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Is the EPO Selling Out to Microsoft?

Posted in Europe, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Patents at 6:18 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“Staff at the European Patent Office went on strike accusing the organization of corruption: specifically, stretching the standards for patents in order to make more money.

“One of the ways that the EPO has done this is by issuing software patents in defiance of the treaty that set it up.”

Richard Stallman

Alison Brimelow

ACCORDING TO THE FFII, the EPO which is headed by Alison Brimelow (above) is perhaps acting against common sense and violating ethical guidelines by allowing the European Parliament no room in an important debate over software patents. What about the EBoA, which seems to be neglected for the time being?

“Microsoft-sponsored Czech presidency is working to ram software patents down the throat of the EPO using the so-called ‘Community’ patent.”Meanwhile, as we’ve been seeing recently [1, 2], the Microsoft-sponsored Czech presidency is working to ram software patents down the throat of the EPO using the so-called ‘Community’ patent. Those scare quotes are there to indicate that it’s one of these words which come to mean exactly the opposite of what they were supposed to mean, similar examples being “globalisation”, “harmonisation”, “libertarian”, “democracy”, and “conservative”. It’s an attack on people’s vocabulary and their ability to express ideas, even the ability to criticise what becomes glorified euphemisms.

The ‘Community’ patent is very anti-community in the sense that it’s means for banning Free software which is developed by real communities. According to IAM Magazine (subscription needed), the Czech deputy prime minister is the latest among the culprits.

Only last week the Czech deputy prime minister was saying: “The key to innovation at times of crisis is incentivisation. Lack of IPR can be fatal to SMEs, who are the main drivers of our economy and who, according to many studies, outperform larger firms in terms of technological importance of their innovations.” For this reason, he continued, the Czech presidency of the EU is “deeply committed” to finding solutions to the current Community patent and single jurisdiction impasses. It truly is a funny old world; especially in Europe

The rather alarming new press release is added below, in full. It sure seems like the EPO too has become part of this charade and already, as Microsoft’s Marshall Phelps put it quite recently, the EPO “can’t distinguish between hardware and software so the patents get issued anyway.”

EPO seeks to validate software patents without the European Parliament

Brussels, 17 March 2009 — At the highest level of the European Patent Office (EPO), the legality of software patents in Europe is about to be tested. The FFII warns that the European Parliament is being bypassed by allowing a decision with EU-wide implications to be made without its involvement or any real debate.

The President of the European Patent Office (EPO), Alison Brimelow, has asked the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA) to decide on the interpretation of the European Patent Convention (EPC) regarding the exclusion of software from patentability. The EBA is replacing the European Parliament in order to validate software patents EU-wide without the need of a debate.

Benjamin Henrion, President of the association, says: “The current plan of the patent lobby is very clear: avoid a new software patent directive, validate the EPO practice via a central patent court, and guide the hand of the courts via a decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal. They want to avoid the intervention of the European Parliament in substantive patent law.”

The European Parliament has already criticized the lack of separation of powers within the EPO in its resolution of March 2000 on human cloning: “Considering that the EPO is an institution acting as judge and party, where the attributions and procedures have to be revised. [...] Demand the revision of rules of function of the EPO in order to guarantee that this institution can publicly justify the accountability in the exercise of its functions [...].”

Influential persons such Alfons Schäfers, German lawyer and President of GRUR, were pointing at the lack of democratic control over the EPO and was calling for a return within the EU legal framework: “The EPO should become part of the European Union, like the OHIM in Alicante. To keep the EPO outside that framework is quite ridiculous at a time when the EU is expanding to the political and historical boundaries of Europe. The EU institutions – especially the European Parliament, must be given the wherewithal to exercise firm democratic control and to frame and implement European patent legislation. That is the only way to overcome the European Parliament’s growing suspicion of patent law.”

Henrion finishes: “What the EPO is doing is taking the place of the Parliament and skip the debate. The objective of this move is to guide the hand of the judges in order to achieve validation of software patents without a new law.”

Interested parties have up to the last day of April to send their comments to the Enlarged Board of Appeal.

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