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Protests Delay European Software Patent Vote 316

Posted by simoniker
from the protesters-certainly-very-persistent dept.
vinsci writes "According to CNET News, 'The European Parliament has delayed voting on a controversial software-patents directive, following protests and criticism by computer scientists and economists.' ZDNet UK adds: 'Warnings that a controversial directive could devastate European software businesses have struck a chord with MEPs. The European Parliament has delayed voting on a controversial software-patents directive... the vote, originally planned for Monday, will now take place at a plenary session starting on 22 September.' Wired also has a story on the protests."
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Protests Delay European Software Patent Vote

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  • Yay for Europe! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:39PM (#6846383)
    At least protests have an effect there. In the US, we need to protest tens of times to get the point across...
    • Re:Yay for Europe! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bussdriver (620565) on Monday September 01, 2003 @07:12PM (#6846518)
      Even then, our protests go belittled in the media (unless record size) and are dismissed by the white house; which just uses a straw man.
      • when did that happen? I must have missed it on FOX NEWS. they're usually so careful to get the big, important, meaningful stories.
      • Re:Yay for Europe! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by squiggleslash (241428) on Monday September 01, 2003 @11:07PM (#6847670) Homepage Journal
        I agree with the latter, but the "(unless record size)" thing needs challenging. It's not the size, it's the message, that determines whether the protesters get belittled. I guess it ultimately depends on whether or not the press feel it's in their interests, or their owners interests, etc, to cover it.

        Hundreds of thousands marched against the recent Iraqi action, for example, and in general the protests were fleetingly covered and all the protestors portrayed as nothing more than a bunch of extremists.

        On the other hand, a handful of people protest against the first amendment, as with the recent Alabama Ten Commandments event, and it gets widespread and even supportive coverage.

        Why? Well, one's opposing the government, the other's in favour of views associated with some of the more extreme members of the current government, and right now the Press, for whatever reason (insert conspiracy theory here), feels its obliged to prop up the current government - presumably looking at issues like media ownership rule changes as reasons to want a regime in the White House supportive of the press, or maybe just sensing a right-wing mood in the country, who knows.

        I must say I've been disappointed in the five years I've been in America. coming from Britain. The press seemed pretty on-the-ball when I arrived, avoiding, for example, making the Clinton impeachment into some simple good vs evil match. But as time's progressed, the press seems to have gotten steadily worse, less and less rational and more and more ideologically bonkers. It's now almost as bad as the British press.

        Humbert Wolfe satirized the British media in the mid-nineteenth Century:

        You cannot hope to bribe or twist
        thank God! The British journalist.
        But, seeing what the man will do
        unbribed, theres no occasion to.
        It never got any better.
        • Re:Yay for Europe! (Score:3, Informative)

          by Sciamachy (198192)
          It's now almost as bad as the British press.

          Are you talking about the TV news or the printed media exclusively?

          I'd say Fox news and CNN are about as biased as you can get in TV news. British tabloid newspapers have been biased for a long while, but there's a common element - Rupert Murdoch owns Fox, and holds a major stake in the UK's satellite station BSkyB, and terrestrial station Channel5. He also owns a number of tabloid papers in the UK, and is a supporter of the Bush regime, as he was a supporte

    • When the protests are crafted in the language of votes (or its immediate proxy, money) there is attention. Sometimes the fourth branch of gubmint, the media, weighs in. Witness Poindexter.
    • Re:Yay for Europe! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hamster foo (697718)
      Was this type of protest ever attempted in the USA? I can't remember if there has even been a major patent law change in discussion in quite sometime in the US, other than perhaps some Supreme Court votes.

      I wonder if this same broad type of protest would have some effect on US congressman and the like, if it was coupled with a massive email/mail movement informing congressmen of the reasons behind the protest and the problems with current patent law. With sites that have a very wide range of users they e
      • Re:Yay for Europe! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nucleon500 (628631)
        As I understand it, there never were protests in the US, because it was through case law and policy changes at the PTO that software patents gradually became legal, not because of legislation. In other words, we were slowly boiled frogs.
  • Wait a mo.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by NanoGator (522640) on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:40PM (#6846384) Homepage Journal
    ... a protest actually accomplished something? Here in Portland, the primary accomplishment of a protest is to stop traffic.
    • This is not just in Portland. Here in Greece protest do no more than stop traffic. This is an undisputed fact.

      The article ,however, mentions that protests actually did infuence the postponement.

      Therefore we have to conclude that traffic problems are directly related to software patents..
      Aarghh. my head hurts..

    • Yeah, it got them to delay the vote long enough for the general public to forget about it. Once everyone's gone home and forgotten, they'll vote yes anyway :)
  • by Tuxinatorium (463682) on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:43PM (#6846408) Homepage
    ...If they weren't so often given to people for doing the equivalent of being the first cave man to crack open a coconut with a sharp rock. Any company that tries to patent something like "1-click buying" should be sent a present from the unibomber.
  • Its not just EU (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anonymous coword (615639) on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:43PM (#6846410) Homepage Journal
    Imagine who will be next. What if Asia, Canada, South America, Africa, Austrilia were lobbying for software patents! This is an international problem, and it must be protested everywhere!
    • "Imagine who will be next. What if Asia, Canada, South America, Africa, Austrilia were lobbying for software patents! This is an international problem, and it must be protested everywhere! "

      The Simpsons are heading for Africa!
    • Let EU be beginning (Score:5, Interesting)

      by axxackall (579006) on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:34PM (#6846941) Homepage Journal
      Imagine if Asia, Canada, South America, Africa, Austrilia right after EU will outlaw software patents in principle! The US will have to outlaw software patents as well just to keep being competitive. Otherwise american companies will be easily beaten outside of US.
      • by Cyclops (1852) <rmsNO@SPAM1407.org> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @02:52AM (#6848347) Homepage
        American companies (namely SMEs) ARE easily beaten inside the US by fellow american companies holders of several software patents.
      • by Hamster Lover (558288) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @03:37AM (#6848493) Journal
        From a website on patent law in Canada:

        "The difficulty with software is that programs generally centre around the use of mathematics and algorithms. It is clear that a software-related invention must do more than merely perform a calculation and must be more than an algorithm embodied in software. Otherwise, it will fall into the category of a "mere scientific principle or abstract theorem" and therefore be unpatentable. .

        The test for determining whether a software related invention is patentable was set out in Schlumberger Canada Ltd. v. Commissioner of Patents (1981), 56 C.P.R.(2d) 204 (F.C.A.). The test considers, what (if anything), according to the application, has been discovered. The court held that if the invention was merely the discovery that by making certain calculations according to certain formulae, useful information could be extracted from certain measurements, then the application should be refused on the basis that it lacked patentable subject matter under section 2 of the Patent Act. Essentially, the court suggested that if the program interacted with physical objects other than the computer in a novel, useful and inventive way, the invention was patentable. In response to Schlumberger and related decisions, the Patent Office developed new guidelines, used by the Patent Office Examiners to assess the patentability of computer related subject matter. The guidelines are as follows:

        1.Computer programs per se are not patentable;
        2.Processes which are unapplied mathematical calculations, even if expressed in words rather than in mathematical symbols, are not patentable;
        3.A process and/or computer program which merely produces information for mental interpretation by a human being is not patentable, nor does the process or program confer novelty upon the apparatus which uses it;
        4.Claims drawn up in terms of means plus function which merely produce intellectual data are not patentable;
        5.New and useful processes incorporating a computer program, and apparatus incorporating a programmed computer, are directed to patentable subject matter if the computer related matter has been integrated with another practical system that falls within an area which is traditionally patentable; and
        6.The presence of a programmed general purpose computer or a program for such a computer does not lend patentability to, nor subtract patentability from, an apparatus or process."

        Thus, if a computer program is used to interact with a system or as part of a process, ie. electronically controlled sawmill machinery, then the software could be patented. Which raises the question on how the LZW algorithm was granted a patent in Canada (patent 1223965) as it clearly is nothing more than an algorithm.
  • Still... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rzbx (236929) <slashdot AT rzbx DOT org> on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:44PM (#6846415) Homepage
    Why are they only delaying things? It is obvious most people do not accept software patents. This is coming from software programmers and economists. For the sake of humanity and the economy, why don't those politicians listen to those that are involved in the process of software and not those that simply make a business from it? I understand things are a bit more complicated, but I'm really getting tired of hearing politicians being constantly swaying by big businesses. I'm glad I did my part in this (even though I don't live in Europe), I sent my email/letter using all the available online services that are fighting against these softare patents.
    • Re:Still... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) on Monday September 01, 2003 @07:11PM (#6846517) Homepage Journal
      Well, as usual. Delaying means that the proponents for the issue has time to come forward with another proposal - which may sound completely different but in essence is the same proposal again. This new proposal will be said tio be a good comprimise to try and convine the undecided to vote for the proposal.

      Thats politics!

      • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:46PM (#6846993) Homepage
        Bah Humbug, non-informed pessimistic replys are easy but stupid.

        The vote has been delayed because the original proposal was not appropriate (everyone hated it). The original proposal was created with a very slim majoriy vote from the JURI committee (65 MEPs).

        Having talked to many MEPs, I've heard that they know it's a crap proposal, but they don't know what to do to fix it. So I, along with many others, have been studying the European Patent Convention, the WTOs TRIPS agreement, and the proposal. We've been educating our MEPs, and now they don't want software patents.

        The MEPs on the JURI committed are much more educated this time around, they are considering the FFII mini-proposal, almost all of them want to make sure that software is explicitly excluded from patentability.

        Cosmetic changes won't fool anyone, the level of education among the EU lobbyists is quite impressive. I think we're going to win this one.

        Ciaran O'Riordan
        • by HuguesT (84078) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:15PM (#6847175)
          That's it, you've made my friend's list.

          Thanks for these uplifting news.
        • The only way we can 'educate' our representatives here in the good 'ol US is with a basket full of cash and attached Hallmark card. 10 words or less.
          • by Chuck Chunder (21021) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @01:57AM (#6848210) Homepage Journal
            <huge generalisation>
            It seems to me that Americans seem to have actually abandoned the belief that democracy can work.

            Most of the effort seems to go on "minimising" government or using the constitution to stop the government from doing bad things rather than getting the government to want the right things in the first place..

            Frankly I find that a bit scary.
            </huge generalisation>
            • That's based on the (IMO incorrect, and I'm British not American BTW) that you ever had a democracy and that democracies work at all.

              You, like those of us in the UK, are living in an oligopoly with a carefully engineered public front which gives the illusion of democracy. You can choose between a number of representatives or parties, but the representatives you can pick from are chosen for you (or the bar to entry to real independants is so high that it is virtually impossible ot be elected). Even when you
    • Re:Still... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by aastanna (689180) on Monday September 01, 2003 @07:28PM (#6846576)
      Well, it's not like they are going to implement the patents and they are only delaying the start date. They are delaying a vote, so it's still undecided.

      To me it sounds like some of the people who might have voted yes on this issue may have realized how stupid they were being, and hopefully will re-examine the facts and have a change of hart.

      Remember, politicians by and large won't understand the issue themselves, it's way out of their field, and it needs to be explained. For many years lobbiests for major corporations have been explaining the yes side, now some economists are explaining the no side and people are realizing the major problems with software patents.
  • by arcanumas (646807) on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:49PM (#6846438) Homepage
    This is in fact the second time it is postponed. Let's hope that this is because they are seriously considering the impact of their decision and not some form of bureaucracy.
  • by doormat (63648) on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:49PM (#6846439) Homepage Journal
    Is this good? That we got a delay? Or do they simply want to wait until the tide rolls out, then pass it when there isnt as much vocal opposition. Regardless, keep the pressure on them! Make sure software patents arent allowed!
    • Those are my thoughts exactly. It may be too cynical, but as they say, "it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you." And there are people that are advocating for software patents so we should keep the pressure up.
    • Yeah, that's usually how this sort of thing goes. Lobbyists have boundless energy and if they get shot down one year, they just tweak their strategy and try again, and again until they get their way. The only way to completely stop them is drive a stake into... oh wait that's vampires. Um... sing their song backwards... no that sucubusses... Hmm... has anyone found the weakness for lobbyists yet?
  • by El (94934) on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:50PM (#6846441)
    Why not make the patents proportional to the amount of time and effort required to come up with the algoritm? I.e. "1 click shopping" should be patentable for about 10 minutes, while something like a machine vision algorithm which required years of research should be patentable for years...
    • Why not make the patents proportional to the amount of time and effort required to come up with the algoritm?

      I can see the courtroom testimony now:

      "Your honor, I swear I'm an idiot and it really took me five years to come with this idea. Really!"

    • And why not at the very least make have a demonstrateble version of software a condition of the patent. What we are seeing a lot these days are vague poorly written specifications for " my using the internet.". SOmetimes the applications were made several years ago and yet still not a line of code has appeared.

      This is a far cry from the image of an inventor sweeting for years over a thousand prototypes before the hit on a working model.

      Bottom line though, is that software patents are going to tax us to
      • That's why the software should be protected by copyrights and licenses, not by patents.
    • by woodhouse (625329) on Monday September 01, 2003 @07:25PM (#6846562) Homepage
      That's exactly how the system works without patents. If it's difficult to implement, it's difficult to copy. A difficult algorithm will take years for anyone to reproduce unless they have the source code. No need to patent anything.
      • by El (94934)
        No, a difficult algorithm can be reverse-engineered from the machine code if you have a copy of the software.
      • For example, that super drug that took years and billions to discover, but in the end is only a chemical formula for a molecule that anyone can fabricate.
      • The source code help only in simple cases. When the project and its environment is complicated then interfaces are also complicated. Adaptation is also a very difficult job. Often your programmer will prefer to write it from scratch rather than to use the code. Of course the source code makes the job of copying and adaptation to be much easier. But it will be still very difficult.
  • Good for Europe (Score:2, Insightful)


    tell the US they can take their idiot software patents and shove them where the sun don't shine. Because one dufus judge ruled that a business process could be patented, the Patent Office has rubber stamped anything that comes in the door. If I were Europe, I just simply wouldn't honor what monkeys with rubber stamps do.

    rd
    • Re:Good for Europe (Score:2, Informative)

      by GoBears (86303)
      If you read the EU proposal (click through the Wired article and then to the first link), you would in fact see that they go to great lengths to distance themselves from business-method patents or any other patents that do not have technical content.

      Business-method patents are not the issue here.
  • Please help. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BillKaos (657870) on Monday September 01, 2003 @06:57PM (#6846472) Homepage
    Yes, we know you slashdotters are mostly American, as said before, but please, this is a CRUTIAL fact to European Free Software, so please, help us, help you, and support the protest: change your page.

    Thank you.
  • As someone who actually wrote to my MEPs about this issue, I'm pretty pleased about this...
  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Monday September 01, 2003 @07:03PM (#6846498) Journal
    I believe that the reason that this is coming up with a vote at all is that the WIPO requires 'harmonization' of patent laws in all WIPO-member countries, and everybody is being encouraged to harmonize to the insane US status quo ante.

    Let us hope that the EU can stick to their principles and stand up to US hegemony on this issue. It's not unrealistic to think that a software-patent-free-Europe could have dramatically stronger growth in software than it would have otherwise. Software patents will force force Europe into second-class status for decades.

    The open source movement, and GNU/Linux in particular, has shown that software is fundementally different than 'things' -- people will create it on a large scale just for the pleasure of doing so.

    thad
    • Contrary to the hysterical claims you read in /., Europe is not free of software patents now. Anyone who bothers to click through to read the EU proposal here [eu.int] will read the following observation:

      The patenting of computer-implemented inventions is not new. Indeed, patents involving use of software have been applied for and granted since the earliest days of the European patent system and it is now estimated that 15% of all applications for patents received by the EPO relate to computer-implemented inventi

      • Contrary to the hysterical claims you read in /., Europe is not free of software patents now.

        In the same sense, the world is not free of software patents. Some countries in the world have software patents, some other countries don't. There is no standard policy on software patents throughout the world.

        Continuing this example, some EU countries have allowed software patents, some haven't. "Europe" or "EU" has had no directive concerning patenting software. It has been up to the member countries.

        I t

      • Contrary to the hysterical claims you read in /., Europe is not free of software patents now.

        It is true that a lot of software patents were already granted by the EPO. However, they were granted clearly against the letter of the current directive. The funny thing is, the EPO says something along the lines they are expecting a newer directive to allow software patents so they grant them already, and in this new directive exactly these existing software patents are now used to show that the new directive is


  • Could this be democracy in action?

    Or just another slow motion train-wreck?

    Only the MEPs will decide


    Oh dear......
  • Good News (Score:4, Funny)

    by Houn (590414) on Monday September 01, 2003 @07:08PM (#6846511)
    It's good to see that protests can have an effect on issues every now and then. My fear, however, is that even if this is thrown down this time, how long until it comes up again, and how long until it passes into law? In my experience, the decision-makers tend to be Greedy, Stupid, or both. Of course, I live in the US, so...
    • Too right.

      Here in the US, if a bill is actually noticed and people get into a fluster about it, it's just pulled, rewritten, and slipped back in under another name. Repeat as necessary until one of the times hits a point where it slips under the radar.
  • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Monday September 01, 2003 @07:28PM (#6846578) Journal
    There is still a big problem so long as the U.S. is allowing these patents.

    Scenario 1: Europe allows software patents.
    Jan 1990-Jan 2004: Various people around the world use a borderline-patentable idea because it is obvious, but don't try to patent it.
    Jan 2004: EuroSoft* file to patent the idea in Europe.
    May 2004: AmeriSoft* file to patent the idea in the US.
    Jan 2006: EuroSoft's patent is approved, and used to oppress the masses, including AmeriSoft. AmeriSoft's patent is either refused or is toothless because of this.

    * All companies in these scenarios are fictional. Any resemblence with real companies of the same name, trading or defunct, is purely coincidental, and their fault for choosing such an obvious company name.

    Scenario 2 - Europe does not allow software patents.
    Jan 1990-Jan 2004: Various people around the world use a borderline-patentable idea because it is obvious, but don't try to patent it.
    Jan 2004: EuroSoft considers patenting the idea, but would have to do so in the U.S. This would be much harder for them, and it is a long shot anyway that the patent office will be stupid enough to grant it, so they don't.
    May 2004: AmeriSoft file to patent the idea in the US.
    May 2006: AmeriSoft's patent is approved, and used to oppress the masses, including EuroSoft.

    From our point of view, there isn't much difference between these scenarios, but clearly the European Parliment will prefer scenario 1.

    I think what we need is special cheap non-exclusive patents. (Perhaps the name needs working on, as it is somewhat oxymoronic as it stands.) It would not allow the "patent" owner to prevent anyone else using the idea, but would provide assured protection against anyone who filed for a patent on the same idea at a later date.

    Scenario 3:
    Jan 1990-Jan 2004: Various people around the world use a borderline-patentable idea because it is obvious, but don't try to patent it.
    Jan 2004: EuroSoft* file a non-exclusive patent on the idea in Europe.
    May 2004: AmeriSoft* file to patent the idea in the US.
    May 2006: AmeriSoft is unable to oppress EuroSoft because of the patent. Anyone else is able to claim to be using EuroSoft's patent on the idea, not AmeriSoft.

    This could all be achieved without government intervention just by publishing in a Journal of No-Longer-Patentable Ideas. (Or web-site. Are there such sites? Easy Karma to the person to post links to some.) As IANAL, I don't know if there would be any benefit in official government recognition via the patent office.

    Possibly there could be some allowance for the patents to be used defensively only - i.e. you can only prevent someone using your patent if they are trying to prevent you using one of theirs. I can see a Family Economy-Size Can-o-Worms down this path, but it may still be better than the Barrel-o-Worms we're dealing with now.

    • This [laying prior claim to an idea without patenting it, to prevent later hostile patenting of it] could all be achieved without government intervention just by publishing in a Journal of No-Longer-Patentable Ideas. (Or web-site.)

      Or I could just co-opt Slashdot for the purpose. Here's a couple:

      If those RFID tags could be made really cheaply, you could put one on every piece of recyclable packaging (ideally you'd just add some smart-dust to the plastic mix.) Then rubish could be automatically sorted for
    • Your analysis of the second scenario is broken. First of all, Eurosoft has no reason to doubt that ti's trivial patent will be granted in the US. Secondly, Eurosoft can't be attacked by AmeriSoft based on patent infringement claims in Europe, which is its home base. Amerisoft otoh can be attacked by Eurosoft in the US, and if Eurosoft doesn't sell it's product in the US (yet), Amerisoft won't have anyway to defend itself using its own patent portfolio.

      Not having software patents in Europe, but having them

  • by dcavanaugh (248349) on Monday September 01, 2003 @07:47PM (#6846702) Homepage
    By rejecting software patents, it is possible that Europe could rival and even surpass the US in software deveopment. Let's face it, Europe is not generally known for a pro-business environment. This is one of those rare occasions when the Europeans can offer an advantage without tax breaks or other subsidies. "You mean all we have to do is cut the BS, starting with software patents?" Yup.

    The American system of patents and copyrights creates a few winners at the expense of a great many losers. Give "the other guys" a place to set up shop, and things get interesting. Toss in the ability of the Internet, where you can exist administratively in one country and do the actual work anywhere you want, and things get very interesting.
    • My thoughts exactly. Why the EU respects the less reputable copyright and patent laws from the US is beyond me. The US version of intelectual property gives US companies an unfair home court advantage.

      Does the EU want to subject to the latest MSFT webstandard powergrab? Do they want to be the place that "finds" all the new rock stars but doesn't financially benifit from their accent? Do they want to pay rediculous fees everytime they try to build somthing that happens to be covered by one of a billion

  • Really that bad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I've been reading the proposal. It really doesn't seem that bad. Examples:

    1-In order to be patentable, inventions in general and computer-implemented inventions in particular must be susceptible of industrial application, new and involve an inventive step. In order to involve an inventive step, computer-implemented inventions should make a technical contribution to the state of the art.

    2-Accordingly, even though a computer-implemented invention belongs by virtue of its very nature to a field of technology
    • Re:Really that bad (Score:4, Insightful)

      by haeger (85819) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @01:56AM (#6848204)
      I think what most people find annoying is the technical/non techichal distinction. The EPO conciders all patents they grant to be technical patents and what the McCarthy bill is saying is, as You quoted "...it is intended to avoid allowing inventive but non-technical methods (including business methods) to be regarded as making a technical contribution and hence as patentable merely because they are implemented on a computer."

      McCarthy allows technical buissness models.

      Now what? Since EPO says that all their patents are techical and McCarthy-bill sais that it's OK I don't think we've solved anything.

      But I could be way off here.

      .haeger
  • by sn00ker (172521) on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:08PM (#6846817) Homepage
    I'm not sure if the Australians have actually realised the significance of their push for a Free Trade Agreement *derisive snort* with the US.
    What it actually means to them is that the Yanks will bully them into passing laws similar to the DMCA and their obscene IP protection laws.
    Since NZ (where I live) is discussing trying to get an FTA with the US too, I hope the Aussies tell the US where to stick their restrictive and absurd IP laws.

    If this bill fails, it's easier for other countries to tell the US that their laws are so stupid that the only people using them are themselves. If the EU folds, then the result of the world just becomes a row for xxAA to bulldoze with the support of the US government.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:09PM (#6846827)
    Software patents look like they cost software development companies plenty to manage. I would suspect that they would cost the economy even more in lost innovation.

    If so, Europe shouldn't introduce software patents as Europe would get a competitive advantage over the US.

    Major european companies would still need to build a dossier of software patents by applying for software patents in the US. These would be needed for trading with US companies - "We will charge you $1 royalties on ours, if you charge us $1 for royalties on yours". Also they are needed for the threat of legal attack, as a protective shield against attack (patent or otherwise)!
  • by the_mad_poster (640772) <shattoc@adelphia.com> on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:23PM (#6846901) Homepage Journal

    The first thing I thought when I saw that headline was "wow - that's like America thinks it is".

    I wrote to my senators once each regarding issues. I sat and took the time to do research and provide references to my findings, wrote it up in a very professional manner, proofed it, etc. before sending it. On one of them I got an autoresponse that basically said "If you're a contributor trying to set a meeting time call this number, if you're anyone else, go away". I never got ANY response from the other. I notice several people so far have mentioned they wrote to their MEPs about this issue and it sounds like they may have actually been heard.

    Hmmmm..... must be nice to live in a country where your representatives represent you at least occasionally...

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:34PM (#6846944) Homepage
    The committee responsible for this proposal is called JURI, it is made up of 65 MEPs. On June 17th, they voted on the final wording of the proposal. The vote passed by a small majority.

    The next stage in the legistlative process is the plenary vote. This is the Big Vote where all 625 MEPs get to vote. In addition to Yes/No, the MEPs are also presented with a list of possible amendments. For this proposal to become acceptable, a vast array of amendments would be necessary (it's rotten to the core).

    So 70 amendments were tabled and many protests happened. MEPs were inundated with post and email about this proposal. So much contraversy arised that the European Commission decided that the proposal was obviously not ready for a final vote. So the proposal has been handed back to JURI, and a more agreeable proposal has to be returned.

    So now we have to contact just the MEPs on the JURI committee, and tell them how we want them to vote. "Vote No" is not an option, MEPs don't vote No without a very good reason. Proposals are expensive, translation to 12 languages etc., MEPs view rejection as a big waste of EP resources.

    Most MEPs know that this proposal will be bad for our economy but they do not understand the whole situation, so we must tell them. (us knowing the whole situation is a prerequisite for this)

    Our MEPs are asking us to tell them how to vote(!) and how to change/amend the proposal. We can win this one, but europeans aren't used to fighting our governments, were much more used to laughing at the US government.

    So we were caught off gaurd. We've done extremely well, I think we can win this, but people have to continue to put in their free time and learn how to deal with this.

    For complete beginners, it's probably too late to become effective (we have 3 weeks). For half-way-there's, keep workin'. (mail me if you need to clarify something, my email address is not hard to google for.
  • by _Pablo (126574) on Monday September 01, 2003 @08:47PM (#6847010)
    Dear Mr Ebbatson

    Thank you for your correspondence concerning the draft directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions.

    The European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee has voted on the rapporteur's report on the directive and there will be continuing debate and further democratic scrutiny before the directive becomes law.

    At this early stage of legislative process, it is nonetheless important to establish the facts about what the draft EU directive and what the Parliament's rapporteur are aiming to achieve in the amendments tabled to the Commission proposal.

    It has been suggested that the Parliament's report will for the first time allow the patentability of computer-implemented inventions. This is simply not true. The patenting of computer-implemented inventions is not a new phenomenon. Patents involving the use of software have been applied for and granted since the earliest days of the European Patent Office (EPO). Out of over 110,000 applications received at the EPO in 2001, 16,000 will have dealt with inventions in computer-implemented technologies. Indeed, even without an EU directive, these patents will continue to be filed, not only to the EPO but also to national patent offices.

    As you will be aware, in the US and increasingly in Japan, patents have been granted for what is essentially pure software. Some EPO and national court rulings indicate that Europe may be drifting towards extending the scope of patentability to inventions which would traditionally have not been patentable, as well as pure business methods. It is clear that Europe needs a uniform legal approach which draws a line between what can and cannot be patented, and prevents the drift towards the patentability of software per se.

    The rapporteur's intention is clear in the amendments tabled and in a new Article 4 in the text, to preclude; the patentability of software as such; the patentability of business methods; algorithms; and mathematical methods. Article 4 clearly states that in order to be patentable, a computer-implemented invention must be susceptible to industrial applications, be new, and involve an inventive step. Moreover the rapporteur has added a requirement for a technical contribution in order to ensure that the mere use of a computer does not lead to a patent being granted.

    Furthermore, the amended directive contains new provisions on decompilation that will assist software developers. While it is not possible to comment on whether any patent application would be excluded from the directive, the directive, as amended, would not permit the patentability of Amazon's 'one-click' method. As far as software itself is concerned, it will not be possible to patent a software product. Software itself will continue to be able to be protected by copyright.

    With an EU directive, legislators will have scrutiny over the EPO and national court's decisions. With, in addition, the possibility of having a definitive ruling from the European Court in Luxembourg, thus ensuring a restrictive interpretation of the EU directive and a greater degree of legal certainty in the field of patentability of computer-implemented inventions.

    Some concerns have been raised that the directive may have an adverse effect on the development of open source software and small software developers. The rapporteur supports the development of open source software and welcome the fact that the major open source companies are recording a 50% growth in world-wide shipment of its products.

    In the amended proposal, the rapporteur has imposed a requirement on the Commission to monitor the impact of the directive, in particular its effect on small and medium sized enterprises, and to look at any potential difficulties in respect of the relationship between patent protection of computer-implemented inventions and copyright protection.

    Many small companies have given their support to this directive, which will give them more legal certainty as it offers the possibility of pro
    • It has been suggested that the Parliament's report will for the first time allow the patentability of computer-implemented inventions. This is simply not true. The patenting of computer-implemented inventions is not a new phenomenon. Patents involving the use of software have been applied for and granted since the earliest days of the European Patent Office (EPO).

      Is he intentionally twisting the truth by implying that software patents are valid in Europe, when they aren't, or that the EPO has followed the
    • I particularly liked her example of a UK company for whom, filing for patents is an excellent idea, lest a US multi-national will just steal the idea and patent it themselves...ahem prior art!
      The company they're referring to is Allvoice Computing [allvoice.co.uk] from Devon, UK. A thorough analysis of the Allvoice situation can be found here [ffii.org].

      If you don't want to read that much, the bottom line is this: Allvoice managed to squeeze money out of IBM and a division of the then still dying Lernout&Hauspie, with it's patent on an interface between speech recognition software and word processors (allowing you to correct mistakes made by the speech recognition software).

      Nice detail those Labour MEPs (read: McCarthy sock puppets, as they're just sending our her standard letter) leave out: both of those lawsuits were filed in the US and won based on US software patents held by Allsoft. They hold similar patents in Europe, but here they aren't enforceable yet (as software patents are still illegal here for the time being). In fact, should we have had software patents in Europe, IBM would probably have countersued faster than you can say "screwed" for infringement on one of the thousands of software patents it owns.

      So not having software patents in Europe is a strategic advantage to European companies: as long as they don't sell their software in the US, they can obtain and enforce software patents in US against US companies without fearing to be countersued. I.e., they can play leech in the US...

  • by TyrranzzX (617713) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:16PM (#6847181) Journal
    There's a definate pattern here;

    1: Decide to take vote at xx date, lobby heavily to get politicians behind bill

    2: Mass outcry, politicans decide to not pass the bill or to wait for a vote, as it'd be political suicide to do otherwise.

    3: Mass outcry dies down, corperations keep the politicans pockets lined waiting for the proper time to reintroduce the bill (when the protesters have something else to go after in otherwords. Divide, conquer, etc).

    Rinse, repeat.

    What should be done here is the protesters start protesting the mans power and start questioning their loyalty to the people, in other words, politically assassinate the bastards. They'll eventually get it passed if they keep on trying to pass it. Just as carp and a number of other provisions are continuously barragged at congress year after year, month after month which ties them up for doing anything other than actual leadership, just making deals and selling our rights away.
  • My Letter to MEPs (Score:5, Informative)

    by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:30PM (#6847240) Homepage
    On the FSFE-IE list, we collaborated to produce a joint mail. We mailed it to all 102 MEPs from the UK and Ireland.

    It's available here. [compsoc.com]

    Ciaran O'Riordan
  • by HuguesT (84078) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:30PM (#6847243)
    As a sign of how different cultures can be and at the same time almost identical, many people (presumably from the US) express disbelief that protests can actually achieve anyting.

    In Europe one regularly sees hundred of thousands of protesters in the street for seemignly benign things from a distance, such as a change in education policy. For really important matters one can see millions of people, who are very hard to ignore. Ministers have been known to resign after a large enough protest.

    However in the US the situation is the same. Doesn't anyone remember the enormous protests, marches and so one of the 60's?
  • by Bozovision (107228) on Monday September 01, 2003 @09:37PM (#6847280) Homepage
    The situation is somewhat more complex than presented in the blurb.

    Patentability of hardware is a well accepted principal. But what if the hardware contains software? For instance when it's a cellphone. Should the hardware still be patentable? What if the phone is only special because of functionality implemented in the software portion? For instance if it can talk to a Jabber server. Should it then be patentable because of the special features?

    Now what if it's not Jabber, but some other IM server and the intelligence is in the server. Should the system of phone plus IM server be patentable? If not why not? If yes, then aren't you allowing patenting of software on general purpose hardware?

    So that's the background.

    Having organised a couple of meetings on the issue in Cambridge, I'm of the opinion that the case that the directive is damaging is overstated. The author of the language of the amendments introduced in JURI says that by the nature of the EU system the language can't be very tight, but that a key feature is that patentability can now be reviewed by the courts, and that JURI has made its wishes clear in the Recital, which courts use as a guide to the intention.

    There is still a crucial issue of how Free and Open Source software authors are protected. The directive is inadequate in this regard, but then the situation as it stands is inadequate. We need to take a social decision that protects authors of Free and Open software because they make the efforts of their labours available without charge and that's to the benefit of society.

    An interesting side effect of such a settlement would most likely be a decrease in software patenting in favour of the use of trade secret. This isn't necessarily a god thing; patents were invented to make it possible to expose trade secrets in return for a limited monopoly on their use. An example - if you invent the ultimate search algorithm but kept as a trade secret it might never enter the public domain.

    A second serious problem is the length of a patent - around 20 years. For software, which typically has a life span of 5 to 8 years, this is ludicrous. On the other hand it typically takes around 2 to 4 years for a patent to be granted. But software intro cycles are around 12 to 18 months. So unless you have a spectacularly good invention, or some indirect need, it may very well not be worthwhile patenting. (The number of patents involving software suggest that this isn't generally true - numbers of 15,000 to 30,000 in Europe are commonly reported.)

    The way to solve the problem of software falling under the same banner as hardware is to alter the European Patent Convention to vary the rules for software. This won't be easy, but it's probably possible.

    Jeff Veit
    • by MickLinux (579158) on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @04:59AM (#6848670) Journal
      Not entering the public domain is also not necessarily a bad thing. If you invent the world's best search engine, and keep it private, then as long as your service, minus its cost, is more valuable than the effort to do better, then you're managing the search engine for the public, responsibly.

      Nothing says that the inventor has to starve to death, or even has to be desperately poor.

      So it's not necessarily bad for trade secrets to exist. In fact, it is arguably better. Take Coca-Cola(TM), for example. Coca-Cola(TM) provides one standard by which other drinks can measure themselves. That is not to say that other drinks are inferior -- but Coca-Cola(TM) is something you can compare it against. Nor are other drinks damaged by the fact that Coca-Cola(TM) is in private hands.

      That said, lots of competitors have sprung up, and some have made a superior drink (IBC root beer, for example). You may not get more development out of the intellectual dead-end that Coke represents, but in providing a standard, the public domain does get something out of it.

      My next problem with your post is that you ask for benefits for free (no cost) and open source software, by pointing out that it is to society's benefit to get something without cost. However, that is not what Free Software is about. RedHat and Suse could be utterly destroyed by this: ultimately, the inventor has to eat, and if he is too worried about where his next meal is coming from [or where his kid's next meal is coming from], he isn't going to be inventing. To only give anti-patent, anti-big-company protection to cost-free software is therefore a way to ensure the demise of free and open source software. The special thing about free and open source software is not that it is provided without charge. It is that you can modify it and redistribute it without royalties or hassle.

      Ultimately, patents are a bad thing for all involved except those who already have power, money, and the will to step on others. The difference between the hardware and software patent is that with software, it becomes really obvious. With hardware, it's easier to wear the blinders.
    • by Halo1 (136547) <jonas.maebeNO@SPAMelis.ugent.be> on Tuesday September 02, 2003 @05:43AM (#6848755) Homepage

      Patentability of hardware is a well accepted principal. But what if the hardware contains software? For instance when it's a cellphone. Should the hardware still be patentable?

      The European Patent convention explicitly states that computer programs as such are not patentable. This means that adding software to something does not make something suddenly unpatentable. The opponents of software patents are not asking for this to be changed.

      What if the phone is only special because of functionality implemented in the software portion? For instance if it can talk to a Jabber server. Should it then be patentable because of the special features?

      No, because they're entirely realised in software. Otherwise, since the phone has a built-in processor that's simply executing some code which allows it to talk to a Jabber service, you would just have patented the ability of talking to Jabber services on any kind of computer.

      There is no inherent difference between programming a cpu that's inside a cell phone and one that's inside a desktop PC. Yes, you have less memory and speed available, but if that's a criterium, then any kind of software improvement that causes less memory to be used or more computing efficiency would have to be patentable.

      Having organised a couple of meetings on the issue in Cambridge, I'm of the opinion that the case that the directive is damaging is overstated.

      I don't think so. Have you looked at how http://swpat.ffii.org/players/ibm/#gajn [ffii.org] in the US?

      The author of the language of the amendments introduced in JURI says that by the nature of the EU system the language can't be very tight, but that a key feature is that patentability can now be reviewed by the courts, and that JURI has made its wishes clear in the Recital,

      Absolutely, like saying that a "computer-implemented invention must make a technical contribution in order to be patentable", then correctly deleting article 3 which said

      Member States shall ensure that a computer-implemented invention is considered to belong to a field of technology.

      and then introducing an amendment to recital 12 which says

      Accordingly, even though a computer-implemented invention belongs by virtue of its very nature to a field of technology,

      The JURI amendments were full of that kind of silly tricks.

      which courts use as a guide to the intention.

      The average cost of a court case in the US to get an invalid patent declared invalid, lies between 1 and 2 million USD. Suppose that for some reason in Europe it would even only cost 1/4th of that. What will companies pick when they can choose between a licensing deal of EUR 50,000 or such a lawsuit? I really don't think it's a good argument to say "We must keep the law as unclear as possible and let case law figure everything out."

      There is still a crucial issue of how Free and Open Source software authors are protected. The directive is inadequate in this regard, but then the situation as it stands is inadequate. We need to take a social decision that protects authors of Free and Open software because they make the efforts of their labours available without charge and that's to the benefit of society.

      The directive is not worse for Free Software than it is for small companies. Neither have the means to obtain the defensive patent portfolio you need to survive in an economical system that allows software patents. Making an exception for Free or Open Source software could actually help monopolies. Microsoft would probably grasp this chance with both hands to crush anyone with an annoying patent they can't get a license for: just release a mediocre product based on that idea that's open source until the other person is squash

  • by stock (129999) <stock@stokkie.net> on Monday September 01, 2003 @10:32PM (#6847501) Homepage
    Date: Mon, 1 Sep 2003 06:50:11 +0200 (CEST)
    From: Robert M. Stockmann
    To: arlene.mccarthy@easynet.co.uk
    Subject: Re : "Small fry patently need protection" (fwd)

    Dear Miss McCarthy,

    Here i write again to you, 1.5 months later. Sofar i haven't received
    a response to the below email message yet. Today the EUROPEAN Law on
    Software Patents is to be passed. Well i can only say one thing here :

    YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, AND NOT ONLY BY ME :

    If you as Labour MEP member just implement rulings and laws which are
    not supported by a majority of the people, things might turn real bad
    for you. Maybe not today but in the future.

    you wrote :

    "Numerous people from small to medium-sized enterprises have written to me
    in support of my proposal. "

    Well i have worked for several smaller and medium-sized software and
    programming companies. NONE OF THESE HAD LAYWERS ON THEIR PAYROLL.

    Getting Patents on Software is something only BIG CORPORATIONS will be
    able to achieve.

    Today , Monday 1 September 2003, I ask you again to reconsider your
    proposal, and admit that SOFTWARE PATENTS only SUSTAIN the POWER of
    BIG SOFTWARE CORPORATIONS. Oh i forgot: In the current ICT World allmost
    all software is created by SOFTWARE CORPORATIONS from the USA. I sure
    hope you realize we are talking about SOFTWARE PATENTS regulations inside
    the EU.

    Do you realize there are no NO BIG SOFTWARE CORPORATIONS inside the EU?

    Thank you for your attention.

    Regards,

    Robert
    --
    Robert M. Stockmann - RHCE
    Network Engineer - UNIX/Linux Specialist
    crashrecovery.org stock@stokkie.net

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Sun, 15 Jun 2003 01:00:49 +0200 (CEST)
    From: Robert M. Stockmann
    To: arlene.mccarthy@easynet.co.uk
    Subject: Re : "Small fry patently need protection"

    Dear Miss McCarthy,

    In your article in the Guardian "Small fry patently need protection" :
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,3605,9 751 26,00.html

    you write this :

    "Numerous people from small to medium-sized enterprises have written to me
    in support of my proposal. "

    Well show us the letters I would say.

    Robert
    --
    Robert M. Stockmann - RHCE
    Network Engineer - UNIX/Linux Specialist
    crashrecovery.org stock@stokkie.net
  • What's the point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Daimaou (97573) on Monday September 01, 2003 @10:48PM (#6847586)
    I have never been to Europe, so I don't really know what the outcome of this will be, but if it were the US it wouldn't matter. The government would just postpone legislation until a future date, where they would go ahead and do whatever the hell they wanted to do in the first place.

"Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberrys!" -- Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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