The Munich city administration has said that it expects its planned migration to Linux to be delayed by only a few weeks as the impact of proposed European Union software patenting legislation is examined.
Bernd Plank, a spokesman for Munich town hall, said today that he expected that the administration would take a maximum of "two to three weeks" to decide whether the EU's Directive on software patents could affect the city's plan to switch to Linux. There would be no "dramatic setback," he added.
Plank also dismissed suggestions that the fact that the legislation is still being negotiated by EU member states and the European Parliament means that the move to Linux would have to be put on hold until the legislation is finalised, something which is not expected until next year.
"Even if we can't say what the impact would be that would still be a sufficient answer to give the city council," Plank explained.
Munich's administration has been asked by members of the city council (Stadtrat) to determine if the proposed European legislation, known as the "computer-implemented inventions" directive, might cause legal problems for the city when it comes into force.
In a press statement issued on 4 August, the city administration confirmed it was "standing by Linux," correcting press reports that the project had been put on ice. Mayor Christian Ude stated that his administration's IT experts had recently presented "strategic outlines" of the Linux project to officials from Augsburg and Nuremberg. Ude noted that there was "interest in Munich's open source solution" from these German cities as well as from Vienna.
Ude confirmed that the call for tenders for the base client had been temporarily delayed to examine the technical and legal risks presented by the draft software patents directive which, he said, provided for large scale patenting of software.
All European local administrations and companies that are interested in open source software should work to ensure that the planned legislation does not become EU law, Ude said. In this sense, he is in complete agreement with the decision of the European Parliament to restrict the scope of the directive.
The decision to ask the Munich administration to examine the effects of the software directive on the move to Linux has been driven by Green Party Councillor Jens Muehlhaus. The politician has warned that the shift to open source software could infringe up to 50 patents, based on a study carried out by the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure.
EU ministers reached agreement in May on the directive (with Austria, Italy and Belgium abstaining and Spain voting against). They are expected to formally endorse this text in September. The ministers commented at the time that the agreed text "contains provisions, in accordance with the practice developed within the European Patent Organisation, for patentability of computer-implemented inventions, stipulating, inter ali, that a computer program as such cannot constitute a patentable invention."
But their version has met fierce resistance from members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and open source campaigners. MEPs complained that the member states had "ignored the will of Europe's elected legislators" by rejecting a series of amendments which would have restricted the scope of patent law.
This means that the scene is set for a major political battle between the Parliament and EU member states, probably early next year.
A statement by the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure called the member states' text "the most uncompromisingly pro-patent yet."