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Patents Roundup: A Quick Look at Europe

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Summary: Recent articles that shed light on the patent situation in Europe, including enforcement

THIS is the last part of a long series of posts about software patents. It's more of a list of somewhat orphaned articles. Previously we dealt with disheartening news about the second version of EIF [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], which Microsoft and the BSA managed to push patents into. Jochen Friedrich says it's a conciliation:



Sure, the value of the first European Interoperability Framework incarnation was that is got exposed to attacks. However, the policy document got hardly read and ressembled more a general work programme. In reality the EIF v1 was an unimportant document barely able to generate substantial results in the field, in particular not in those parts of its contents which were not disputed such as multilinguality. The European Commission regularly releases official “communications” which do not generate direct results but are rather followed by more of the same, the next strategy, green paper, white paper, agenda. Neither the EIF v1 nor the EIF v2 did even reach that minor document status level of a “communication”. To me it looks like India took better conclusions from the EIF v1 as it set up a straight document on interoperability. Most critics and proponents are mislead about the role of the EIF v2 in an overall upcoming EU interoperability architectural framework and fail to see how the EIF v1 was sacrificed, as a decoy we get the EIF v2.


Incidentally, EDRI issues this warning about injunctions:

Just before Christmas, the European Commission published its report on the application of the IPR Enforcement Directive.

The text, while written in fairly neutral terms, does subtly show the Commission's plans for the enforcement of intellectual property rights and the dangers that these hold for citizens' rights. Two points in particular stand out - the circumvention of the E-Commerce Directive, in particular to overturn the ban on imposing a "general obligation to monitor" on Internet providers, and the intended weakening of the EU's data protection regime for the benefit of copyright holders.


The EPO is meanwhile working to extend its scope/jurisdiction beyond Europe. "European patents may become valid in Morocco" says this blog post:

The President of the European Patent Office (EPO), Benoît Battistelli and Morocco's Minister for Industry, Commerce and New Technologies, Ahmed Reda Chami, have signed an agreement on the validation of European patent applications and granted European patents in Morocco. The agreement will enter into force once the necessary implementing legislation has been passed by the Moroccan parliament.


Last night we learned about "[e]nhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection", which is an attempt to further globalise the patent systems and along the way increase damage and probably add software patents [via FFII]. Well, not so fast! Italy and Spain are opposing despite attempted blackmail [1, 2] and Axel H. Horns, a patent attorney, says: "Long Live The EU Patent - But A New EU Patent Court System Is Dead?"

Otherwise, the Enhanced Co-operation group might rubber-stamp the required legal texts very soon, starting with the implementation early next year. However, there is another obstacle: Even the reduced system established under the Enhanced Co-operation scheme will need to revise the European Patent Convention (EPC) by means of a Diplomatic conference in accordance with Article 172 EPC. Italy and Spain might, at least theoretically, try to obstruct such conference. However, the quorum of a two-third majority in accordance with Article 172 (2) EPC can be met even without Italy and Spain. And, if, after the Diplomatic Conference, Italy and Spain don't ratify some amended version of the EPC in due time, they will be squeezed out of the EPC in accordance with Article 172 (4) thereof.


Horns also said that the "EU Commission [is] about to conduct various interesting ICT and/or patent related studies -- http://tinyurl.com/2wdjutz"

As an example of a study, see this new piece of work titled "Internet-based Protest in European policy-making: The Case of Digital Activism" [PDF]. To quote the summary:

European Institutions, especially the European Parliament, are venues of access for digital activist networks wishing to influence policy-making on issues of intellectual property rights, internet regulation and the respect of civil rights in digital environments. We refer to these networks as “digital activism”. They are more or less loosely rooted in the hacker culture and are intensively making use of online tools in order to organize and consolidate a collective identity and build a transnational public sphere. This study focuses on the “no software patents” campaign led by this movement that aimed at influencing the directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions (2002-2005). By discussing the advocacy techniques – both online and offline – that were developed by this digital activist network, we provide an insight into power struggles that are currently taking place in Europe, but also in other regions of the world.


Related to activism there is this new article "Blocking Patents and Political Protest":

Another way to think of this is that a patent could be acquired for the sole purpose of stopping certain kinds of expression. You could call this content discrimination or a sort of blocking patent. I think this is really troubling once it’s combined with the expansion of patentable subject matter to business methods. Here is an illustration:

Imagine that in 1960 business methods were patentable. A segregationist group that is thinking outside of the box decides to apply for a patent on sit-in protests. The patent is granted. When the civil rights activists in Greensboro start their demonstration (at the lunch counter depicted above at the Smithsonian), they are sued for infringement.


Regarding the report which says that the "EU court [will] discuss patents for embryonic stem cells" Glyn Moody asked, "patents more important than ethics?"

The never-ending debate on patenting human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) will receive fresh wind in its sails today as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) holds a hearing to discuss the definition of 'human embryos' and their industrial and commercial use.


Now, watch what the EPO Boards of Appeal is doing: [via David Hammerstein]

In case T 1051/07, the EPO's Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03 decided on allowability of EP 1 365 368 of Korean mobile service provider SK Telecom. The application relates to a system for executing financial transactions in that a mobile account is issued to a mobile phone subscriber and is administratively managed by the service provider, while a transaction with the mobile account is effectuated by a transaction between a bank account of the subscriber and intermediate accounts ("juridical body accounts") of the mobile service provider at different banks.


The same author, Falk Metzler, says that New Zealand's "Guidelines Try to Render "Embedded Software" Patentable Without Specifying this Legal Term"

In April 2010, the parliament of New Zealand voted for a major Patents Reform Bill to tighten the standards of patentability of software-implemented inventions (see related posting). The bill, as drafted by the Select Commerce Committee in July 2010, accepted that "protecting software by patenting is inconsistent with the open source model" and that "computer software should be excluded from patent protection as software patents can stifle innovation and competition" - intensely accompanied by various lobbying organisations. Clause 15 (3A) of the Patents Bill now reads:
A computer program is not a patentable invention.


For background about New Zealand see this wiki page. It is a similar situation to that which prevailed in Europe, where software patents are not legal in theory, but loopholes exist to bypass the restrictions, notably by tying to a "device", at least in the patent application.

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