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09.22.10

The Free Software Foundation Fights Software Patents in the Southern Hemisphere

Posted in Australia, Europe, FSF, Intellectual Monopoly, Patents at 9:12 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Time to stand up against software patents and WIPO

Puzzle time

Summary: The southern part of the world, where wealth is scarce and software patents are largely illegitimate, is being visited by Richard Stallman who helps educate about the harms of software patents (even to Europe); it is also acknowledged that patent value in Europe is an odd duck and that the Europe-based WIPO is hostile towards the vast majority of people

Australian lawyers are hoping to help ruin EPO just like USPTO (the European and American patent offices, respectively). Richard Stallman, an activist far gentler than the mainstream media may have the population believe, has been giving some talks in Australia and now he turns his attention to a European Patent session in the same country. The Australian press is being unfair by claiming that Dr. Stallman “crashes” the session (that’s what the headline says) when in fact all he did was hand out printed copies of his article and held up a sign with a polite message. Judge him based on the following new article whose headline is unfair and worth correcting:

Software freedom activist Richard Stallman made an unexpected appearance at a European Patent Office presentation in Brisbane today.

Stallman, pictured, who was also due to address the World Computer Congress later in the day, carried a placard that said: “Don’t get caught in software patent thickets”.

He briefly interrupted a presentation by European Patent Officer Ralf Abbing, who spoke about the “big issues in IP in relation to computing technology”.

In his presentation, Abbing outlined the requirements for software patent applications under the European Patent Convention (EPC).

“We have a very narrow interpretation,” Abbing said of patentable software.

According to Article 52 of the EPC, patented inventions had to be “susceptible of industrial application”, new, and involve an inventive step.

The Article excluded aesthetic creations, discoveries, mathematical models, business methods and presentations of information from being patented.

Abbing explained that patentable software also had to be “technical” – that is, software that processed physical data parameters, controlled values of an industrial process, or affected “the way a computer operates”.

[...]

Stallman said he supported the movement, and told iTnews that the European Patent Office was lobbying for software patents in Australia.

“We’re here at the World Computer Congress and what I’ve discovered is that the European Patent Office is here to campaign in favour of software patents in Australia,” he said.

“You can be sure that if Australia allows software patents, almost all the patents will belong to foreigners and will give them the opportunity to sue Australians.

Another new article, this one from The Australian, has an exceptionally deceiving headline, “Richard Stallman calls for internet tax to combat piracy” (he neither talked about “piracy” nor called for an “internet tax”). The latter part of the article speaks about the appearance at the European Patent session:

He and an unknown colleague held up placards reading: “Don’t get caught in the software patent thickets”.

While considering him eccentric, some experts at the conference were sympathetic to Mr Stallman’s ideas.

During a presentation on software piracy among students, Linda Spark, a researcher from Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand said: “Although I thought some of Richard Stallman’s ideas were a bit radical, there’s a lot of areas I don’t disagree with him. If we look at the history of software you have to ask why software is owned. It’s because someone got greedy along the way. It wasn’t originally proprietary software.”

“The ethics on both sides are really bit questionable.”

Notice how preconceptions of Stallman (created by daemonisations in the press) affect people’s reception of his teachings. No wonder Stallman has disdain for the PR industry. They try to maginalise him and create a radical image of him. In reality, his message makes a lot of sense, just like the messages of Mr. Moore and Mr. Assange for example.

Truth be told, Stallman’s views have made him many enemies in quarters such as the proprietary software industry, the meta-industry of patent lawyers, and so on. Here we have IAM (lawyers’ magazine) shooting itself in the foot by admitting that the industry it shelters is quite worthless (or a “Seductive Mirage” as Richard Stallman called it in the famous essay he handed out in paper form in Australia).

“Under 1% of patents account for close to 50% of overall patent value in Europe,” says this headline: [via Glyn Moody]

Under 1% of patents account for close to 50% of overall patent value in Europe – UPDATED

[...]

Obviously, there is no scientific valuation process involved here, but the answers can be considered indicative of how much value the owners felt they got from their patents. And what is so interesting is how this survey backs up so many others in finding that the vast majority of patents turn out to be worth very little or nothing at all; but those that are worth something can be worth a hell of a lot. The trick, of course, is in knowing which patents will fall into which category. Unfortunately from a patent procurement perspective, it can’t be done ahead of time – though there are plenty of people that are looking to find ways of getting an edge in this area.

Going further to the east and crossing over to Australia’s neighbour New Zealand, there exists a battle in there over the issue of software patents. Microsoft front groups have been lobbying in favour over there and in this new interview with Microsoft’s NTO in New Zealand he gets asked the following question:

What’s Microsoft stance on changes to software patents in New Zealand?

Fundamentally the final decision needs to be in the economic interest of New Zealand. IRP should be designed and serve New Zealand’s interest. The concerns we still have is that there’s been no real detailed economic analysis of what impact any changes are going to have.

The fundamental idea that someone who invents something, spends the time, money and effort to create something new should be able to benefit from it, is something that we believe in deeply. It’s our core businesses. That’s why we spend US$9 billion a year on research and development. It’s important that we benefit from that and show our shareholders that we benefit from that.

In a time where there’s so much talk about the importance of IT and export growth in New Zealand, it seems odd that we’d throw away a profit prediction for a thing that we’d want to sell.

Microsoft is avoiding the subject. This is not surprising. In order to avoid backlash from the public, Microsoft always prefers to push for software patents using front groups (e.g. 'NZ'ICT in New Zealand). It hides behind proxies which pretend to serve the opposite side, in this case “NZ” (‘NZ’ICT is a multinational, not a New Zealand representor).

To finish off this overly-elongated post, mind the latest news which exposes the evils of WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation). We last wrote about it 10 days ago. A famous blind man, Stevie Wonder, is taking on WIPO and shockingly enough WIPO snubs him. This made it into a lot of publications, even Reuters.

U.S. pop and soul music legend Stevie Wonder told diplomats from nearly 200 nations on Monday to stop squabbling over copyright and agree on a pact bringing “hope and light” to blind people around the globe.

And the singer-musician, himself sightless since just after birth, warned negotiators at the United Nations intellectual property and copyright agency WIPO that he would write a sad song about them if they didn’t act on his appeal.

They did not “act on his appeal” based on some articles we found, so we look forward to Wonder’s eulogy for the WIPO, which grows increasingly controversial, especially among poor nations (the world’s majority) and minority groups like blind people.

Andrew Katz, a new writer for IDG in the UK, writes about the term WIPO uses to justify its existence. It’s misleadingly called “intellectual property” and as Katz correctly argues, it’s just an analogy not to be taken seriously:

[Y]ou’ll find organisations like the RIAA, BSA, FAST and BPI talk a lot about “property”. And you’ll find organisations like the Free Software Foundation railing against that characterisation.

It’s also fairly telling that the organ of the United Nations which deals with these issues is called the “World Intellectual Property Organisation”, and that the relevant government agency in the UK is Intellectual Property Office.

It’s nice to see the FSF getting some credit there. The FSF, unlike the IBM-backed Linux Foundation/OIN, is strongly against patents. That’s why Techrights is sympathetic towards the FSF.

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