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05.07.10

‘IP’ People Want to Add Software Patents to New Zealand and Europe

Posted in Europe, Law, Patents at 7:37 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

New Auckland montage
Picture by Taifarious1, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Summary: Another update from New Zealand and interesting developments from Europe, where Spain stands in Michel Barnier’s way

THE patent situation in New Zealand currently resembles the situation in Europe. Multinationals and lawsuits-loving lawyers are trying to use or even abuse the system for their own agenda to be advanced and interests promoted at the expense of citizens’ (including developers). We find some of these people in Twitter. “Twitterer suggest general dislike of patents is crypto-luddism,” writes Carlo Piana, but “It’s the opposite: current system stifles innovation. [Software patents] hundredfold so…”

The legal 'industry' in New Zealand has been promoting software patents in New Zealand not because they would be beneficial to the software industry (which overwhelmingly rejects them, based on numerous new polls). Someone called “IPMentor” (probably from the field of law, as the name may suggest) has just gotten this opinion published in the press. It contains many common fallacies in there (mostly easy to spot). To give one example:

The Uniservices conclusion is just about opposite to the MED policy driver behind the current Bill – patents are to be discouraged because their benefits will flow overseas.

And what of the software ban? Well, the select committee has had a bit of a bob each way. The amended Bill bans patents for “computer programs.” But the explanatory note says their intention is not to ban patents for “embedded software” – and then says trying to define the difference between the two was too hard, so the intellectual property office should be left to draft appropriate guidelines.

No, a bill which permits software patenting would have the completely opposite effect because it would put New Zealand in a position of disadvantage, it gives its developers no safety from outside coercion. Ideally, the Bill should not just ban software patents; there are loopholes which need to be closed too, ones involving phrases or depictions like “on a device”.

Over in Europe, a debate takes place regarding software patents as well. It seems like Florian was the first to cover it.

I participated in the KnowRi§ht conference in Vienna, Austria, where I was invited on ultrashort notice to give a speech on “Software Patents, Standards & Competition”.

The big controversy at that conference clearly related to the future of the European patent (and patent court) system. I will report on that in a later post. Previously I’d like to summarize the outline of intellectual property rights matters on the EU agenda that a European Commission official gave at the conference.

Before I get into details of Dr. Jens Gaster’s comments, I have to mention that he pointed out at the beginning of his speech that he was not acting as a spokesman of the institution that employs him (the European Commission) but instead in a personal capacity as a lecturer. It was an academic conference and Dr. Gaster continues to pursue an academic career in addition to his work for the Commission.

There is more here about the FFII’s presentation (titled “What’s wrong with the UPLS?”).

The FFII criticizes that an incredibly powerful, international patent and patent court system would then be able to take controversial decisions while there wouldn’t be a single powerful and democratically elected legislator that could correct undesirable developments through new and better laws.

The FFII doesn’t mean that the judges themselves should be under democratic control (judges should always be as independent from political bodies as possible) but that there should be a lawmaking body that can pass new legislation related to all aspects of patent law. Even the European Parliament wouldn’t be able to do so. It has to share legislative powers in the EU with the national governments of the Member States, and the geographic scope of the UPLS would go beyond the borders of the EU itself.

Critics of the UPLS also have structural concerns, such as over what would happen if such a relatively autonomous court system exclusively specialized on patents and detached from the general judicial framework had to rule on a case in which a party claims fundamental rights under its country’s constitution.

[...]

For the event that the European Court of Justices “gives some green light” for the reform initiative, Benjamin Henrion predicts “huge lobbying.”

JM Cerqueira Esteves says that “According to PT’s INPI, the Norwegian Ind Prop Office is having today & tomorrow a debate on software patents (Except that our INPI uses, of course, the “computer-implemented yada yada” newspeak we’re well acquainted with).” Here is the English version of the page.

The primary role of The Norwegian Industrial Property Office (NIPO) is to support Norwegian industry and promote economic growth. Raising awareness and increasing understanding of industrial property rights is an essential element in enabling companies to secure their investments and develop a competitive edge in the global market.

Florian says that the “EC [is] likely to put EU-wide patent plans on hold due to lack of support from Spain” and he points to this new article. FFII’s president (Benjamin Henrion) adds or quotes: “No country will allow their companies to be discriminated in profit of Central-EU, US and JP big multinationals.”

“The article does not seem to be available online anymore,” he told us.

This article says that European commissioner Michel Barnier (he is the “man whose job is to pass anti-Free(dom) software laws,” as we put it back in December) regretfully needs “to put EU-wide patent plans on hold” and that he is “frustrated at lack of help from Spain”. To quote some more portions: “The creation of the patent has been an economic priority for the EU for ten years, and is a major goal of the Europe 2020 economic growth strategy.”

“It is innovation that distinguishes the leading countries from all others.”
      –Miguel Sebastián, Spain’s industry minister
That’s nonsense. See the presentation from the FFII for gory details about UPLS.

The article says: “Barnier had planned to present the relevant draft legislation on 18 May, in time for a political agreement by industry ministers at a meeting on 25-26 May, the last they will have under the Spanish presidency. But officials said that Barnier was becoming frustrated with Spain’s unwillingness to negotiate on the dossier or to prioritise work on it in the Council.”

Well, Spain should be congratulated. It is doing the right thing here. As we already know: “Sweden brokered a deal on the specifications for an EU-wide patent during its presidency of the Council of Ministers in the second half of 2009.” We wrote about this at the time.

Lastly, Spain’s industry minister Miguel Sebastián is quoted as saying, “It is innovation that distinguishes the leading countries from all others.” As everyone ought to know, patents and innovation are not the same thing and what Barnier is proposing opens the door to software patents in Europe.

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