Summary: As the lobby for software patents in Europe intensifies, we identify and dissect the culprits
EUROPE is under attack at the moment. Lobbyists of firms like Microsoft — and in particular ACT — are trying to legalise software patents, thus marginalise Free software, and the Commission is not particularly helpful; it’s almost playing along with the lobby, or playing right into its hands.
A few days ago, Digital Majority identified ACT’s Jonathan Zuck trying to legalise software patents in Europe through the loophole of contamination (whose euphemisms include “harmonisation” or “Community”). Here is Zuck himself, a Microsoft lobbyist who met Bill Gates, once again pretending to speak on behalf of small businesses (hijacking their voices):
EU takes key step towards bloc-wide patent system
Lobbyists for smaller firms welcomed the move.
“We hope this development will give a new impetus to the conclusion of negotiations on the community patent,” said Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology.
“Small and medium-sized firms cannot wait for it, they need it today,” he said.
Smaller firms do not welcome the move and Jonathan Zuck is not their spokesman. He is a hired gun of the vicious monopolist called Microsoft [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. They try to pass new laws with bogus endorsements and it seems clear that Zuck is back at work lobbying for software patents EU-wide. They try to do it quietly without mentioning the phrase “software patents” because these patents are too controversial. They make mere programming a case of civil disobedience.
As pointed out some days ago, there is a new identity to to this push which Charlie McCreevy put forth as his evil “hamonisation” plan, with endorsement from the French president, who is a friend of Microsoft. The Microsoft-sponsored Czech presidency too is a supporter.
Speaking of McCreevy, we have this new report from Asia:
It is interesting to note that globally, the software patent mess is starting to rear its ugly head yet again. In the EU, Charlie McCreevy is trying to legalise software patents with a US-EU patent treaty, and in India the Patent Office is working on a Draft Patent Manual to allow software patents.
A coalition opposing this attempt to ban Free software is urgently needed as long as Brimelow adopts a spineless approach [1, 2]. The likes of ACT have plenty of money to spend on AstroTurf domains and all sort of “Innovation Day”-type lobbying events. Microsoft is taking the invoices and paying the bills whilst the Commission becomes a bamboozled victim in the hands of insiders.
Yes. We agree that a well-functioning patent system should include clear substantive rules and would add that such rules already exist under the current European patent system. As such, there is no need for further legislation regarding patentability (subject matter) and conditions of protection (in particular, novelty and inventiveness). The existing rules, as defined by the European Patent Convention (EPC), the Strasbourg Convention and the national patent laws which implement them, offer the right framework as to what can be patentable and under which conditions. The provisions of the EPC and the Strasbourg Convention adequately address the substantive conditions for patent protection, the scope of patents, and exceptions to patentability. No additional approximation of the substantive patent rules is required. By way of comparison, it’s worth noting that the legal instruments which define the subject matter and conditions of protection of other intellectual property rights, including the European Directives harmonising copyright or trademark law, offer a similar level of certainty as to the definition and conditions for protection of IP rights.
See that bit about “harmonising”? And the assimilation of patents to other separate things using the “IP” buzzword? Here is also Microsoft’s submission
[PDF]. They sure seem like a crowd this way, don’t they? Microsoft represents itself and pays another entity to pretend that it represents 4,000 small businesses. Microsoft also commonly uses the BSA and CompTIA for these purposes.
For ACT members, the patent system is one of the key areas of European legislation that affects their business, and the most important of all areas of intellectual property. In an era where interoperability is increasingly important, patents have become critical to smaller software innovators. Using their institutional advantages of market penetration, geographic reach, promotional dollars, etc., larger competitors can simply co-opt the copyrighted inventions of smaller firms. Within months, they can reverse engineer their technologies and quickly distribute the new products through their well-established pipelines. Trade secrets, a previous favorite of software developers, are also insufficient in an era where interoperability and cooperation are paramount. Attempting to maintain trade secret protection while sharing code and other valuable information becomes very complex and inefficient. Further, trade secrets burden the developer with demonstrating their means of protecting that secret and the consistency of that protection. In the real world this is a question of resources, an advantage smaller firms do not have. In addition to improving Europe’s patent system along the lines set out by ACT in this paper, other urgent measures should be taken. By tackling over-regulation, educating ICT entrepreneurs to be better businessmen and engendering an entrepreneurial mind-set within Europe, EU Member States and EU Institutions could create the right atmosphere through which to assist ICT entrepreneurs in Europe to benefit from a healthier hi-tech business environment.
While ACT enjoys some support from larger “platform” firms such as eBay, Oracle, Verisign and Microsoft, it represents smaller, entrepreneurial tech firms that use these platforms, like Sax Software, TechTalk, Galleria Retail Technology Solutions, Premitech, and Tribeka Converging Technologies.
Let’s deconstruct this a little.
Sax Software is the company of Jonathan Zuck's ACT co-lobbyist and possibly former ACT president, Mike Sax. The company offers visual basic widgets. In other words, it’s closely tied to ACT and to Microsoft Windows as well.
Tribeka is considered to be a European SME lobby — a dummy for patents for Microsoft, a “startup” for around 10 years with a software packaging business concept that they tried to patent: You can burn your CD and print the cover in the shop using a terminal. Daniel Doll-Steinberg always makes the SME software patent case for Microsoft in Brussels lobbying. But his invention is not a software patent and even Microsoft is not actually interested in his “innovative” distribution channel idea.
Gallery Retail is a Microsoft certified partner, whose Windows-based Web site flogs promotional displays.
Jonathan Zuck also tells how ACT came into existence:
How it got started: in 1998, governments across the world were busy debating issues like the Y2K crisis, antitrust in the new economy, encryption exports and broadband. But when debate turned to serious discussions about how government needed to ‘fix’ the tech industry, even executives of smaller firms started to take notice. While these executives were finally awake to the direct and immediate threat of heavy-handed government regulation, none of them had their own lobbyists or government affairs staff. Yet, with so much at stake, they realized that small tech firms could no longer remain in the silent majority of international business. Later that year, several executives of small technology firms came together to create the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT). Since its founding, ACT has been the leading voice for the entrepreneurial tech firms that are so critical to our world’s economy. Since its inception ACT has found that many of the issues that face SMEs are global in scope. This has led SMEs from outside the United States, in Europe and Asia joining as members.
“Antitrust in the new economy” simply refers to Microsoft’s investigation at the Department of Justice. That’s where Judge Jackson called Microsoft “criminals”. It seems safe to believe that ACT is a rename/respin of the defunct ATL, which perhaps got a little ‘too’ exposed when Microsoft needed shills to write supportive letters (‘on behalf’ of dead people) in 1998. CAGW and ATL were among those in the headlines and so was DCI. ATL is another Zuck-led lobbying arm and according to SourceWatch, ACT was actually created by Microsoft, so it’s nothing to do with small businesses. To quote SourceWatch:
Microsoft has also created new trade groups, the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) and Americans for Technology Leadership (ATL), to generate support for the company through Web sites and a sophisticated and largely hidden grassroots lobbying campaign.
ACT is still very busy creating new domains and making up all sorts of campaigns whose domain name is registered by proxy. We covered this before and offered evidence.
“ACT was actually created by Microsoft, so it’s nothing to do with small businesses.”Returning to ACT’s own description of the raison d’être, “leading voice for the entrepreneurial tech firms that are so critical to our world’s economy” simply means that whenever regulators make proposals that challenge Microsoft’s business (e.g. antitrust, open document formats, software patents), ACT lobbyist/photographer Jonathan “guitar hero” Zuck and his team come to the rescue and lend SME AstroTurf support.
You’ve got to love how they mix (saturate/dilute) lists to hide the real source and concentration of power.
“eBay, Oracle, Verisign [...oh! And some 'small' company that created us, a company called] Microsoft”
Regarding support from industry:
That would be a company created by Zuck’s friend and one of the chief people among ACT’s staff.
How many small companies are they listing? Like half a dozen at most? Where are those 4,000 companies that Zuck spoke to me about? Are these too ashamed to be affiliated or associated with ACT? Are they even aware that their voices are being stolen by a Microsoft lobby that seeks to harm them ‘on their behalf’?
ACT also says : “in 1998, governments across the world were busy debating issues like the Y2K crisis, antitrust in the new economy, encryption exports and broadband.”
More dilution exists there. What’s that second thing again? Was it only antitrust? Was there a specific case that year? Were other issues like encryption exports and broadband relevant only in 1998?
ACT — who are these guys kidding? We’ll start keeping better track using the always-under-construction Wiki.
Zuck et al can change names/umbrellas once again, just like Blackwater recently did. To escape bad reputation by morphing is not so easy when you know the names of the people involved and soon realise where their wage comes from. It just makes it harder to search or inquire by company names, assuming there is no proper mapping between old and new identities. █
* There is another consultation in the repository on patents and all the copyright consultation stuff from DG market. Interesting are in particular the contributions of LJ Jakob and Micelli.
“That particular meeting was followed by an anonymous smear campaign against one of the TC members. A letter was faxed to the organization of the TC member in question, accusing the TC member in question of helping politicize the issue (which is, of course, untrue). I too had the dubious pleasure of hearing first hand how Microsoft attempted to remove me from the TC (they did not succeed, thanks to integrity and cojones of the organization I am affiliated with).”
“If this unethical behaviour by Microsoft was not sufficiently despicable, they did the unthinkable by involving politics in what should have been a technical evaluation of the standard by writing to the head of the Malaysian standards organization and getting its business partners to engage in a negative letter writing campaign to indicate lack of support of ODF in the Malaysian market. Every single negative letter on ODF received by the Malaysian standards organization was written either by Microsoft, or a Microsoft business partner or a Microsoft affiliated organization (Initiative for Software Choice and IASA).“