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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 Anonymous Coward
      Yes.
    • by AEton (654737) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:48AM (#15399342)
      This means that software can now patent people.
      • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:57AM (#15399374) Journal

        So in European Union, YOU reverse "in Soviet Russia" jokes!

        Wait a sec, something just doesn't seem right...

        • Re:Clarify please? (Score:2, Informative)

          by ultranova (717540)

          So in European Union, YOU reverse "in Soviet Russia" jokes!

          In European Union, Soviet Union laughs at you !

          I don't think even Stalin suggested making a directive forbidding grilling sausages or burnign wood for warming - and, of course, here in Finland we use 4 million euros a year to catch 0.5 million euros worth of misuse of Union subsidies, and the Union wants us to use more.

          I'm starting to think that joining the European Union was a bad mistake, especially since it means free trade which harms lo

          • Re:Clarify please? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by zoney_ie (740061) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @07:13AM (#15400289)
            The European Union is ultimately important most of all for political reasons. It is bringing European countries closer together.

            For some countries, it has been invaluable - e.g. in the case of Ireland. That is, not just economically, but from a point of view of being involved, not just a small isolated backward country on the outskirts of Europe. While not an equal to large European States, the country (and other small EU members) are far closer in status to the big countries than they would be outside the European Union.

            The EU is also about offering help for countries to improve themselves. Sure, some countries haven't done so well (Portugal, Greece) but they might be worse off but for the EU. And it is important for every country to have at least somewhat as well-off neighbours. One doesn't want a US-Mexico situation.

            At least some of the Central and Eastern EU members are already making great strides towards catching up with the rest of the EU.

            I do not understand those who don't see how this benefits Europe as a whole, even those who could easily "go it alone" (e.g. UK). Besides, some of the complainers, their problem is they aren't making the best of the EU (look again at the UK - they could do so much better from all the openings that having 24 other members has).
          • Re:Clarify please? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by BobTheLawyer (692026) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @07:28AM (#15400334)
            Free trade harms the local economy and increases unemployment? Which economist have you been reading?
            • The list could be long. Here [wikipedia.org] is a good place to start.
            • It increases unemployment in the local economy. If there was total laissez-faire trade, China would have a lot more companies clammering for space to build factories. All those factories moving to China would make unemployment rise. So yes, it would hurt the local economy (since all those unemployed had little money to spend), and unemployment would go up. Atleast in the short-term.

              Now that China is letting woman workers have a 15-minute maternity leave, I'm sure businesses would be glad to move there.
          • Re:Clarify please? (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Sloppy (14984)

            I'm starting to think that joining the European Union was a bad mistake

            I'm shocked that any single person thought it wouldn't be a mistake. How can moving power further away from you so that it becomes less accountable, ever be a good idea? States should get smaller, not bigger.

            In US (which is already way too big with too many decisions made in Washington instead of our state capitols and city councils) we laugh the the EU, because you're repeating our mistake and trying to be as dumb as us. Pretty so

      • This means that software can now patent people.

        Only in Russia, my friend.
  • by morganew (194299) * on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:19AM (#15399244)
    Europe has never allowed 'software patents' instead, the allow "Computer Implemented Inventions"

    Article 28.1 of the draft Community Patent Regulation provides that a community patent can be invalidated on the grounds that the subject matter of the patent is not patentable in accordance with Article 52 of the Munich Convention (that is, the European Patent Convention). Article 52 of the Europen Patent Convention provides that computer software "as such" is not patentable subject matter.

    If the community patent regulation were actually adopted in its current form, one would be able to get and keep patent protection for computer software-implemented inventions in the same manner that it is currently possible under the European Patent Convention.

    Unless the Commission is putting for a new version of Article 28.1 of the draft Community Patent Regulation that specifically repudiates the "as such" language in Article 52 of the European Patent Convention, the situation is the same as it ever was.

    relevant text of orginal EPO Docs:

    Methods of doing business are, according to Article 52(2) EPC, not to be considered to be inventions. Although not explicitly stated, this exclusion is also considered to apply to a wide range of subject-matters which, while not literally methods of doing business, share the same quality of being concerned more with interpersonal, societal and financial relationships, than with the stuff of engineering - thus for example, valuation of assets, advertising, teaching, choosing among candidates for a job, etc.. The term "business methods" has become a generally used shorthand for all of these areas.
    Claims for business methods can be divided into three groups:

    claims for a method of doing business in abstract, i.e. not specifying any apparatus used in carrying out the method;
    claims which specify computers, computer networks or other conventional programmable digital apparatus for carrying out at least some of the steps of the business method ("computer-implemented business methods");
    claims which specify other apparatus (perhaps in addition to computers) e.g. mobile telephones. ,/i>
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:43AM (#15399331)
      Right. The way I read the .doc file, all they are saying is,

      1. the new "EPC" law/framework will simply reconfirm that the EPO is bound by law, rather than just doing whatever it wants;
      2. and as such, any patent can be appealed in court if someone thinks the EPO overstepped its boundaries.

      It does not really say anything about what those boundaries are. In fact it reads more like "we're still thinking about that".

      Part of the .doc quoted for great justice (and to avoid the need for a .doc compatible viewer, wtf, it's just a bit of text) -- emphasis added :

      Moreover, with respect to the particular cases mentioned by the Honourable Member, the draft Community patent Regulation confirms in its Article 28.1(a) that patents granted for a subject matter (such as computer programs), which is excluded from patentability pursuant to Article 52 EPC, may be invalidated in a relevant court proceeding.

      This being said, the Directorate-General for the Internal Market and Services has launched a broad consultation of all interested parties on the future patent policy in Europe, with a particular focus on the structure of the European patent system. The Community patent, including the common political approach which was reached by the Council on 3 March 2003, forms part of the questions addressed to all stakeholders. The deadline for the consultation was 12 April 2006 and preliminary findings will be discussed with stakeholders at a hearing in Brussels that will most probably take place in June 2006. The Parliament will of course be duly informed of the results of this consultation.


      So, meh :\

      --peirz
    • by Tough Love (215404) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:53AM (#15399364)
      Pretty sure the reporter has it wrong... Europe has never allowed 'software patents' instead, they allow "Computer Implemented Inventions

      What actually happened is "the European Commission has confirmed that the European Patent Office's (EPO) case law is not binding for member states... For the first time, the Commission has also clearly stated that computer programs are not patentable subject matter, without hiding behind the infamous "as such" cop-out."

      Go to a reputable source [ffii.org] for this if you want accuracy: European Commission: EPO Case Law Not Binding - Software Not Patentable. [wiki.ffii.de].

      This is a great development, it's far from the end of the story.
      • by Arker (91948) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @01:48AM (#15399507) Homepage Journal

        Thanks.

        I reckon it was a little passive-aggressive outburst that caused them to give the answer in a .doc file instead of a standard format of some kind. Not happy campers about having to give up the power and prestige that would have accrued them if their desired interpretation had been accepted.

        Fortunately a readable copy is to be found a click or two from the page you linked, here [ffii.org] so now us long-haired smellies can read it too.

      • From TFA:
        "The EPO would... apply and be bound by a new unitary Community law with respect to Community patents," said the EC in a statement. "The draft Community Patent regulation confirms in its Article 28.1(a) that patents granted for a subject matter (such as computer programs), which is excluded from patentability pursuant to Article 52 EPC [European Patent Convention], may be invalidated in a relevant court proceeding ." (emphasis mine)

        So patents can still be granted, but you have to go to court to
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, 2006 @01:53AM (#15399519)
      Article 52 of the Europen Patent Convention provides that computer software "as such" is not patentable subject matter.

      Although not completely inaccurate, that's pretty misleading as the way you've arranged the words gives the impression that there's no clear exclusion of software patents. What Article 52 [european-p...office.org] actually says is:

      (1) European patents shall be granted for any inventions which are susceptible of industrial application, which are new and which involve an inventive step.

      (2) The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions within the meaning of paragraph 1:

      (a) discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods;

      (b) aesthetic creations;

      (c) schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers;

      (d) presentations of information.

      (3) The provisions of paragraph 2 shall exclude patentability of the subject-matter or activities referred to in that provision only to the extent to which a European patent application or European patent relates to such subject-matter or activities as such.


      That final "as such" has indeed been used by the EPO as a loophole to allow software patents but in the actual Convention it applies as much to e.g. presentations of information or to aesthetic creations as it does to software.

      In practice the EPO has applied it in relation to software in a manner that permits software patents in general.

      The wording probably could be used to justify certain exceptions to the general prohibition on software patents (or patents on presentation of information etc.) but I don't believe that it can in good faith be used to render the explicit prohibition on software patents irrelevant.

      Can any supporters of the EPO's stance give examples of things which would have been patentable had the EPC not explicitly excluded computer programs from being regarded as inventions, but which the EPO treat as non-patentable as a result of that exclusion?
      • Well, 2(a) specifically excludes mathematical methods from the scope of patentability. A computer program that does something useful is almost certainly based around a mathematical method. In fact, things like compression and encryption algorithms are mathematical methods. A person with crayons, graph paper and plenty of time on their hands could look at a hex dump of a GIF file and draw the picture it described. There is no doubt in my mind that they would be performing a mathematical operation, which
        • is almost certainly based around a mathematical method

          While the mathematical method is not patentable, a novel way of using it in a device might well be.
        • Go back and read the article again. Yes, mathematical methods are not patentable "to the extent that [the method] relates to [mathematical methods] as such". So, a patent granted on such a method couldn't prevent somebody else from performing the same mathematical process. But include it in a broader application and you may be onto a winner. If I were to invite a way of factorizing prime numbers in linear time, for example, I wouldn't be able to patent it. I might be able to patent its inclusion in a d
          • Yes, that's how the EPO currently interprets it, the same way as the interpret the exclusion of computer programs: a computer programs as such is not patentable, but "include" it in a computer which executes it and it automagically becomes patentable (because it's now a "computer executing a computer-implemented method", and no longer a "computer program" in their eyes).

            In case of your "encryption device", the actual contribution to the art (and thus what enables you to get your patent) is still the novel m
      • Can any supporters of the EPO's stance give examples of things which would have been patentable had the EPC not explicitly excluded computer programs from being regarded as inventions, but which the EPO treat as non-patentable as a result of that exclusion?

        Well, I'm everything but a supporter of the EPO's stance, but one example could possibly the source code or machine of a program on its own (i.e., not stored on a disc or in memory).

        Now, don't ask me what the point of such a patent would be (after

    • Europe has never allowed 'software patents' instead, the allow "Computer Implemented Inventions"

      And what is the difference? According to the European Patent Office's Technical Board of Appeal [european-p...office.org], as soon as you execute software on a computer, whatever the software does is a "computer-implemented invention" (see the top of p. 13 of the pdf file, the page numbered 11).

      When was the last time you saw a US software patent which was not on what software does when it's executed, but on the source or machine c

      • there is no inherent difference between software patents and patents on "computer-implemented inventions"

        Or is it. If computer-implemented invention is the result, software is the way to do it. While CII might (should) be unique, the software surely isn't. If you'd want to patent a program doing this'n'that, I'd think about granting you a patent on this'n'that, but not on the program.

        • There is no such thing as a "computer-implemented invention", except in the imagination of the EPO. The only thing you can implement in a computer is software ("as such", if you like). And software is not an invention according to the European Patent Convention.

          Therefore, the interpretation of the Technical Board of Appeals, namely that "software executed by a computer" is a "computer-implemented invention", is as logical as it is fallacious. It's logical, since the only thing you can implement in a compu

          • You cannot implement brakes or washing machines inside a computer, but when you invent such things, the operation of those things most likely will be in someway aided by the use of a computer (running software, obviously).

            This stance assumes, of course, that the theory of universal computation is false...

  • 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.
  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @12:22AM (#15399255)
    European Commission Reverses its Views on Patents

    For now. This has gone back and forth so many times I feel like I'm watching a game of ping-pong. There are enough powerful interests involved that this issue that continued vigilance will be required.
  • Pressure? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WalksOnDirt (704461) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @01:20AM (#15399434)
    I have to wonder if the corporate lobbying pressure has shifted as the big players have been hit with more and more patent infringement lawsuits in the USA. Of course the free software complaints must have helped, but I've always had the impression that these bureaucrats listened more to industry.
    • Re:Pressure? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, 2006 @03:41AM (#15399790)
      The EU software industry consists mostly of smaller companies that would be hurt by allowing for software patents. Only companies such as Microsoft, Nokia and Siemens were lobbying pro-patent as far as I recall. It might just be the EU Commision have learned to ignore the Irish commisioner, who is heavily pro-Microsoft due to the company's presence in his country.
  • 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 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?
  • Contrarian view (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xkr (786629) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @02:23AM (#15399588)
    It used to be that inventions were made out of motors, belts, pulleys, and such. Consider the cotton gin, or the sewing machine. Now, inventions are made with computer programs, web interfaces, java beans, relational databases, flash. The real tests (used to be): is it novel? It is useful? More than ever, those hundred-year-old requirements still make perfect sense. Patenting the obvious is just as bad an idea now as it ever was.

    In the heyday of railroads, new patents were being issued every few hours on improvements in track shape and airbrakes. The parts of the patent system that are broken, or badly in need of a tune-up, are not related to computer programs, they are related to issues of proper review, rational litigation, and what should be public disclosure of licensing, and mandatory licensing.

    Patent law actually requires "fair licensing." After all, the whole point of patents was to get inventions INTO the public domain, not to promote monopolies. Its just that courts have long since given up trying to assess fair licensing, so we have forgotten that half of the original formula.

    • In the heyday of railroads, new patents were being issued every few hours on improvements in track shape and airbrakes.

      It's a point that's often ignored. Pretty much every mechanical device you can think of was the subject of a patent at one time. I picked up a used book [amazon.com] that goes into excrutiating detail about the 1000s of patents that were filed regarding mundane things like bakeries (conveyor belt+oven=patent. obvious, no?). In 20 years, software patents may be largely a non-issue for most computing user
      • (conveyor belt+oven=patent. obvious, no?).

        You would have to do considerable research to make sure that the conveyer belt was mde of materials that would not catch fire, become brittle, or give off fumes that would contaminate the product being cooked. You would need to do the same for the rollers and bearings, and any oil that was needed to keep the system running smoothly.
      • However the discussion here is usually dominated by the No Patents crowd.

        Huh? On what planet?

        The "No Patents crowd" for all for all practical purposes does not exist. The number of such extremists is vanishingly small.

        The dominant position here is the "Good Old Tradfitional patent law" crowd. teh people who accept patents and accept the traditional global norm for patentability and who accept the good old traditional US patent law. Good old traditional US patent law - as in US patent law as it stood before
      • I picked up a used book that goes into excrutiating detail about the 1000s of patents that were filed regarding mundane things like bakeries (conveyor belt+oven=patent. obvious, no?).

        If this were 1910 and I were to build something like that, I might have to license two or three patents. Mandatory licensing might work.

        The simplest salable computer program is going to contain thousands of algorithms that would have to be licensed. Just finding out what they are would probably cost more than even a top selling
    • Re:Contrarian view (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kanweg (771128)
      The first problem with software is that it usually IS novel. In real life we have photo's, digitize it and you can process it in a digital dark room, a.k.a. Photoshop. You've brought something into a virtual world. And in virtual worlds just about anything is possible. You don't require even a glass of beer to come up with new ideas (the problem is never to come up with new ideas, the problem is to implement the ideas. It took MicroSoft until 1995 until they had a workable copy of Mac OS of 1984; Linux hasn
    • Patent law actually requires "fair licensing."

      When you build something out of belts and pulleys it takes you, at a minimum, months to create a relatively simple device with a few dozen components that is potentially violating a handful of patents, and man-years to set up production and ship significant quantity of product.

      When you build something out of software, in a day you can create a "device" that is a hundred times more complicated than that, containing thousands of components and thousands of potenti
      • Exactly.

        If you only write a small program for a niche audience, i.e. your mentioned $5 shareware, that might not matter. Probably there'll not even be a patent troll to bother with you.

        But if you actually write software that's excellent and competitive, and that competes in the mainstream field (i.e. has a large potential audience), you'll get sued immediately.

        Patents don't protect innovation; they protect big players from competition. A small inventor can't profit from patents, because he's likely violat
  • 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 year
    • by Haeleth (414428) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @05:43AM (#15400090) Journal
      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.

      Well, let's look at it in computer terms.

      1946-1966: development of the mainframe computer, based on the pioneering work that took place during WW2. Invention of procedural and functional programming.
      1966-1986: development of the modern desktop computer with GUI and applications. Creation of the internet. Invention of object-oriented programming.
      1986-2006: development of Microsoft Windows and videogames.

      Yup, clearly progression has been accelerating. I mean, the invention of the entire concept of computing simply can't compare to the invention of Final Fantasy XVIII.

      What about between 1890 and 1910?

      What about it? One of the most innovative periods of human history, during which the introduction of the automobile totally changed the entire face of the developed world. Oh, and there was this other invention then called the "airplane". You may have heard of it, I believe it's still used in some parts of the world.
      • You are rather simplifying things.

        just off the top of my head:
        1986 - 2006
        development of:
        modern word processors, spreadsheets, relational databases, audio and video applications, mp3, mpeg video codecs, the world wide web ,graphical email applications, p2p, perl, php, flash, javascript, java, Linux, BSD, xml, html, desktop publishing, photo and image editing software, the web browser, wireless and mobile applications, etc, etc.

        In fact almost everything in computing except the commandline has been developed o
    • 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.

      Will people please stop incorrectly generalising other slashdot posters, then going on to state the exact same thing as what everyone else is saying?

      Maybe it's just that I read at +2, and this "many on slashdot" that people keep talking about (who I never see) are +1 or less...

    • TRIPs mandates 20 years.

      Imagine a mining truck and try to transform it to serve the needs of formula one races.
    • Though many on slashdot may claim it is blasphemy to say this, I do not think that patents are nessessarily a bad thing.

      You are confused. The vast majority on Slashdot accept patents are a good and usefull thing. You have to dig long and hard to find two or three people around here actually arguing against patents.

      The whole "no patents" thing is a strawman.

      No, the main argument going on here is whether patentability should be EXPANDED to cover mathematical calculations - whether patentability should be EXPA
  • Now hopefully, they ban all patents. People shouldn't have the right to own an idea because it's better if everyone can use the ideas that people come up with. Come to think of it, why allow people to own anything? Who needs property rights?
    • Who needs property rights?

      Well, if you don't, then I'll stop by later to pick up your car keys.
      • I guess no one sensed my sarchasm. I do believe in property rights and I think it's very interesting that I was mod up for the previous post. I'm actually totally against banning software patents. I was trying to illustrate that there's no difference between banning software patents and taking away property rights. Apparently I failed.
        • I was trying to illustrate that there's no difference between banning software patents and taking away property rights. Apparently I failed.

          Of course you failed, because your point was rediculous and obviously false.

          Just look at traditional US patent law, say 1980. US patent law properly and consistantly rejected any and all attempts to patent software on the grounds that software and "mental steps" did not constitute an invention. That math is not and cannot be an invention. Patent law across the entire gl
          • 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 hardwa
    • People shouldn't have the right to own an idea because it's better if everyone can use the ideas that people come up with. Come to think of it, why allow people to own anything? Who needs property rights?

      The problem is that I haven't seen any algorithm worthy of a patent in a long time. Canonical example: Amazon's stupid "single click" patent. Can you look me in the eyes and truthfully say you think that was legitimate?

      Furthermore, the lifetime on software patents is ridiculously long. The vast major

      • The problem is that I haven't seen any algorithm worthy of a patent in a long time. Canonical example: Amazon's stupid "single click" patent. Can you look me in the eyes and truthfully say you think that was legitimate?

        You hit the nail on the head. There's definitly patent abuse going on! No doubt about the fact that Amazon's one click patent is a mistake by the patent office. The problem is that we have a broken system. If you have a leaky pipe in your house do you wrip out the pipes? I think the soluti
        • But I think that what we disagree on is that there's some sort of crisis that would cause us to have to give up intelectual property rights for the time being until we can fix the patent system. No doubt there are problems, but at this time, the good outweighs the bad.

          Well, I believe very strongly that we are in a crisis. It seems like every day I ready about a new abusive patent that makes my job as a programmer more dangerous and expensive. If the system can be fixed, then by all means let's do so. H

  • interesting (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jaqui (905797)
    the letter that is mentioned rips them for saying no to software patents.

    so I naturally had to send them:

    I just read a news article on Slashdot. http://slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org]

    I wish to inform you that I actually agree with your decision, that software patents are not to be issued or respected.

    A patent on software is identicle to a Patent on a cook book.
    Both are a collection of words used to give directions in accomplishing a specific task.
    Since a cook book is not patentable anywhere in the world, software is not pate
    • Read the letter again. It actually rips the Commission for keeping on insisting on the EPO practice (which allows software patents). The Commission's answer is pretty vague, and only mildly better than what they spewed in the past. Still, it is potentially a (small) step in the right direction.
  • Poland, Again! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jstaniek (967692)
    Is Mr. Gierek, from Poland, the only brave there??
  • He's a lawyer (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This blog post from an IP professor in the UK puts things in perspective: http://ipkitten.blogspot.com/2006/05/software-pate nts-will-you-wont-you.html [blogspot.com]
  • Software Patents (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sqreater (895148)

    The problem with the idea of computer patents in my mind is that computer programs are not really part of the universe of physical laws that determine devices and processes that can be created. Computers define a very small sub-universe in which hardware and software severely constrict that which is possible and actually make everything almost obvious once the problem to be solved is clearly stated.

    Selecting from the limited possibilities determined not by the general laws of the universe, but by the sever

  • 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 ;
  • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Thursday May 25, 2006 @08:44AM (#15400579) Homepage
    Let me provide some clarification:

    Software patents do exist in Europe. Tens of thousands of them, in fact. They have been, and continue to be, granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) as well as national patent offices (such as the UK Patent Office, for an example).

    However, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and the other usual suspects are unhappy about the fact that most of those European software patents are barely worth the paper their documents are printed on. All patent litigation in Europe goes to national courts. Even if there is an infringement of the same patent by the same infringer in multiple countries, the patent holder has to sue country by country. The national courts look at the applicable national law. So, what does that applicable law say as of now?

    All countries that are member states of the European Patent Organization (the international organization that runs the EPO) have signed and ratified the European Patent Convention (EPC), a treaty that was worded in the 1970s. Its article 52 says that "computer programs" (and various other things) are not patentable inventions. But it also says that this exclusion only relates to the excluded subject-matter "as such".

    The interpretation of "as such" varies greatly. The EPO believes that a computer program is only a "computer program as such" in the form of source code or object code, on which no one (not even in the US) would want a patent because its scope would be too narrow (for protecting code, copyright does the job anyway). But any concept that can be implemented by way of a computer program, such as a context menu, is considered a technical invention by the EPO.

    It's like saying: Once the program actually runs on a computer, that whole computer along with the program running on it is no longer a "computer program as such" and the exclusion doesn't apply. That's the EPO position. It's also the way many national patent offices justify the grant of software patents. However, national courts with their independent judges often come to a different conclusion and throw those software patents out right at the beginning of an infringement litigation.

    At this juncture, the real threat is not that the EU would introduce an EU community patent and change the legal framework. The clear and present danger is that the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) [no-lobbyists-as-such.com] might be ratified. Microsoft, SAP and their usual allies (including the EPO itself) are pushing for this initiative now. That's the one to watch out for.

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