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Patents Government Politics

Software Patents Circumvent European Parliament 378

Posted by Hemos
from the the-joy-of-special-interest-groups dept.
Tom writes "Despite the european parliament's vote to exclude software patents, the patent lobby is pressing forward and patentability of software is on the agenda of a workgroup whose advise the european council will likely follow. The european council is at odds with the parliament concerning their stance on software patents. The patent lobby is facing a narrow loss in the parliament, which has voted against software patents, but now circumvents democracy by convincing the council. If they succeed, software patents could be coming to Europe before christmas." <update> The links above seem to have stopped working for me - however, ffii is carrying the news as well.
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Software Patents Circumvent European Parliament

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  • by Sanity (1431) on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:05AM (#11071792) Homepage Journal
    ..is eternal vigilance.

    The anti-patent lobby in the EU has achieved great things, but the pro-patent lobby is extremely determined even in the face of a clear democratic mandate against software patents in the European and many national Parliaments. They know the system, they seem to have the support of many unelected Eurocrats, and they can and will exploit every possible loophole to legalise the over 30,000 illegally granted patents in the EU. This is yet another example of this.

    The important thing is to keep up the pressure. When this topic has come up on /. in the past, there are always a few nohopers, who think any opposition to software patents is futile and we may as-well give up. These defeatists are the greatest allies of the pro-patent lobby, and they are wrong, as what progress we have made has demonstrated.

    In short, keep fighting, don't give up, we have won a number of battles, but the war is far from over.

  • Re:glad to see (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gilesjuk (604902) <giles DOT jones AT zen DOT co DOT uk> on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:09AM (#11071814)
    It's ok, the French won't like it and will strike. They're pretty good at bringing the country to a halt to make a point.
  • by Sanity (1431) on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:12AM (#11071835) Homepage Journal
    You gotta admit that its a tour-de-force that they're pulling on us year after year.
    What have you done about these issues? As Edmund Burke said:
    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing".
    So if you haven't actually tried to do something about this (perhaps by writing to your elected representatives, or donating to organisations that oppose software patents) then you have nobody to blame for this but yourself.
  • by coopseruantalon (835573) on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:14AM (#11071850)
    Anyways the contries themselves have to accept the new laws. Then fight for years in courtrooms and be sentenced large fines that they can just refuse to pay. Or maybe we'll be thrown out? I sure would like to get kicked(I'm from Denmark)
  • Re:Lobbys (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:18AM (#11071871)
    I certainly understand the sentiment that lobbys suck and can do bad things, but it's important that they are legal. Consider a lobby formed by 100,000 private citizens trying to convince their lawmakers to fund wind energy research.

    Sure, each of them could spend 30 minutes writing a letter to their lawmaker, but shouldn't they be able to all donate $15 and send a single, well-spoken member to make their point in-person? And what then is the difference between this single member of the group and a professional lobbiest?

    And what happens when one rich, man spends $200,000 and 2 weeks "lobbying" for his issue of the day, using only his private funds and time? Certainly we can't stop private citizens from spending their own time and money to bring their issues to the attention of their lawmakers. And shouldn't our 100,000 friends of wind power be allowed to do the same sort of thing? Individually they could not, but collectively they could easily match the time and money put forth by the rich man.

  • by TooMuchEspressoGuy (763203) on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:30AM (#11071957)
    "But the parliament lacks the power to make laws on its own, which is probably the greatest flaw in the power structure of the EU. If it had that power, this year's decision would be final and the patent lobby would have lost for the forseeable future."

    So your solution to rampant government power is... to give the government more power! Brilliant!

    Seriously, though, if this were done, what would happen when a pro-patent Parliament is elected? Then you would probably be clamoring for Parliament to be stripped of its right to make laws.

    The best solution, it seems to me, would be to simply decide to leave patent legislation up to the member states. That way, the EU can have its cake and eat it too, so to speak.

  • Re:EU Failure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Halo1 (136547) <jonas...maebe@@@elis...ugent...be> on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:31AM (#11071966) Homepage
    This has little to do with EU-specific stuff. The Council of Ministers consists of ministers from the various national governments, and it's them who are pushing this through. It's Sweden covered by Ericsson and Scania, Finland by Nokia, the Netherlands by Philips, Ireland by all US companies it provides a low tax haven for etc.
  • Re:Lobbys (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NardofDoom (821951) on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:49AM (#11072106)
    The top 2% of the population controls 80% of the wealth. If wealth was more fairly distributed, I'd agree with you.

    Bill Gates' net worth is ~$29.5 billion. Let's assume he'll use half of that to ensure that Microsoft keeps its software dominance, because that means a jump in stock price and more money for him in the long run. That's about $15 billion or $11.3 billion euro. To match that kind of lobbying money, every man, woman and child in the EU (That's all 306.9 million of them) would have to contribute 36.49 EUR.

    But how many people in the EU honestly care about software patents? 1%? Maybe? So that means that 1% (3.069 million) would have to contribute 3,649.87 EUR or $4,843.03 USD. That's 1/6 of what I make in a year.

    This estimate doesn't include other software companies that stand to gain from patents, like Apple, Real, PeopleSoft, Adobe, and Macromedia, not to mention thousands of other vendors that are going to throw their considerable weight behind this.

    In a democracy, or even a republic, all people are created equal, and have equal say in government. Our voice is our vote. But once you start bringing lobbyists into this, you remove equality. People with more money have more access and influence. They're "more equal" than others.

  • by dyfet (154716) on Monday December 13, 2004 @09:50AM (#11072109) Homepage
    "The European Parliament has no ability to propose legislation - it's always the Council of Ministers that does this..."

    And this is precisely why the EU is the least democratically accountable institution in Europe today. In every sitting national government on the European continent today, legislation is created and passed by a (presumably) democratically elected parliament, or that house of a bicamel parliament that is directly elected. In many cases, European governments are formed either directly out of the elected body of parliament itself (as in the British model) or out of some more complex relationship that certainly includes the directly elected house of parliament and a democratically elected executive (such as the French system).

    By contrast, the European Concil is a body appointed by national governments, that has the authority to directly legislate. While the EU Parliament can approve or "rubber stamp" an act of the EU Council much like the "soviet" era parliament, if it chooses to reject a council law, the Council is given the power to override Parlaiment unless a super majority (66%) chooses to oppose it.

    Indeed, the EU transational governance is not very different in functional arrangements and democratic principles to that that of the old Soviet Union. And they wish to further ratify this defective system through a constitution that retains this principle undemocratic form of governance as well as expanding the power of the EU into a true European Government.

    As noted, the original council draft on European patents was rejected by the European parliament. In a democratically functional society and government this would in effect have been a veto. It is to the shame of Europe and to the very principles of democratic governmance that this alone was not enough to kill the council directive, and that the will of the elected parlaiment, and most importantly of all, the ONLY democratically "legitimate" and accountable institution in the entire EU, can so easily be rejected.

    Personally I do not believe Europe is ready for transational Governance. There is no true transational political expression today, perhaps with the exception of the "Greens". By contrast, when American federalization occured, there was already well established and popular trans-state political movements and proto-parties, such as Federalists, etc. By contrast, when we look at the EU parliament, it is composed of people elected from strickly individual national political parties. There are no "European Socialists", for example, though there are members of the French socialists, Finland national party, German Social Democrats, etc. This lack of true transational European political expression I believe is why Federalising Europe is impractical at this time, and certainly helps to explain why some believe they could bully through an undemocratic and defective institution onto European nations like the EU system of today.

  • by buddhaseviltwin (786340) on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:05AM (#11072218)
    Whining on Slashdot amounts to broadcasting your insight and complaints to a forum of people who care about the issue and NEED TO DISCUSS IT SO WE CAN ALL STAY INFORMED ON WHAT THE OPPOSITION IS DOING.

    Whining teaches Slashdotters what tactical moves the opposition has taking, what the stakes are, and what is expected from us to overcome the hurdles that are put in front of us.

    Lastly, whining is an effective way of getting caring people's sympathy. Some people need to hear the whines of injustice to get involved.

    Now, I do understand that any group needs to get past their whining stage, but telling people to stop whining on /. is not a real solution.

    If *YOU* want to something to get people talking more strategically, then *YOU* should start writing comments on Slashdot and any other forum to get people talking about strategy and actions they can take to get involved.


  • by Khazunga (176423) * on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:10AM (#11072262)
    I hope you don't really mean what you say. Without the EU, in the XX century, Europe managed to start to world wars. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, as they say...

    Even if I don't see it as likely we'll ever get that far down the shit hole again, a dismantled Europe doesn't stand an economic fighting chance against the US or China.

    The solution isn't to go back, but to go forward and fix the system. Simplify and empower the EU.

  • Re:glad to see (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fig, formerly A.C. (543042) on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:17AM (#11072307)
    Eh, the Republicans want to give my money to the big corporations, the Democrats want to give it to people who don't/won't work. Either way, I get hosed.

    I just hope the EU doesn't pass the patents law, it's the only hope for fixing it in the USA. If the EU enacts legislation that gives them a clear competitive advantage and costs the US Government revenue (spelled TAX DOLLARS) then the US might abolish it's patent crap as well. If the EU folds, then darkness will simply cover the Earth or all IT innovation will go to the 3rd world or China.

  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:34AM (#11072473) Homepage
    My MEP is none other than Arlene McCarthy herself. You can rest assured I have had correspondence with this democratically elected representative and she totally ignored me, handing back an obnoxious stock email that simply re-iterated some bogus rhetoric and whinged about the nasty people ringing her up to tell her software patents were bad. I don't think she even read my letter, none of the points I made were addressed. She just hit "Send -> Template -> SWPAT Stock Letter 2" or whatever.

    Nothing has made me as cynical about politics as that did. Of all the people in the world, I'm supposed to have influence over her living as I do in her constituency, and it turned out that I had just as much influence as somebody living in Mexico.

  • Re:EU Failure (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:40AM (#11072527)
    They can leave the EU in the same way Massachusetts could leave the USA if it felt strongly enough about gay marraige. They could, but they won't.

    Actually, it's only sort-of like that. The German government has a far bigger say in what the EU does than the Massachusetts Commonwealth does in US affairs. Germany essentially gets to "pick" a cabinet member, Massachusetts doesn't have that right. To be equal, all of Bush's cabinet memebers would be appointed by individual States.
  • Re:Lobbys (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ocrad (773915) on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:51AM (#11072619)
    And what happens when one rich, man spends $200,000 and 2 weeks "lobbying" for his issue of the day, using only his private funds and time? Certainly we can't stop private citizens from spending their own time and money to bring their issues to the attention of their lawmakers.
    Someone said it before; "Democracy sucks. 51% of people can legally dispossess to the other 49% of their properties, and even of their lives". With lobbies it only sucks more. One man alone (with the help of lawmakers) can dispossess to the rest of the people of their property.

    I can't understand why a free man have to obey unjust laws. Only slaves have to obey. If the only reason to obey is the fear of punishment, then what is the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship?

    Yes, I am european, and a possible martyr of software patents thanks to lobbies.

  • by dyfet (154716) on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:53AM (#11072634) Homepage
    I wonder how long it will take before the parliament drives a revolution, kicking out dangerously corruptible, interest-conflicted and unaccountable council and commission.

    I don't know, but I don't think it is soon enough since I think it's long overdue. "Power to the Parliament", now that is a great slogan!

  • by nutshell42 (557890) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:02AM (#11072711) Journal
    Now I don't want to interrupt your rant *but* the council consists of ministers of the different EU countries. These governments are democratically elected so the council is democratic. Even better we should ask ourselves why the "more European" institution -the parliament- is apparently more interested in the good of the people than the council of national governments, which -following the accepted logic around here- are less removed from the local concerns and therefore somehow superior.

    I also remind you that the Dutch government explicitly *ignored* a decision of the Dutch parliament on how to vote (which was binding iirc. It was on /. a few months ago but I don't remember exactly and I'm lazy so perhaps someone else could look it up). Me thinks we should be less concerned about what is wrong with the EU and more about what is wrong with our national governments. (doesn't mean that there aren't enough things that are wrong with the EU. Unfortunatly the constitution which would solve some of them -e.g. a more powerful parliament- has no chance of surviving the British referendum)

  • by KontinMonet (737319) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:41AM (#11072991) Homepage Journal
    governments are democratically elected so the council is democratic

    You clearly went to the political party school of logic. Political hacks appointed into the job by a very small coterie of senior politicians giving a pat on the back to one of their own (who doesn't ever have to have been elected to any post at any time) does not mean the council has any democratic credentials. They might vote amongst themselves but 25 appointed (and very possibly corrupt if history has any say) special interest individuals coming to a conclusion does not fill me with unbridled confidence...
  • by LiENUS (207736) <slashdot.vetmanage@com> on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:42AM (#11072995) Homepage
    Yes and when the four-stroke otto cycle engine is patented then the four-stroke miller cycle engine is invented to get around it, and when carbueration is patented, fuel injection is invented to get around it, and when cast iron manifolds are patented, tubuler steel headers are invented to get around it. All of these systems are superior to the systems they replace, yet we only use one out of those 3 in most cars.
  • Now I don't want to interrupt your rant *but* the council consists of ministers of the different EU countries. These governments are democratically elected so the council is democratic.
    No, it isn't. The Council's decisions are largely not taken by the ministers, but by faceless bureaucrats holding secret meetings of which the results are often kept secret [ugent.be] as long as possible.

    In case of the software patents directive, those faceless bureaucrats are the same people that conduct the day to day operations of the European Patent Office. The same EPO that introduced software patents. They are mostly delegates from the various national patent offices.

    And of course, the ministers don't decide how to vote on texts by themselves, they have advisors. You can have two guesses who those advisers generally were in this case.

    Because the Council operates so intransparently, it's very difficult for the national Parliaments to keep their governments in check. Further, the Council itself does not operate democratically at all. Just look at how Poland is being bullied by the Dutch Presidency to accept a directive it does not like at all.

    Even better we should ask ourselves why the "more European" institution -the parliament- is apparently more interested in the good of the people than the council of national governments, which -following the accepted logic around here- are less removed from the local concerns and therefore somehow superior.
    Because the MEPs are directly elected by local people and their reports are fully public and their way of working is quite transparent. They obviously aren't all saints, but in general they are quite reachable by "common people" (unlike governmental ministers, let alone governmental bureaucrats). I also remind you that the Dutch government explicitly *ignored* a decision of the Dutch parliament on how to vote (which was binding iirc. It wasn't binding, but the government said they would abide by the result. However, they made a peculiar interpretation of it which does not oblige them to change their vote after all.
    It was on /. a few months ago but I don't remember exactly and I'm lazy so perhaps someone else could look it up). Me thinks we should be less concerned about what is wrong with the EU and more about what is wrong with our national governments.
    There are definitely also problems there.
    (doesn't mean that there aren't enough things that are wrong with the EU. Unfortunatly the constitution which would solve some of them -e.g. a more powerful parliament- has no chance of surviving the British referendum)
    Many people doubt whether it will improve more than it will hurt. For example, one of the articles in that European Constitution simply states "Intellectual property shall be protected", without further specifying in any way what this intellectual property is. So forbidding software patents may actually become unconstitutional under that text. Maybe allowing free thoughts will become unconstitutional as well, since you may be using thought processes that someone else used before and he has a constitutional right to "protection" of those.
  • by Moderatbastard (808662) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:45AM (#11073026) Journal
    Seriously, though, if this were done, what would happen when a pro-patent Parliament is elected? Then you would probably be clamoring for Parliament to be stripped of its right to make laws.
    At least we'd have to power to elect a different one - something we only have very indirectly with the council & not at all with the commission.
  • Re:glad to see (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:54AM (#11073120) Homepage
    The sole reason we grant patents is to serve the public interest.

    The public wants many useful, novel, nonobvious inventions to be made. Furthermore, they want the inventions to come to market in the form of products, so that they can truly be taken advantage of. But they also don't want to pay anything if at all possible, nor suffer any restrictions with regards to the inventions or products, or if that's unavoidable, then they want to pay and be restricted as little as possible. And the inventive work of others should not be interfered with at all, or if at all, as little as possible.

    These are the multiple, equal, competing interests of the public, and the idea is to find a balance between them where these public interests are best served. Since very often increasing or decreasing the degree to which one is satisfied will have a disproportionate effect on another, it's fairly tricky. Furthermore, whenever one implements a patent system, it should be as simple and unrestrictive as possible in order to accomplish any overall gain in public good. And the public good must always be satisfied more than it would be if there were no patent system at all, since otherwise the best solution would be to abolish the whole deal.

    In the realm of software, there is already a tremendous satisfaction of the public interest without any real involvement of software patents. Therefore, unless they will make things better still -- by causing there to be more invention, and more productization, and lower costs and restrictions -- they're a bad idea. And software has been going along amazingly well without patents, and seems to be doing worse when patents are employed. So it looks like software at least is an unusual environment where patents are harming the satisfaction of the public good rather than promoting it.

    What is wrong with someone saying "this is my product, and if you want to use it you gotta play by my rules". ... Why is it better for someone OTHER then the creators of the program to decide what should happen to it?

    Because they have no leg to stand on. If a caveman came up to you and demanded $100 every time you used fire in some way (to smoke, to cook, to drive a car, etc.) you'd ignore him. And he couldn't do anything to stop you from using fire, even though he invented it.

    The inherent nature of inventions is to spread and to be used by anyone who wants to use them and understands how. There is no natural right for the inventor of fire to be able to prevent other people from using fire. People can use fire against his will. And do.

    Because this might frustrate inventors, and because we want them to invent stuff, and not just mope around, (actually we want all the stuff on that list above) we set up an ARTIFICIAL system whereby we might WILLINGLY not use their inventions if they don't let us, in order to prop them up.

    Basically patents are a form of subsidy. It's like dirt farmers. In order to maintain what are seen as good prices on crops, and to avoid overproduction, the government pays farmers to not grow anything. If we let competition take its natural course, they would grow stuff, there'd be a glut on the market, and many farmers would go out of business. Clearly, they have no natural right to be paid for not doing anything. Hell, I wish that I could get a handsome salary for just sitting around. But we pay farmers because it serves our own best interests (since we feel we want small farmers and fairly stable prices). If we stopped feeling that farm subsidies were a good idea, they'd stop getting paid.

    Same deal with patents: inventors have no natural right to control their inventions (other than to not make them or reveal them in the first place) but MAY have artificial rights granted if it serves the best interests of those who are granting the rights. And the grants don't have to be made.
  • by DimGeo (694000) on Monday December 13, 2004 @12:31PM (#11073442) Homepage
    Accepting such patent laws would be yet another brave step in the quest for making everyone a criminal by default. In EU this time.

    I am glad Bulgaria is still some years away from becoming a member of the EU. If they do accept this... thing (pardon my language, but we are in a public forum)... I will have to move to Norway or something...
  • Re:glad to see (Score:3, Insightful)

    by squiggleslash (241428) on Monday December 13, 2004 @01:29PM (#11074010) Homepage Journal
    Patents are inherently unjust. We grant them not because they're right and just but to create an incentive to research areas that might otherwise be left alone.

    They're unjust for this reason: a patent is a monopoly on an idea and all implementations of that idea. It differs from copyrights in that it applies to all instances of that idea, not just those that were copied from a single creation. And, while with things that are copyrightable it's highly unlikely that two people would come up with the same thing for anything but the most trivial of works (you're not likely to accidentally, without reading the original, write "War and Peace", for example), with patents two people researching the same problem are very likely to come across the same solution. The person who gets to the patent office first with the solution wins the patent, and wins the monopoly.

    With software patents and patents on business methods, we see the problems with patents come to the fore. There is every incentive already for software authors to come up with new and innovative software systems, be that file formats or data compression systems or user interfaces. Likewise with businesses, businesses can and do want to experiment with different business methods to find ways of doing business more profitably.

    Worse still, with so many people versed in the relevent arts, and with no monetary investment required save for time, for software, there's absolutely no possible justification for patents in either area. If I patent anything related to a real world problem in the software world, I can guarantee it that patent will be violated, independently, without any knowledge of my patent or what I did, by the people violating it.

    To answer your final point: this is exactly the problem with patents. Patents give people the right to dictate how other people who independently create things (that the patent holders just so happen to have a patent on) use those things. That's why they're unjust. That's why we need to be reducing the amount of areas that are patentable, not increasing them.

  • Re:glad to see (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jafac (1449) on Monday December 13, 2004 @05:54PM (#11076758) Homepage
    It's simple.

    The Constitution said:
    "To Promote the Useful Arts And Sciences"

    THAT is what Patents are for. Not to guarantee someone profit, or even an ROI for R&D costs.

    IMNSHO, if it doesn't PROMOTE innovation, a Patent or Copyright should NOT be granted.

    And if it doesn't do so for a USEFUL Art or Science, also, a Patent or Copyright should NOT be granted.

    PERIOD.

    It's clear to me, from the language in the Constitution that the purpose of Patents and Copyrights is to benefit the public.

All the simple programs have been written.

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