming instead the lobbying power of big US companies, and empire building by the European Patent Office.

“Is it bad or misguided? It’s a mixture of both,” said O’Leary. “Manipulation is certainly involved here. Big companies are lobbying for this, and there is a movement in the European Patent Office to extend their powers. The EPO is already surreptitiously granting patents on software.”

Oponents of the EPO proposals at the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure and Eurolinux are running a petition against the proposal to bring European law into line with this.