04.01.10

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Deutschlandfunk, Deutschlandradio, and the Nation of New Zealand Show the Way Regarding Software Patentability

Posted in Australia, Europe, Law, Patents at 6:06 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

New Zealand Parliament buildings

Summary: More radio stations and also an entire developed nation turn their back on software patents

WE finally have some good news about software patents. We’ll begin with the more minor item: The FFII formally congratulates several radio stations from Germany and Austria on their decision to embrace Ogg, obviously at the expense of patent-encumbered formats (MPEG cartel) that many other stations use exclusively.

On today’s “Document Freedom Day” the German radio stations Deutschlandfunk, Deutschlandradio Kultur and Austrian Radio Orange were lauded for their usage of the open Ogg Vorbis format for live streaming.

In Berlin staff members of Deutschlandradio received an award certificate and a big cake with the slogan “rOgg on!”. The certificate was awarded by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) together with the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE).

[...]

Often licensing fees for patented formats are not levied until everyone depends on these formats. Only after the GIF graphics format was widely spread, in 1994 the patent holder Unisys demanded royalties. Only after MP3 became popular, in 1998 Fraunhofer Research and Thomson demanded licensing fees for its audio format covered by over a dozen patents. Free open source implementations of these formats are systematically barred from the market. The way out of the “lock-in”, the patent trap, are open formats such as Ogg Vorbis.

Vigilance remains necessary. For example, the video compression format H.264 is in widespread use today. It is included in mobile devices and smartphone as well as many video platforms on the Internet. But the format is encumbered by over 1000 patents, managed by a consortium of about 25 corporations. Various companies have announced to use this H.264 format for the video functions in HTML5.

Down in the southern hemisphere, the news about New Zealand rejecting software patents continues to be validated. We wrote about this subject before [1, 2, 3] and Nat Torkington says that “New Zealand Government select committee recommends no software patents in NZ.”

The End Software Patents Web site gives credit to more local people and organisations that deserve it.

Substantial credit is due to the people in NZ that submitted letters making the case against software patents:

* Egressive Limited
* The New Zealand Open Source Society
* InternetNZ
* Guy Burgess

Mike Masnick talks about a hopeful relation to the situation in the United States.

New Zealand Politicians Want To Explicitly Outlaw Software Patents

[...]

As we wait for the Bilski ruling in the US (which my gut feeling tells me will have the Supreme Court totally punt on the issue of software patents), it seems like politicians down in New Zealand have figured out that software patents are a real problem.

“New Zealand legislators want to outlaw software patents,” says another report.

As part of an effort to update patent law, New Zealand legislators have proposed a bill which would make it impossible to patent software. If it becomes law it would no doubt cause friction with US ACTA negotiators, who are pushing to make software patents standard internationally.

Currently they are recognized in just a few countries, including the US and Japan.

Yes, very few countries actually fell into the software patents trap. It’s borderline in China and Australia as it may not be an official policy; Microsoft fights for software patents in India, Mexico, and other places including Europe of course. So far, it only exploits loopholes as it files patents but does not have them tested in court.

Other news coverage on the subject includes:

1. Select Committee Reports On New Patents Bill In New Zealand

2. New Zealand Legislators Say Software should be Inpatentable

New Zealand legislators have proposed a bill which would make it impossible to patent software. The bill, which is going through the process for patent reform, clearly indicates that software should not be patentable.

If this bill becomes a law, then it will create friction with US ACTA negotiators, who about to make software patents standard internationally.

3. New Zealand patent reform bill says no to software patents

New Zealand’s parliament is preparing to vote on a major patent reform bill that will tighten the country’s standards of patentability. One of the most significant changes in the proposed bill is a specific patentability exclusion for software. If the bill receives parliamentary approval in its current form, it will broadly eliminate conventional software patents in New Zealand.

The bill was drafted by the Select Commerce Committee, which decided to include the exclusion after reviewing feedback from the software industry. The bill’s official summary acknowledges that software patents are detrimental to the open source software development model and have the potential to seriously stifle innovation.

TechDirt has just posted another explanation of what software patents are about.

It’s always fun talking to big time patent system supporters, because it’s easy to predict their arguments. After you point out all of the evidence that has shown absolutely no proof that patents increase innovation, the supporters always shift from “patents are necessary for innovation” to “patents are really about disclosure.” The argument here is that part of the “bargain” for getting a government granted monopoly over your invention is that you have to describe the invention, so that those who are skilled in the art can replicate it from your description. Of course, as patent attorneys and software engineers admit, that’s a myth. Patents are written these days to be incredibly broad, and really only understandable to other patent attorneys, rather than other engineers.

Masnick, the author, correctly points out the lack of “proof that patents increase innovation”; should Neelie Kroes be paying attention to non-lobbyists or the monopolists that fund them?

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