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European Commission Reverses its Views on Patents 181

Posted by samzenpus
from the maybe-not dept.
prostoalex writes "ZDNet UK News reports "The European Commission said last week that computer programs will be excluded from patentability in the upcoming Community Patent legislation, and that the European Patent Office (EPO) will be bound by this law". Politician Adam Gierek posted a question to European Commission asking the institution to clarify its standings on software patents."
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European Commission Reverses its Views on Patents

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  • Clarify please? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geminidomino (614729) * on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:14AM (#15399220) Journal
    Does this mean they reversed last week's decision, or that last week's decision WAS the reversal?
  • by ArghBlarg (79067) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:19AM (#15399249) Homepage
    Can EU-based companies then freely do work to interoperate/reverse-engineer things made by the (insane) US software industry? I hope to $DIETY so. This would force the US software industry to actually focus on quality and usefullness instead of paying lawyers to lock the latest trivial feature up in patents.
  • what?????? (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:32AM (#15399289)
    Sometimes thing like this is hard to follow; kind of like following Bush explain why to invade Iraq. You really are not certain what and why, and how bad the lies are? Finally, you have to wonder WHO is going to make out on this and how.
  • by Null Nihils (965047) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @01:24AM (#15399442) Journal
    a steady flow of independent innovation pouring in to the UK if they do end up getting rid of the illogical legislation standing in the way of software progress (I will refrain from using the word "innovation").

    Microsoft (and anyone else commanding a patent arsenal) are saying the opposite, of course; that the market will shrink, not expand. It sure would be nice to see them eat their words if the UK does continue in a no-software-patents direction and smaller, more inventive companies take advantage of their new freedom.
  • by Arker (91948) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @01:53AM (#15399518) Homepage
    They can, but they'll run into problems if they try to sell any such products over here, which will neuter the effect somewhat.
  • by Codename.Juggernaut (975811) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @02:05AM (#15399546)
    As it was once said:

    Any computer program or file, when saved, is a massive binary number set up for a computer to interpret. In effect, this large, multi-million-digit number is all a program or file is. The rest is simply representation and imagination. In fact, that's what "digital" means.

    Now, you cannot patent fact, and numbers are fact. I cannot patent the number 7 and sue anyone who uses it (yet), since the number 7 simply is. I didn't invent it, it's always been there (let's not dabble too far into philosophy though), and as far as I'm aware, there is no rule of thumb to say "the number 12 cannot be patented, but the number 110101010111001E3,000,000" can.

    Any program or file ever written/saved on a computer can be compiled and decompiled into a giant binary number. (That's simply how it's stored) So technically, by the law that a number cannot be patented, neither can any digital representation of anything.

    Does this really factor down into a ruling of whether the size of a number makes it any less a number?
  • by miyako (632510) <miyako AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 25, 2006 @03:04AM (#15399673) Homepage Journal
    Though many on slashdot may claim it is blasphemy to say this, I do not think that patents are nessessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think that if implemented properly, they can help to encourage innovation. The problem with the current US patent system is twofold.
    One is, as others have said, it is far to easy to get a patent on obvious things. This has been discussed to death so I won't make much more of a point on this matter.
    What is a larger problem in my opinion is the length of the patent. 20 years is far too long given the rate of technological progression that we are currently experiencing. Consider how many major inventions were developed between 1986 and 2006. A lot. No, compare that to the number of useful inventions that were created between, say, 1966 and 1986, or between 1946 and 1966. What about between 1890 and 1910. Technological progression is not linear, and the rate at wich technology is developing is exponential (see this article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_Singula rity/ [wikipedia.org]).
    If the term for patents was reduced to, say, 3 years, it would allow companies to develop technologies to profit from their inventions without blocking future innovation too badly.
    Other things that might help the software patent system would be to make the patent not applicable until the applicatnt actually produces something that uses that patent. It's not as though someone has to buy millions of dollars worth of equipment to write a program. If they are able to write up the patent then they should be able to produce at least some sort of sample application.
  • by Chowderbags (847952) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @05:30AM (#15400059)
    That leads me to ponder something: If a European company distributed software that contained US patented code over the internet (and thus not having a physical presence in the US), how would that court case go? Assuming that they were found in the wrong, would there even be a way to get damages (short of pulling another Dmitry Sklyarov)?
  • by EuropeanSwallow (662253) <`joaoluispinto' `at' `gmail.com'> on Thursday May 25, 2006 @08:18AM (#15400468) Homepage
    Though I feel the news are mostly positive, I remain cautious.

    But I think this step by the Commission might be a hint of other things to come, namely (for good or evil), that the EU will in fact try to takeover the EPO. At least the upcoming juridical problems are garanteed.

    Taking for granted that the Commission wants to clarify software patenteability, we who are against that option can be shure of one thing: all the pro-soft-patent lobbying that was going on at the EPO is quickly going to move (get back ;-) ) to the Commission!

    It will be interesting to follow if a directive is issued (directives must be incorporated by all EU countries in their national law, that presently is shaped around the European Patent Convention) that defines different criteria for patenteability that are clearly incompatible with the EPC (both regarding soft-patents and "traditional" patents). Particularly because the current "european patent" is not a patent by itself but a portfolio of national patents issued simultaneously by the EPO.

    What can happen is a in-practice removal of power from the EPO since, unlike the Commission, it does not hold relevant "muscle" to enforce its position. While the EPO is sustained by the "benevolence" of the EPC signataries, the Commission can impose sanctions to EU countries if they don't transpose the directive. In practice, we are possibly going to see the Commission pushing away the EU coutries from the EPC and forcing them to abandon it, or else being submerged in a complicated judicial problem involving conflicting internal and international law.
  • by ChrisGilliard (913445) <christopher...gilliard@@@gmail...com> on Thursday May 25, 2006 @02:54PM (#15403902) Homepage
    Saying that rejecting software patents somehow equals taking away property rights is rediculous

    Software patents are known as intelectual property. So they ARE property. Clearly, you don't believe that people should have the right to patent software. My point is that why distinguish between software and other things that you deem patentable? Software is a mental procedure as you have pointed out. So, what is hardware? In many cases hardware is specified in VHDL code or something similar. Since many hardware innovations involve using high level languages to describe tangible things, you must consider hardware patents out as well. Lets take another example. How about building a bridge? This is a tangable thing. So, it's patentable right? Well, what if the patent is a procedure for how to build a bridge cheaper? This is really a series of mental steps to build the bridge correct? According to your argument, "software" is out because it's a series of mental steps. Shouldn't bridge building be out then too?

    What it comes down to is that patents protect, in a large part, procedures and processes. Some of those processes involve a real thing (like a telephone, etc), but a lot of them don't. If you want to take away people's rights to intellectual property, then why not just come out and say it, but the distinction between software specifications and specifications of tangible items is fuzzy at best.

    most peope here think that it is obvious that software is not an invention.

    Definition of invention (dictionary.com): A new device, method, or process developed from study and experimentation: the phonograph, an invention attributed to Thomas Edison.
    does a Java method fit this definition? It's a method. It's developed from study or experimentation.

    you're saying that in 1980 the US was taking away people's property rights when it consistantly rejected all attempts to patent software. You're saying that the entire world was taking away people's property rights at the time. You're saying that most of the world is still taking away people's property rights.

    Well, if what you say is true, then yes, that's what I'm saying. Before 1980, hardly anyone had a computer, so I can see why the patent offices world wide might have gotten confused. As far as the world taking away property rights I think Europe is currently debating this as we speak and I don't think the US is considering this. I don't know about other parts of the world.

    A one hundred digit number may certainly have never been seen before (novel). A one hundred digit number may certainly be non-obvious. A one hundred digit number my certainly be usefull. However a number is not an invention. Math is not an invention. A calculation is not an invention. Logic itself is not an invention. A sequence of mental steps is not an invention.

    This is a straw man argument. A one hundred digit number is not patentable because it's not a useful process and therefore does not fit the definition of a utility patent. There are also many things that have been granted a patent like the hyperlink that are obvious and commonly used. These are flaws in the system, but flaws don't mean that you should disband the system altogether. On the contrary, we need to update the system to work in today's world.

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