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11.08.10

Newly-elected UK Government Hopes to Imitate the United States With Software Patents

Posted in America, Europe, Google, Patents at 9:27 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Theresa May and David Cameron
Photo of Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May (taken by ukhomeoffice)

Summary: The British Prime Minister threatens not only software developers in the UK but in Europe at large now that some charlatans want to open the whole of Europe to US-style patent law

IN yesterday's audiocast Tim and I spoke about the misguided new plan of the government, which seems to be thinking the advancement will be improved or restored in Britain by having more patents and bureaucracy. One of the issues that few outlets have covered is software patents. The Guardian, a leading UK publication that recently sold out to Bill Gates [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] wrote about Cameron’s day with the big G:

Not at all: software patents are defensive, and they’re often a problem for startup companies, which may find themselves threatened by bigger ones which, being bigger, have been able to build them. They’re a blight, and British startups are much better off without them. A senior insider at another big internet company mused to me afterwards: “It sounds like the minister has been nobbled. We’ll have to un-nobble him.”

TechRadar, another British Web site, wrote the following:

Now, it seems, we’re going to review our laws to make them more Google-friendly – including, it seems, our patent laws. The prospect of US-style software patents is a chilling one, with big firms using them to stifle competition and patent trolls effectively running legal extortion rackets.

This post on the patent mayhem surrounding Android should give you an idea of how crazy the US system has become.

Thirdly, there’s the involvement of Facebook and Google. There’s something disturbing about seeing the two online giants so close to government, because our government appears particularly bad at getting them to stick to the law.

British lawyers rejoice over at IAM, which is a site/publication that always promotes their interests. “UK government wants to make it easier to obain software patents” says the headline (yes, with a typo), but the article requires a subscription for one to read.

The FSFE‘s Karsten has just paraphrased Dr. Glyn Moody (a Brit) as saying at FSCONS that software patents “cost US economy 4bn USD 1996-1999, added value of just 100 million USD. Just serve to secure incumbents” (this was stated over the weekend).

The British government must listen to its own people and not multinational corporations. Theresa May still remembers my long conversation with her (my grandfather told me this when he met her in July) and the politicians she is surrounded by are mostly technophobes, so they would believe anything that any company with lobbyists may tell them (this includes Google, which does not accept Moody’s sob story). This is a recipe for disaster and further loss of power to those who are already in power. Software patents are fences, therefore they impede new entrants like Google used to be and no longer is. Falk Metzler, a German patent attorney, can already be seen using language tricks to say that “Computer Program Claim not Excluded from Patentability under the EPC”:

The referral claimed a divergence between decisions T 1173/97 (Computer program product/IBM), placing the emphasis on the function of the computer program rather than the manner in which it is claimed (e.g. as computer program, computer program product, or computer-implemented method), and T 424/03 (Clipboard formats I/MICROSOFT), which placed emphasis on the manner in which the computer program was claimed. Following the reasoning of the latter decision, only a claim of the form “computer program for method ‘X’” could possibly be excluded from patentability as a computer program as such, whereas claims of the form “computer implemented method ‘X’” or “computer program product storing executable code for method ‘X’” would not be excluded, irrespective of the nature of the method ‘X’.

As a quick reminder, software patents may come to Europe through case laws in Britain (Symbian) and in Germany (Microsoft and Siemens), so this is important for the continent at large, especially now that Barnier et al. push for centralisation [1, 2, 3].

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2 Comments

  1. TemporalBeing said,

    November 9, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Gravatar

    Interesting. While IANAL, Software Patents are not explicitly allowed under US law; people have gotten them in via methods that implicitly allow them though Re:Bilski would seem to deny that route too if properly applied – e.g. abstract ideas. It may still take a while to fully right the wrong of those methods of implicitly getting software patents.

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