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10.30.08

Failing SCO, Microsoft Eyes EU and Software Patents

Posted in Europe, GNU/Linux, Kernel, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, SCO at 1:48 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Languishing case dragged on for half a decade

“[Emerson, Microsoft senior vice president for strategy] stated that Microsoft wished to promote SCO and its pending lawsuit against IBM and the Linux operating system. But Microsoft did not want to be seen as attacking IBM or Linux.”

Larry Goldfarb (of BayStar)

Readers might be wondering what all those SCO-related quotes are about. We’ve posted many of them so far today in order to symbolise and draw attention to the Halloween Documents, which intersect with today’s special day. As stated in Wikipedia, there was an “e-mail from consultant Mike Anderer to SCO’s Chris Sontag revealing Microsoft’s channeling of US$ 86 million to SCO.”

“It’s worth remembering that Novell approached Microsoft for this deal, not the other way around.”Failing copyrights libel, as implicitly suggested inside the Halloween Documents, Microsoft has already resorted to unbacked patents libel. It’s the next logical step and a last option too. That resistance phase was ignited a year and a half ago and it was empowered by the patent deal Microsoft had signed with Novell. It’s worth remembering that Novell approached Microsoft for this deal, not the other way around.

Software patents are ‘softer’ than copyrights and their legitimacy is constantly being questioned; their very existence is challenged. Software patents are still illegal in the large majority of the world, so Microsoft has reasons for concern about its unfounded claims and threats. After all, SCO was fined in Germany for such slander. Can Microsoft too be fined? Either way, there is an endless pursuit for software patents in Europe, courtesy of Microsoft, a few other companies, and the pressure groups they employ [1, 2].

In reality, owing to existing confusion and lack of clarify, “they [EPO] can’t distinguish between hardware and software so the patents get issued anyway,” says Microsoft’s Marshall Phelps.

Europe’s assignment of the infamous software patent situation to the enlarged board was mentioned here earlier [1, 2, 3]. The following report from IDG suggests that Pieter Hintjens, former head of FFII welcomes this decision.

In an interview at the beginning of this year, shortly after she took over the top job in Munich, Brimelow said she wasn’t ready to refer the software patents question to the EBoA, perhaps out of respect for her predecessor.

Now that she is ready, the reaction has been positive.

“It will be a landmark case with a sizeable effect on the interpretation of patent law even beyond Europe,” said Thomas Vinje, an intellectual property expert and partner at the law firm Clifford Chance.

Pieter Hintjens, a prominent campaigner against software patents during the political debate in 2005 and founder of software company Imatix, welcomed Brimelow’s decision.

“The (EPO) has resisted doing this for many years. In the past it didn’t want to clamp down on software patent applications for economic reasons: The EPO makes money from patent applications and renewals. Brimelow at last is taking a healthier approach, prioritizing the long-term interests of society ahead of the short-term financial ones,” Hintjens said.

There is some more background reading to this in The Register.

The European Patent Office (EPO) has asked its ultimate legal authority to look at the European Patent Convention (EPC) and issue advice on the patentability of software. The EPO said that such advice was necessary to ensure the uniform application of the EPC.

We have been writing quite extensively about what Symbian (Nokia) has done in the UK. It harmed the country’s treatment of software patents [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]; however, according to this, the situation in the UK can be impacted by the conclusions reached in continental Europe.

The thorny issue of software patents in the EU was again in the news last week. Regular readers will recall the ongoing row between the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) and the courts over the former’s application of both UK and EU case law on the extent to which computer software can be patented. The most recent round a couple of weeks back saw the Court of Appeal find the UK IPO was wrong to deny a patent to Symbian’s PC performance enhancing software. Now the European Patent Office (EPO) has sought clarification by way of a reference to the Enlarged Board of Appeal (which hears appeals against EPO decisions) seeking to clear up some of the finer points of the application of European patent law. Those clever kitties at the IP Kat reckon the referral should end some of the uncertainty over computer software at the EPO level and (indirectly) aid the UK IPO as well. Let’s hope so.

These are interesting times and an important test for the European patent system. Brimelow does not want another riot.

Software patents protest against EPO

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