Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Software Patents [European Union]

According to an article in ZDNET UK, the European Council on May 18th, 2004 voted to adopt "controversial changes" to the European Union's Software Patents Directive. According to commentators, these changes pave the way for widespread patenting of software in Europe.
Why controversial? According to the article:
Objectors say the draft's wording was vague enough to effectively legitimise software patents, which would lead to patent warfare dominated by large corporations, already the situation in the US software industry. This argument was persuasive enough to convince MEPs to introduce a number of important amendments before approving the directive late last year.
Another ZDNET UK article published May 22, 2004 goes even further to describe why European economists believe such software patents will be of no benefit to anyone other than patent attorneys.
In an open letter to the European Parliament issued on Monday, 12 economists from institutions including the University of London, the Oxford Internet Institute and the University of Sussex urged that the proposed Directive on the Patentability of Computer-Implemented Inventions be rejected in its current form when it comes for a vote on 1 September. The term "computer-implemented inventions" includes, but is not limited to, software.
While they said the European Commission's goal of creating a more consistent patent framework for Europe was laudable, the economists said a better investigation must be made into the potential economic impact of making it easier to patent software innovations.
The current draft legislation would be a recipe for disaster, they said, and would encourage large companies to build up an arsenal of patents that they could use to fend off competition from smaller companies. This technique is common in the US, where the patenting process was liberalised several years ago.
"While clothed as an administrative clarification, the proposed directive will provide opportunities and incentives for the construction of extensive portfolios of software patents," the economists wrote. "The exploitation of these portfolios will have serious detrimental effects on European innovation, growth and competitiveness."
Simple question: even if "extensive portfolios" of software patents were to be created, why is this detrimental? Wouldn't the same argument apply to genes, chemicals, motorbikes, or even the ubiquitous widget? Why are software patents any different than a patent for a new process of making sulfuric acid?
Rodney D. Ryder

No comments: