09.08.15

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Free Software Establishments in India Fight Back as Efforts to Spread Software Patents Are Reported

Posted in Asia, Free/Libre Software, Patents at 6:31 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

OOXML protests in India
From the Campaign for Document Freedom

Summary: India’s move towards software patents already encounters opposition from the Free Software Movement of India (FSMI) and China’s new obsession with software patents is addressed

SOFTWARE patents are truly a menace. Virtually no software developers would ever defend these, except maybe their ‘pioneer’. These are hurting even proprietary software companies, not just Free software developers. As the Microsoft booster Tim Anderson put it yesterday, “[l]egal woes (and cracked licence keys) cause dev favourites to throw in the towel”. He wrote about “Iron Speed, a firm which provided a rapid application development tool for creating .NET apps [which] is shuttering itself thanks to “litigation with a patent troll”, according to a letter sent to customers by co-founder and chairman Alan Fisher.”

The fight against software patents ought to be a common cause among proprietary and Free/Open Source software developers. Conglomerates such as Microsoft and IBM, which are not run by developers, want software patents in order to merely cement their monopolies, which they acquired only because of lack of software patents (back when they were small). Companies that focus on software can only succeed and thrive in the absence of monopolies on algorithms.

“The fight against software patents ought to be a common cause among proprietary and Free/Open Source software developers.”India’s policy on algorithm monopolies has been sound for a number of years, especially given the large number of software developers in India (both proprietary and Free/Open Source software developers). We were therefore rather stunned to learn that India is making a terrible, suicidal move. The Indian Patent Office sells out, causing huge issues for everyone, based on patent-centric sites. There is a panic among everyone except patent lawyers. Some rightly ask: “Will It Stifle Innovation in the IT Industry?”

Of course, it has been repeatedly shown in practice and in theory. India is making even more impact in the media (even international networks like Reuters [1, 2] by giving Pfizer the finger again. As PTI put it, “India rejects Pfizer’s patent application for arthritis drug”. Pfizer just wants another monopoly and India, realising the ethical impact, denies/declines. Why can’t the Indian Patent Office realise that patents on software too are unethical, irrational, and damaging to India? Who is this patent office working for? As one site put it: “The Indian Patent Office (IPO) has addressed limitations on patents for computer-related inventions to clarify the Patents (Amendment) Act 2002.”

It didn’t just address limitations; the word “limitations” has a negative connotation, as if patent maximalism is a good thing.

“Free Software activists against changes to patent norms” is the headline of this new article in English, which shows that the Free software types are already responding to this crisis. To quote the opening paragraph: “The Free Software Movement of India (FSMI) has alleged that the new Guidelines for Examination of Computer Related Inventions are illogical. It argues that they violate the spirit and law contained in the amended Patents Act of 1970 and could pose a grave threat to innovation in our country.”

There are meanwhile reports also from China, the other Asian technology giant. “Last year,” said this article, “for the fourth year running, China topped the patent league with 928,000 patent applications compared to 578,800 patents filed in the USA.”

This is not because of increased innovation but due to patent maximalism. As this new article indicates, software patents are becoming widespread in China (we wrote about this trend before). To quote the lawyers’ site:

Patenting computer software inventions makes sense for the Chinese e-commerce industry for three reasons. First, the Chinese government wants more businesses to patent their technological innovations. This policy is supported at the national level and the central government pays for inventors to apply for patents. Second, e-commerce is very important in China. One quarter of all consumer purchases in China are done on-line. And that number is unlikely to get smaller. Third, today’s Chinese consumers have many options and they have grown to expect quality products, quick service and reasonable prices.

For most active businesses, the third reason is the key. Finding an edge in meeting those consumer expectations has made for a fiercely competitive marketplace. Protecting process innovations that involve software improvements is, as it is everywhere, problematic. How are computer software inventions protected in China as a matter of law?

China would not gain any advantage by allowing patents on software. It would just be wasting time and other resources composing documents in Mandarin. A lot of these so-called ‘innovations’ are not innovative at all; they can be found in existing patents (maybe in other languages) and refer to ideas that got implemented a very long time ago. These patents are good for nothing, except maybe serve as trophies (although the higher the number of such ‘trophies’, the less impressive each becomes).

Business hawks in the US are not resting [1, 2]. They still lobby against patent reform in the US, pretending it would “hurt innovation”, “weaken patent laws”, and the usual nonsense about hurting businesses, which is exactly what patent law does at the moment (hence the need for reform). To quote the latter example, here is why the hawks have just resumed this lobbying (it’s about timing): “Toward the end of each summer lawmakers travel back to their home states and districts for the August recess. This time away from our nation’s capital allows elected officials to reconnect with constituents and hear which issues matter most to folks back home.”

US officials will hopefully work towards a real reform, not the diluted one which had been tabled before they went on holiday.

It is rather worrisome to see software patents spreading to large parts of the global economy (India, China, and even Europe if the corrupt EPO management gets its way) while the US itself, the original source of these patents, is coming to grips with the harms of these patents and cutting down accordingly.

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