ARTICLE - OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE - “CLOSED SOURCE” (PROPRIETARY) SOFTWARE - PROMOTION OF INNOVATION - DISSEMINATION OF KNOWLEDGE AND TECHNOLOGIES - EUROPEAN ANTITRUST CASE LAW - CFI’S FORTHCOMING JUDGMENT OF THE IN THE MICROSOFT CASE - ABUSIVE REFUSAL TO LICENSE - OBLIGATION TO SUPPLY INTEROPERABILITY INFORMATION - PATENT PROTECTION - PATENT PROLIFERATION - PATENT POOL

Open source, interoperability and antitrust - An assessment at the eve of the Microsoft ruling*

Licensing of open source software and licensing of «closed source» (proprietary) software are based on different business models and appear to promote innovation in two different ways. Open source licensing favours innovation through dissemination of knowledge and technologies whereas proprietary licensing primarily promotes innovation by private or exclusive use. European antitrust case law shows that antitrust agencies have been encouraged to prevent software companies which have chosen the proprietary-licensing model from exercising illegally their market power. Does it mean that agencies have made a clear choice in favour of open source licensing and its model for innovation? The answer is not so obvious and the forthcoming judgment of the European Court of First Instance in the Microsoft case might add a contribution to this debate. Usually, when facing an abusive refusal to license by a dominant company, the European Commission imposes an obligation to supply interoperability information (not the software source code). This remedy aims in the first place at conciliating the two kinds of innovation without altering (too much) the «closed source» model. But the Microsoft case in Europe demonstrates that the situation may be more complex. First, the company involved may claim for patent protection on interoperability information whereas companies asking for access use open source licensing. In this case the agency has to arbitrate between these two models which lie on contractual clauses that are not compatible. Second, when identifying innovative information, the agency may have to deal with the excessiveness of a price on a market where competitors only distribute information on an «open-source-inspired» model. Except for cases where it is imposed by antitrust authorities, interoperability may be promoted by market players themselves through contractual means. This issue is particularly accurate in a context of patent proliferation in the software area. Licenses may be concluded to comply with the rules of a standard-setting organization or to create a patent pool. Once again, these licenses may lie on different business models and favour one type of innovation over another depending on the «openness» of the standard they established. Finally, even if they deal with access regime to source code and not with interoperability information, open source licences themselves may be analyzed through the antitrust prism as licensors opt for one innovation model aiming «exclusively» to dissemination and sharing of knowledge. Can the tools used to protect this open source model raise antitrust concerns in the light of the incitation to innovate through exclusivity?

* La présente contribution puise sa source dans une communication présentée à Lausanne le 1er février 2007 dans le cadre d’une conférence sur le thème «Open source : enjeux juridiques et pratiques» organisée par les Universités de Lausanne et de Genève ainsi que la Licensing Executives Society (LES-CH). Cette étude est actualisée au 30 juin 2007 et certaines analyses qu’elle contient sont effectuées sous réserve de l’arrêt du TPICE à intervenir au cours du second semestre de l’année 2007 dans le cadre du recours en annulation exercé par l’entreprise Microsoft (aff. T-201/04)

*This article is an automatic translation of the original article, provided here for your convenience. Read the original article. [1] Introduction 1. Open source software tends to become a must-have for both users and software developers. The study of the terms of the emerging relationship between open source and competition law is set against the different models for promoting innovation permitted by intellectual property rights in the information society. The question of interoperability appears to be closely linked to this general issue. 2. I. Initially considered as an accessory to the hardware, the software gradually became independent. The 1970s and 1980s marked a turning point in the industry. This turning point is characterized by several phenomena: the meeting of the

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  • General Court of the European Union (Luxembourg)

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Jérôme Gstalter, Open source, interoperability and antitrust - An assessment at the eve of the Microsoft ruling*, September 2007, Concurrences N° 3-2007, Art. N° 13933, pp. 46-71

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