12.17.17

The EPO Has Found ‘Creative’ New Ways to Bribe the Media and Promote Software Patents

Posted in Europe, Patents at 2:04 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

When they speak of “IoT” and “fourth industrial revolution” they allude to a patent thicket comprising many software patents

Industry 4.0

Summary: From Computer-Implemented Inventions (CII) and “Industry 4.0″ the EPO is moving to creative new misnomers for carriers of software patents, SEP (patents-encumbered ‘standards’), so-called ‘FRAND’ etc.

THE EPO ended the year with another big scandal — one that most of the media conveniently ignored; instead, the media covered EPO PR, which involved the EPO’s management actually paying the media (not from its own pocket but stakeholders’). Some of it was pushed during the weekend (e.g. [1, 2]) by the EPO’s Twitter account. Working on a Saturday?

We remind readers that our criticism of the EPO over the years was purely about software patents. We are not against the EPO and certainly not against patents in general. In fact, our intention over the past few years was to save the EPO from the litany of patents and the tyranny/dictatorship of Battistelli. Patent quality matters. Examination matters, not so-called ‘production’. If only the EPO stayed true to its sloganeering…

The patenting of software in Europe remains a problem. We recently wrote about Microsoft and the EPO doing all this under the framing/guise of "IoT" — a trend that can be seen perpetuated in the latest EPO ‘study’ (with other buzzwords/terms like “fourth industrial revolution”). Some sites of lawyers carried EPO agenda as recently as Friday and there was also this press release about a company that “specializes in the creation of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence” (the title is “Gopher Protocol, Inc. Files Patent Application in the European Patent Office”).

What we basically have here are some new tricks or loopholes for software patents in Europe. They just refer to these in different terms, big words other than “CII”.

Also on Friday, Thorsten Bausch said that “[t]he Federal Court of Justice held that a patent application is to be rejected if its subject-matter extends beyond the content of the application as originally filed and if this deficiency has not been rectified by the applicant upon request by the examiner (following FCJ X ZB 17/73 Regelventil).”

This isn’t about software in particular, but noteworthy here is the insistence of the court (which isn’t motivated by ‘production’ but law/accuracy). Too many times or oftentimes we see public advocacy by law firms for loopholes that enable patenting the patent-ineligible. This is particularly true in the domain of software.

Will software developers ever be able to coexist with software patents? It’s unlikely. Programmers neither want nor need such patents. A couple of days ago (also on Friday) Simon Phipps from the Open Source Initiative published this article and asked: “What if software patents were used in a way that made using software patents unthinkable? A kind of “Patentleft”?”

That, in part, has been tackled by GPLv3 (copyleft), but here is what Phipps proposes:

The word “copyleft” arises from a clever hack by Richard Stallman who used the laws relating to copyright — a statutory device to incent creativity by granting limited monopolies to creators — to create a world where creators are incented to share instead of monopolise their work.

Since the Berne Convention makes all creative works the automatic sole property of their creator, the only way others can use it in any way until the monopoly expires is with the express permission of the creator of the work, who is said to hold the copyright. Copyleft grants everyone receiving the work an unlimited license to use, improve and share it, but only on the condition they grant the same conditional rights to every recipient. Copyleft thus makes more and more works freely usable as more and more people improve them.

Could we do the same thing to subvert patent law? It seems that’s at least part of the motivation behind the use of a controversial combination of the BSD open source copyright license and a broad patent grant by Facebook. A few years ago they silently standardised on releasing all their open source projects — including popular codebases like RocksDB storage engine and the React.JS user interface framework — under the venerable 3-clause BSD license supplemented by a unilateral grant to any of Facebook’s patents necessary to use the software.

As we shall show later today, the US is moving further and further away from software patents, drifting away from patent trolls in the process. Will such a ‘post-software patents’ world (or post-Alice world) materialise in Europe as well? How about China, possibly the last safe haven for such patents? The sure thing, activism in this domain remains necessary, and activism depends on vigilance.

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