Software Interoperability and Intellectual Property Policy in Europe

European Review of Political Technologies, M. Valimaki


Software interoperability (or compatibility) is, and has been, one of the most debated intellectual property policy issues. Many technology companies would like to see their proprietary software technology become standard and then control the surrounding “ecosystem”. To contrast, interoperable developers and the users of technology at large would like to see all standards to have open non-proprietary interfaces without any intellectual property protection. Users get no benefit from intellectual property entry-barriers.

The scope of intellectual property rights can be limited through various means. European copyright laws have a well-established principle that a single right owner can’t control interoperability information through copyright. Unfortunately patent law does not know such exception: it must be therefore balanced through alternative means. This article discussed competition law, industry standardization bodies, and government procurement policies as such possibilities. None of them being a silver bullet, it seems that only a combination of different measures will guarantee healthy competition and continuous innovation in the software inndustry.