03.24.13

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Software Patents and Thickets in Asia, Europe

Posted in Asia, Europe, RAND at 11:10 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: Negotiations over laws which can spread patent policy to more continents (other than America and to a lesser degree Australia)

We have been tracking the globalisation of the patent system for quite some time (this subject was covered here many times before) and also discussed in a high level of detail what was being done in Europe. Perhaps being a European-centric site is the outcome of yours truly being European, but in any event, the problem is global.

The USPTO, an instrument of US corporations of large size, wishes to expand its scope of monopolies not just in terms of how abstract a patent can be but also what geographical locations (scope) the patent becomes applicable in.

There is a lot of OS news from China these days, notably Microsoft bribery and a Ubuntu-based national operating system. But recently we wrote about China following the wrong path on patents and this page says that China is now talking about patents in standards, i.e. something like FRAND. To quote:

On March 7th, USITO and representatives of local and foreign trade organizations and companies attended a meeting co-organized by the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) and the China National Institute of Standardization (CNIS) to discuss comment submissions on the Regulatory Measures on National Standards Involving Patents (Measures).

Standards should involve no patents. It is as simple as that. To require patents to merely implement standards is to be anticompetitive. FRAND-type policies also tend to serve as opportunity for software patenting where such patents are not legal. There are other such loopholes, the unitary patent in Europe for instance. Glyn Moody wrote about it just the other day, complaining about lack of proper analysis of the impact on Europe.

In other words, despite all the grand talk about how wonderful the Unitary Patent would be for Europe, that’s only potentially true if most patents are issued to European companies. As the latest EPO report makes clear, it’s companies outside the EU that are increasingly being granted patents here. That means the EU has just created a powerful new rod for its own back that will allow US and Asian multinationals to gain patents more cheaply and sue local companies more easily. And given the US experience, we can be sure they will.

But those at the EPO needn’t worry: they’ll probably still get their patent inflation bonuses next year, regardless of the knock-on consequences for European businesses. Whether that will be much comfort if your company gets sued under the Unitary Patent scheme in the years to come is another matter….

The pursuit of software parents everywhere (through FRAND and other means of globalising patent tax) is definitely noteworthy. A lot of money flows in the direction of very few people and new, small companies are not permitted to compete in the market unless they can overcome patent thickets.

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