Software patents — the sordid reality (contd.)

Owen Barder’s Blog pointed me towards an instructive post in Groklaw. It concerns the pressure Microsoft allegedly applied to Denmark’s Prime Minister in order to soften his government’s opposition to the European Commission’s Directive on software patents. Groklaw runs this translation of an article in a Danish newspaper.

The founder of the world’s largest software company, Bill Gates, is now ready to shut down Navision in Denmark and move around 800 developers behind Denmark’s biggest software success to the US.

The Microsoft leader made that clear, when he meet with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Economic and Business Minister Bendt Bendtsen and Science Minister Helge Sander in November.

The threat risks being executed if part of the IT business manages to block the disputed EU directive on patenting software, that Microsoft wants so dearly, but time and time again has been postponed thanks to efficient lobbying by anti-patent opposition.

“If I am to keep my development center in Denmark, I must have clarity on the rights issue. Otherwise I will move to the US, where I can protect my rights,” said Gates according to to Microsoft Chief Attorney Marianne Wier, who also attended the meeting with Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

If this is true, the results were mixed. On the one hand, the Danes did back off; on the other, staff in Microsoft’s Danish operation started to panic over the future (or otherwise) of their jobs. This prompted an emergency email to all staff from a senior Microsoft executive which (according to a leaked copy) reads:

Dear all,

  You may have seen the front page article in Børsen today with the headline: Gates threatens to move Navision. The article outlines how the current EU disagreement over software patent protection endangers our development centre here in Vedbæk. Let me be very clear about this:  

Microsoft has absolutely no plans to move the centre.

We are completely committed to Vedbæk and its current location.  

The journalist has linked Microsoft’s known and outspoken attitude towards patent protection with some internal disagreements in EU regarding this software patent.  

Microsoft is very much in favour of software patent protection – we believe this is the only way to ensure innovation and development of state-of-the-art software. Bill Gates has spoken of this numerous times in different situations. And yes, he has also made our opinion very clear to the Danish government. Let there be no doubt that Microsoft believes patent protection is necessary in order to protect our innovative work. We will continue to argue in favour of this but it is not the only aspect which we consider when investing in R&D.  

If patents were the only thing determining where we locate our development sites then we would probably not have a site in China or in India.  

I just wanted to briefly reassure you – you have absolutely nothing to worry about in terms of Vedbæk’s future. We are in dialogue with the journalist whom we hope to be able to present a more nuanced picture of the situation.

Don’t you just love the word “nuanced’! Note the clue that the boys in Redmond regard the Indians and the Chinese as a bunch of no-good pirates. And isn’t it interesting to learn that Microsoft intends to break the habits of a corporate lifetime and take up “innovation”?