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11.26.15

Saving the Integrity of the European Patent Office (EPO)

Posted in Europe, Patents at 12:19 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The imperialist ambitions of a patent office result in growing neglect of local actors

French coup d'état
Management takeover by Team Battistelli similar to French coup d’état of 1851

Summary: Some timely perspective on what’s needed at the European Patent Office, which was detabilised by ‘virtue’ of making tyrants its official figureheads

THE main concern I have always had regarding the EPO was potential granting of software patents in Europe. I even wrote a letter to the Enlarged Board of Appeal about it (that was half a decade ago). As a software engineer surrounded by other software engineers I know that people who write software (computer programs) don’t want to bother with patents. They needn’t worry about who got a monopoly on which algorithm (copyright law is more than sufficient here). This worry is further accentuated when dealing with Free/Open Source software, where a lot of compartmentalised code gets imported/grafted (not licensed per se), and it is infeasible to start checking what line of code may infringe which patent. It would be lunacy to review hundreds of thousands of US patents before undertaking the simple task of writing a program. It would also put one at greater risk (higher damages due to willful infringement).

“It would be lunacy to review hundreds of thousands of US patents before undertaking the simple task of writing a program.”EPO management would have to lie (with a straight face even!) if it persisted in portraying its opposition as aiming to ‘destabilise’ the Office. There is a big difference between destabilisation and reform. There are many abuses taking place inside the EPO, putting aside our concern about software patents. The need to obey the law or the efforts to compel the EPO’s managers to obey European laws aren’t ‘destabilisation’ efforts. Imagine a political parable; dictatorships like to say that their opposition is ‘destabilising’ a nation, or trying to cause chaos. Any dictatorship that deems itself ‘benevolent’ (which dictatorship has ever believed otherwise about itself?) will always insist on crushing opposition. That’s why elections are imperative (with time limits for one single individual to run) and there is a clear separation between media and governance for instance — a separation which EPO evidently no longer respects.

“Contrary to misleading portrayals from Team Battistelli, EPO staff is not violent. The aggressor here is actually the management.”The EPO took many decades to acquire its reputation (quickly eroded by Team Battistelli, in just a few years), so efforts to fix the EPO are actually defensive and they are intended to rescue the EPO’s integrity. Sometimes from a temporary/localised destruction (e.g. of tyranny at the top) comes liberation. Sometimes it’s known as revolution, although the word revolution has negative connotations (with blood and violence).

Contrary to misleading portrayals from Team Battistelli, EPO staff is not violent. The aggressor here is actually the management.

“The EPO can learn from the failings of lesser successful patent systems — systems which the EPO’s current managers increasingly emulate.”EPO staff continues to receive a salary and it would in no way help this staff if it saw the EPO going away (pensions too may be at stake). What definitely would harm this staff — in the long term — is an EPO that suffers reputation erosion, due in part to poor patents (too broad or easily invalided in courts, e.g. using prior art which examiners overlooked). They would devalue EPO patents, which would no longer be able to justify their high and ever-rising cost. To shield the integrity of the EPO the management needs to:

  1. Stop harassing staff, as it makes recruitment of talented examiners a lot harder and leads to a loss of many skilled and experienced patent examiners
  2. Re-examine the scope of patents because in some domains (e.g. software) patents do more societal and professional harm than good
  3. Re-examine the pace of patenting because quality should come before quantity and too many patents merely saturate the market, diluting/reducing each patent’s worth
  4. Restore patent neutrality, meaning that large corporations should no longer receive preferential treatment

There are many more points to be made, but this is just a very partial list. Reform is needed and the current management — not the staff — is resistant to a reform. It’s funny just how the management reversed this whole situation, painting the examiners as Luddites. Who’s really the Luddite here? It’s Orwellian spin.

“It’s funny just how the management reversed this whole situation, painting the examiners as Luddites.”The EPO can learn from the failings of less successful patent systems — systems which the EPO’s current managers increasingly emulate. Publicly posing or liaising with Chinese patent officials, for instance, is no triumph but arguably an embarrassment for a number of reasons (beyond the scope of this post). TechDirt, which wrote about Techrights yesterday, has many articles on this subject. In fact, it wrote several such articles yesterday.

TechDirt now shows evidence of the strategy of accumulating a massive number of junk patents [1] (when about 92% of applications get patents granted at the end, what is the role of examination really?) to then attack rivals in the domestic market [2] in China (just like the USPTO and ITC enable). With UPC, widespread injunctions (a la ITC) would become possible and patent scope would likely expand, not just in the domain sense but also the geographical sense (making more parties liable and thus subjected to legal threats, if not outright actions).

Today’s EPO management is bad for science, bad for lawyers (especially in the long term), bad for examiners, and even bad for European businesses, which it discriminates against. Who is the EPO good for? Evidence serve to suggest that it serves multinational conglomerates. It’s like an imperial institution, complete with mass surveillance, witch-hunting, and mental torture (so-called ‘interrogation’ of perceived dissent which poses a threat to the empire).

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Stupid Patent Of The Month: Infamous Prison Telco Patents Asking Third-Parties For Money

    There are two serious problems with this patent. First, the claims are directed to a mind-numbingly mundane business practice and should have been rejected as obvious. Obvious uses or combinations of existing technology are not patentable. Second, the claims are ineligible for patent protection under the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Alice v. CLS Bank—this is a recent Supreme Court decision that holds that an abstract idea (like contacting potential third-party payers) doesn’t become eligible for a patent simply because it is implemented using generic technology. That the system failed to register either of these defects shows deep dysfunction.

  2. Chinese Company Learns From The West: Builds Up Big Patent Portfolio, Uses It To Sue Apple In China

    For many years now, Western governments have been complaining about China’s supposed lack of respect for intellectual monopolies, and constantly pushing the country’s politicians to tighten the legal framework protecting them. To anyone not blinded by an unquestioning belief in the virtues of copyright and patent maximalism, it was pretty clear where this strategy would end. Indeed, over five years ago, Mike warned where this was leading: towards China repeatedly punishing foreign companies to protect domestic Chinese firms — in other words, leveraging patents as a tool for protectionism.

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