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Patents-free Standards in the UK

Posted in Europe, Patents, Standard at 10:24 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: Andy Updegrove writes about the standards situation in the United Kingdom

The other day we wrote about Portugal's embrace of ODF. Now we have this report about Britain:

Governments certainly have more than enough to concern themselves with these days – financial crises, natural disasters and terrorism, to name just a few. Given that’s the case, it’s surprising that so many are finding the time to worry about what kind of standards the products and services they purchase comply with. But they are.

That’s the case in the EU, where the final terms of version 2.0 of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) were the subject of heated debate, resulting in a watered down definition of what should be regarded as acceptable standards for use in enabling communications between EU member nations. It’s also the case within those EU member states that are considering adopting definitions similar to the original formulation that appeared in the original, 2004 version of the EIF.

It’s somewhat ironic that this discussion is occurring not in the context of standards generally, but with respect to information technology (IT) standards, where the standards of greatest concern are those that enable interoperability. I say ironic, because once a standard has become universally adopted in the marketplace, customers – including governments – have little choice but to adopt it as well, because interoperability standards not only enable government IT systems to interact with each other, but also with the citizenry. Moreover, one great economic benefit that can be gained from procuring products and services that comply with widely adopted standards is that it protects the purchaser from becoming locked in to the proprietary products and services of a single vendor.

Updegrove then writes about what happened in the UK very recently (regarding FRAND and beyond). It seems possible that FOSS adoption here will come through the requirement of fair competition via standards.

It is worth noting that, now that EPO is moving gently towards software patents*, Karsten Gerloff from the FSFE sounds his horn again:

How software patents are delaying the future

This fall, I went to Amsterdam to talk about “How Software Patents Are Delaying The Future”, on a discussion panel organised by the European Patent Office. The other people on the panel were patent attorney Simon Davies, and Ioannis Bozas, a patent examiner at the EPO. The panel was moderated by James Nurton of Managing IP. Despite our very different views on the subject, we had very friendly and informative conversations before, during, and after the panel.

For the EPO, organising this debate was something of a gamble. They’re widely criticised for their practice of awarding patents on computer programs, and the debate tends to get rather heated. While I couldn’t disagree more strongly with the way they do things at the EPO when it comes to software, I give them credit for putting this debate together. It was also refreshing to hear Ioannis state clearly that the EPO grants patents on software, as long as the program makes a “technical contribution”—that’s somewhat clearer than the line about “computer-implemented inventions” we’ve mostly seen the EPO employ so far.

A lot of this war on FRAND can suffer if the unitary patent is passed, whereupon lots of foreign patents can infiltrate the UK, for example. European programmers and even non-programmers should become active on this matter.
* Elver said today in the FFII’s mailing lists, “I was just sitting with a government official who mentioned that something or other will be decided on the 12th of December regarding the unitary patent system in Brussels.”

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