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EU Software Patent War Ignites Again 168

Posted by Zonk
from the another-skirmish dept.
pieterh writes "ZDNet UK has a detailed article on the heating-up of the software patent debate in Europe. A new motion before the European Parliament calls for a harmonised patent court (EPLA) that would be able to enforce software patents across Europe. This comes just 15 months after the EP rejected the infamous Computer Implemented Inventions directive." From the article: "Patents on software are formally disallowed under the European patent system, but are routinely granted by the European patent office, according to critics. They are currently difficult to enforce in many EU member states, something critics say would be changed by the failed software patent directive, and now by the EPLA. Software patents are generally considered to add to the legal costs of large enterprises, as well as creating a hostile legal environment for smaller software businesses and open source projects."
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EU Software Patent War Ignites Again

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  • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:01PM (#16156844) Homepage
    ZDNet UK has a detailed article on the heating-up of the software patent debate in Europe. A new motion before the European Parliament calls for a harmonised patent court (EPLA) that would be able to enforce software patents across Europe.

    Yes, because clearly the best solution isn't to simply fix the law, but to create an entirely new governmental bureacracy.
    • by Qzukk (229616) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:18PM (#16156973) Journal
      the best solution isn't to simply fix the law

      The law is fixed. The law specifically disallows software patents. The "infamous" directive mentioned in the writeup failed, so the law still specifically disallows software patents. The patent office issues them anyway. Isn't it funny how laws telling people what to do result in fines, jail time, and execution if you break them, but laws telling the government what to do have absolutely no punishment when the government breaks them?

      So to enforce the patents, whoever is behind this clusterfuck intends to create an entirely new court system, specifically for the purpose of "legislating from the bench".
      • by User 956 (568564)
        The "infamous" directive mentioned in the writeup failed, so the law still specifically disallows software patents. The patent office issues them anyway.

        Right. Which means the law is broken, because the penalties aren't a deterrent.
        • by rts008 (812749)
          Clearly it is broken.
          I support laws that enable the public at large to admin a kick to the testicles of anyone proposing to patent any software. To support ERA, give the offenders a choice between the public kick in the nads, or a double-bit axe shoved up teh *ss.
          This software patent insanity needs to stop and just go away. Copyright reg's and laws already cover software code- we don't need to overburden the patent system with this shite!
      • but laws telling the government what to do have absolutely no punishment when the government breaks them

        The EPO is not a government. It is an independent institute, that has the EC-granted power to award patents.

        However, even the EC is now getting weary that, in practice, the EPO is actively involved in policy-making, [ffii.org] instead of just executing the policies set by the EC.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      All we want to do is create a harmonised patent court. Let a thousand, nay, a thousand thousand voices sing in unison the beauteous virtues of the patent.

      Join me, my children.

      Won'drous pa-tent fill'd with light
      Bless'd be thine en-dur-ing sight
      Yield thine cof-fers 'fore my suit
      Ren-der o-thers' ef-forts moot.

      Righ-teous pa-tent guard these joys
      Lest a-no-ther have such toys
      Hold for me mine right-ful worth
      All these thoughts u-pon this Earth.

      Beau-teous pa-tent for mine good
      As an in-verse Ro-bin Hood
      Suck-le-ing a
    • by mpe (36238)
      Yes, because clearly the best solution isn't to simply fix the law,

      The law isn't actually broken here, the issue is more one of lack of enforcement.

      but to create an entirely new governmental bureacracy.

      However not one which would actually do something useful. e.g. compile a list of bogus patents to prevent any possible attempt to enforce them.
      • In fact, that's the best idea for a government institution in terms of IP law that I've heard in a long time ; a department whose sole occupation is to debunk existing patents.

        You could argue that it would encourage innovation merely because it reduces the cost of performing patent searches by weeding out a certain amount of the crap that already exists, making patent lawyers cheaper.

        The patent office subsist from the fees they earn from patent applications and therefore have no real incentive to examine pa
  • by patrixmyth (167599) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:05PM (#16156871)
    Ah, remember the good old days with patent and copyright law was crafted to ENCOURAGE innovation and PROTECT creative work, rather than STIFLE competition and REWARD petty lawsuits? No? Well, me neither, but I've seen the footprints in the woods.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kfg (145172) *
      Yes.

      The mission statement of the copyright act under which I grew up:

      "The main object to be desired in expanding copyright protection accorded to music has been to give the composer an adequate return for the value of his composition, and it has been a serious and difficult task to combine the protection of the composer with the protection of the public, and to so frame an act that it would accomplish the double purpose of securing to the composer an adequate return for all use made of his composition and a
    • by rackhamh (217889)
      Out of curiosity, can you provide an example of when the patent system has failed to "PROTECT creative work"?
      • How does the patent system protect creative work? By disallowing anyone else from using the same idea after you've patented it? Is that what you call protectiong--by preventing others from benefiting from an idea that others could have just as easily arrived at on their own? Just look at all of the recent patent-related lawsuits. They only protect the right of individuals to monopolize an idea and prevent society from benfiting from the idea or taking the idea further (and in some situations, from even real

        • by rackhamh (217889)
          How does the patent system protect creative work? By disallowing anyone else from using the same idea after you've patented it?

          I'm sorry... this just doesn't compute. Allowing people to COPY ideas is now equivalent to "creative work"???

          Say someone invents X and patents it. Then 50 years later another young man independently thinks of the idea to build X.

          Have you ever heard of "patent terms"? Patents grant exclusive licensing rights FOR A LIMITED TIME.

          Patents basically punish people for not being the firs
        • by mpe (36238)
          How does the patent system protect creative work? By disallowing anyone else from using the same idea after you've patented it? Is that what you call protectiong--by preventing others from benefiting from an idea that others could have just as easily arrived at on their own?

          In which case the "obvious test" might apply. This cannot happen where the people examining patent applications are not experts in the subject(s) concerned. Especially since "obvious things" may not be well documented because anyone wr
  • by TheWoozle (984500) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:09PM (#16156909)
    It's too bad that I can't patent a political process by which ridiculous laws are passed by clueless people. I'd be the richest man in the universe.
    • Unfortunately, the human race has several thousands of years of prior art on that one....
    • by jmv (93421)
      Sorry, you can't. Too much prior art.
      • IMO, in case of stupid and/or obvious patents (like the one described by TheWoozle) prior art never prevents the patent from being granted nor does it ever allow it to be invalidated.

        Why?

        We're talking stupid and/or obvious patents here. Logic and logical arguments does not count.

        :)

  • Sad, isn't it ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mickwd (196449) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:10PM (#16156913)
    From the article:

    In rebuttal, the three groups have filed a motion calling for "balance between the interests of patent holders and the broader public interest in innovation and competitive markets"

    Sad, isn't it, when the groups opposing this are calling for a "balance" between patent holders and the greater public good.

    Surely, the whole point of patents was "the broader public interest in innovation and competitive markets" ?

    So how can McCreevy and co. get away with opposing "the broader public interest in innovation and competitive markets", the will of our elected EU politicians, and the wishes of by far the majority of the population who have expressed an interest in the matter ?

  • by flooey (695860) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:17PM (#16156962)
    Patents on software are formally disallowed under the European patent system, but are routinely granted by the European patent office, according to critics. They are currently difficult to enforce in many EU member states,...

    You mean member states aren't willing to enforce patents that aren't allowed to be granted in the first place? What is this world coming to?
  • international issues (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sedyn (880034) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:18PM (#16156966)
    I've always wondered about how patents work beyond their own borders (I don't understand patent law very well).

    For example, if patent office A says that something is obvious, but patent office B in another nation claims that it isn't (and subsequently grants the patent, potentially to another company) what are the possible ramifications and remedies? Or is a company expected to request patents by all offices? Or once a patent is declared invalid in one jurisdiction is anyone else (in another nation) allowed to apply for it?

    What I just asked could be complete non-sense, but it is something that I am curious about.
    • by Burz (138833) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @06:50PM (#16157936) Journal
      For example, if patent office A says that something is obvious, but patent office B in another nation claims that it isn't

      The answer is you sign a "free-trade" treaty to "synchronize" your "intellectual property" laws with the United States. Then you just do whatever the Americans tell you.

      • by Alsee (515537)
        The answer is you sign a "free-trade" treaty to "synchronize" your "intellectual property"

        You horribly misspelled "harmonize".

        -
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:20PM (#16156995)
    The enormous cost (3million EUROS) of litigating any patent dispute means small businesses simply cannot benefit from having patents when a large company infringes their patents . We absolutely do not want software patents because they are harmful to innovation in our own businesses. Indeed, we demand any attempt to introduce them in Europe is completely rejected. Two years ago, over 200,000 small businesses in Europe signed a petition to the European Commission totally rejecting the idea of introducing software patents in Europe, and totally rejecting the idea of harmonising legal processes in a way that might support software patents.
    • by rackhamh (217889)
      Please tell me how any of this is unique to software patents.

      If you want to argue that the entire patent system should be abolished, feel free to do so. Otherwise, I'd love to hear what makes software patents a special case from a small vs. large business perspective...
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        If you really like strongly logical argument, please tell me why the problem, which you seem to acknowledge, of patents being completely useless to SMALL business because patent litigation costs are 3million EUROS per lawsuit means patenting should now be extended to allow software patents, creating an unwanted problem of unaffordable software patent lawsuits for SMALL businesses threatening their very existence, the jobs and economic growth that they provide. Remember that more jobs in Europe are provided
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by rackhamh (217889)
          the problem, which you seem to acknowledge, of patents being completely useless to SMALL business

          I acknowledged no such thing. I think patents can be quite useful for small businesses. My point is simply that all the rage directed at software patents in particular is somewhat misplaced.

          Look, in an ideal world, small businesses would be able to sue big businesses to their heart's content. But in the real world, some people have more money than others. Unavoidable fact.

          That doesn't mean that patents shoul
      • by SmokedS (973779)
        In other industries it costs a whole lot to innovate, and it is, compared to software innovation, extremely rare. Writing software is innovation.
        I write hundreds of potentially patentable algorithms and combinations of algorithms every week Writing one is a minutes work. Checking if it in itself, or in combination with some other part of the software violates a patent is a major project for a patent attorney.
        • by rackhamh (217889)
          I write hundreds of potentially patentable algorithms and combinations of algorithms every week

          No you don't. Pure algorithms aren't patentable. You need to understand that in their current state, software patents are essentially business method patents, tied to a computer structure. They are, essentially, patents on an inventive computer-implemented means of accomplishing some task.
          • by SmokedS (973779)
            Oh, you mean like apparatus for switching view via button press and such? I don't write those? You coulda fooled me.
            • by rackhamh (217889)
              Oh, you mean like apparatus for switching view via button press and such? I don't write those? You coulda fooled me.

              I'm sure there's prior art for that. It's not patentable.
              • by SmokedS (973779)
                Seems the patent officials disagreed.
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tab_(GUI)#Patent_Disp ute [wikipedia.org]
                • by rackhamh (217889)
                  It would be more useful if you linked to the actual patent, so I can see what was actually infringed.

                  I'm willing to bet that Adobe held a patent for a fairly specific use of tabs, and that's what Macromedia infringed on. I'd also be VERY interested to learn what the countersuit involved, since it resulted in Adobe paying out more than it won in the initial suit.

                  Seriously, a couple of vague sentences in Wikipedia, lacking references to source materials, doesn't do much to prove a point.
      • by arose (644256)
        Please tell me how any of this is unique to software patents.
        Software business probably has the lowest barriers of entry of any patent sensitive field. One coder in his bedroom can be the entire company and still violate countless software patents wihout even knowing of their existance.
    • The traditional western freedom to express anything in terms of mathematics.

      Where so-called "intellectual property" leads us is nothing short of enclosure of the mind.
  • by ClamIAm (926466) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:34PM (#16157101)
    I think it's safe to say most Slashdotters prefer a form of government where they have a voice, and this probably means most of us favor some form of liberal democracy. Well, Wendell Philips said it best when he described the price of liberty as "eternal vigilance". There will always be forces in the world trying to subvert liberty to serve their own ends, and this means that there must always be people who will stand up for what is right.

    I realize this is kind of a sappy/idealistic post, but, um, I think there's some measure of truth here.
    • by rackhamh (217889)
      I realize this is kind of a sappy/idealistic post, but, um, I think there's some measure of truth here.

      While I tend to agree about the price of liberty being eternal vigilism, it's not clear from your post how that applies to software patents.

      Whose liberties are being subverted by software patents? Don't say small entities -- they have exactly the same liberties as large entities. The fact that they have fewer resources for legal battles is a function of our economic system, not patent law specifically.
      • by Shawn is an Asshole (845769) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @05:38PM (#16157518)
        I can't for the life of me figure out what makes people hate software patents more than other types of patents...

        For one thing, software already has copyright. Why does it also need patents?

        Say I write a song with a I-IV-V progression. I have copyright on that song now. Should I also be able to patent the I-IV-V progression and begin suing everyone over it?
        • by rackhamh (217889)
          For one thing, software already has copyright. Why does it also need patents?

          Because software inventions are closer to mechanical inventions, with modules analogous to moving parts, than they are to a piece of art or prose.

          Shouldn't the INVENTION be protected, not just the specific implementation of the invention?
          • by Bugmaster (227959)

            Because software inventions are closer to mechanical inventions, with modules analogous to moving parts, than they are to a piece of art or prose.

            Shouldn't the INVENTION be protected, not just the specific implementation of the invention?

            Actually, the patents on mechanical inventions do patent the specific implementation, and not the idea itself. You cannot patent the concept of converting flammable fuels into motive force, but you can patent a specific implementation of an internal combustion engine. S

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by rackhamh (217889)
              You cannot patent the concept of converting flammable fuels into motive force,

              which is the same as saying you can't patent an algorithm

              but you can patent a specific implementation of an internal combustion engine

              which is the same as saying you can patent a specific use of an algorithm.

              Your example is entirely consistent with software patents.
              • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

                by Anonymous Coward
                but you can patent a specific implementation of an internal combustion engine

                which is the same as saying you can patent a specific use of an algorithm.


                No it is not. It is the same as saying you can patent the implementation of an algorithm, which is already covered by copyright. use != implementation.

                Why was the parent modded up at all? It is non-sensical.
                • by rackhamh (217889)
                  No it is not. It is the same as saying you can patent the implementation of an algorithm, which is already covered by copyright. use != implementation.

                  Look, you're still not getting it. Mechanical patents are no different from software patents. You patent as broadly as you can while getting around the prior art. Using your engine example, you wouldn't try to patent "a gizmo of type X connected to a doodad of type Y to form a combustible engine." You would try to patent "a gizmo and a doodad connected to
                  • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                    by csirac (574795)
                    You only get into the details of the implementation if REQUIRED to.

                    This approach is then a real problem. Do you really deserve to "own" the ideas in the patent you're writing? The second it's filed, how many real-world implementations out there are suddenly infringing because other developers had to follow similar logical processes to arrive at a solution that solves the same problem?

                    I can't help but think that the real innovators that advance technology in this world are disadvantaged, stifling progress -
                    • by rackhamh (217889)
                      This approach is then a real problem. Do you really deserve to "own" the ideas in the patent you're writing? The second it's filed, how many real-world implementations out there are suddenly infringing because other developers had to follow similar logical processes to arrive at a solution that solves the same problem?

                      Wow, you really don't understand patents, do you? If other implementations are already out there, it's called PRIOR ART, and the patent is INVALID.

                      I can't help but think that the real innovat
                    • by csirac (574795)
                      If other implementations are already out there, it's called PRIOR ART, and the patent is INVALID.

                      This still costs money to prove. Especially if you're talking about US companies suing in your own nation, the court costs awarded to a successful defense are generally a ceremonial detail (supposedly, typically, extracting your court fees from a foreign US company requires setting up legal action in the USA).

                      That's funny, considering the amount of money that large companies pour into technological research.

                      This
                  • by KwKSilver (857599) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @10:58PM (#16158857)
                    Actaually, your arguments in this thread--taken at face value--make a powerful case to outlaw all patents. Thanks.
              • by Bugmaster (227959)

                which is the same as saying you can patent a specific use of an algorithm.

                No, it's not. When patenting mechanical devices, you really must itemize every single gear and doodad, and how they connect to each other, and what they do. You can't simply say, "I'm gonna burn some fuel and use the heat for energy" (or, "I'm gonna use bubble sort to sort stuff"), you must say exactly how your engine converts heat to motion with pistons, valves, and whatnot (or, you should be required submit your exact source code

        • For one thing, software already has copyright. Why does it also need patents?

          Non-software patents are no different and have the same relationship. You can get a copyright on the implementation design and a patent on the abstract design. Chemical process patents for example, which no one seems to care about, are entirely indistinguishable from software patents in this regard. The idea that software is somehow different on the basis of a copyright is a fallacy and obscures the real issue.

          Which is not

      • by ClamIAm (926466)
        The fact that [poor people] have fewer resources for legal battles is a function of our economic system, not patent law specifically.

        I don't see how a broken economic and legal system justifies patenting what are a cross between a mathematical formula and an instruction booklet.
        • by rackhamh (217889)
          I don't see how a broken economic and legal system justifies patenting what are a cross between a mathematical formula and an instruction booklet.

          I'm not sure I understand your analogy... so before I respond, can you please provide an example to clarify?
      • I can't for the life of me figure out what makes people hate software patents more than other types of patents...

        Most likely because you don't know anything about writing software. If you did, you'd understand how much patents are an incredibly poor fit as a tool to enhance the software industry.

        • by rackhamh (217889)
          Most likely because you don't know anything about writing software. If you did, you'd understand how much patents are an incredibly poor fit as a tool to enhance the software industry.

          Or maybe I do have experience writing software, and just happen to disagree with you. Nah, that's impossible.
          • There are plenty of people who have "experience" writing software and yet still don't know the first thing about it.
            • by rackhamh (217889)
              There are plenty of people who have "experience" writing software and yet still don't know the first thing about it.

              If you think that's true of me, then explain your point of view. I'm not just going to take your word for it that I don't know what I'm talking about, ya know? ;)
      • I can't for the life of me figure out what makes people hate software patents more than other types of patents...

        I hate patenting software for two reasons:

        • Software already enjoys legal protection, it's called copyrights.
        • Software patents inhibit progress and doesn't encourage innovation or progress.

        Say I come up with a nifty program that allows users to do X, so I market it. The next thing I know I get slapped with 1, or 2, or more lawsuits because several others had already patented a number of t

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I want to know who would be liable for any losses due to the EPO's granting of patents against their mandate (the EPC).

    If the EPO is not liable, then senior EPO staff or examiners must be personally liable because these (invalid) software patents are not issuing themselves. Perhaps that mister McCreevy (who is not a Microsoft sock-puppet) could contribute his personal wealth and spare time to the defense of the liable party.

    If the EPO are not liable for their actions then why would a private company or indi
  • "Software patents are generally considered to add to the legal costs of large enterprises, as well as creating a hostile legal environment for smaller software businesses and open source projects" By the Slashdot crowd, maybe. The latest research suggests that in the U.S., the barriers to entry and industry concentration of the software industry are no higher than they were in the time before software patents became prevalent. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id =926204 [ssrn.com] And besides, paten
    • if you're a small software provider and you've come up with a neat idea, you'd better hope that you can get patent protection, because nothing else is going to stop Microsoft from using your idea, cutting your price, and taking away customers with armies of marketroids.

      Yeah, like MS can't just take your idea and say "We've got billions of dollars in our war chest so go ahead and sue us. Even if perchance you win millions what they've spent in legal fees and awards to you will still be less than what the

  • When it comes to patent law, man, money doesn't just talk... it screams through a giant bullhorn. It amazes me just how much a group of lawmakers can be influenced to completely sell out the common people for the sake of a handful of billionaires.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @07:19PM (#16158081)
    The best solution would be to simply disallow patenting software altogether. Software implementations are already covered by copyright, and that's about as much as there should be to keep competition running. The US have patentable software, and we've seen far too many instances where the system has been abused to patent ridiculous implementations for the sake of stifling competition.

    And that's anything but free market!

  • http://wiki.ffii.org/IstTamaiEn [ffii.org]

    More details
    http://threeseas.net/abstraction_physics.html [threeseas.net]

    Also see:

    http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/0 9/21/2130243 [slashdot.org]

    but the most powerful force of human mentality is "Denial"
    A matter of popular or promoted belief often having nothing to do with what honesty actually is.
  • Eh,,, (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Barts_706 (992266) on Friday September 22, 2006 @02:39AM (#16159367) Homepage Journal
    Once in my life I felt proud to be Polish - it was when we blocked the issue of software patents.

    It looks like we have won the battle, but the war will continue as long as there is overload of bureacracy in EU and moloch corporations to be lobbying.

    Personally, being a Linux user (perhaps not the most advanced around, but at least trying) I shiver at the tought of software patents being introduced and what effect this might have on our distributions. No left-click, no double-click, no <insert_your_favourite_nix_feature_here>?

    I do hope this issue will be bounced back again. For the sake of us all.

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