Software patent protest to block Web sites

Software patent protest to block Web sites

Summary: Several hundred Web sites are to remove their front pages in protest against a European software patents directive, due for a final vote next week

TOPICS: Government UK

More than 600 Web sites are to take part in an online protest against a proposed European law on software patents, timed to coincide with a real-life protest in Brussels on Wednesday.

Those rallying against the proposal -- including some of Europe's most prominent scientists and software businesses -- believe its current draft would open the door to the patenting of software and business processes, effectively shutting out software competition from small and medium-sized developers.

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), which is organising the online protest, is urging Web sites to temporarily replace their front pages with a note of protest. Some sites are also redirecting users to a petition and call for action against the proposed directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions, which will be submitted to the European Parliament for approval on 1 September.

The call for action has already amassed more than 7,000 names since earlier this year, including several MEPs and developers such as Opera Software, while the more general petition has accumulated more than 170,000 names.

Participating sites include a number of open-source organisations, such as Linux desktop software project KDE and Savannah, a hosting site for GNU software projects.

"Leaders of the scientific communities and software business world took the directive proposal apart and condemned it in every respect. Yet in June the EP Legal Affairs Commission endorsed this proposal with further amendments that make it even worse," said Benjamin Henrion, one of the protest organisers, in a statement. "More and more people are now seeing this very clearly."

The FFII and software-oriented groups such as Eurolinux are also organising a rally to be held beside the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, running from noon to 2 p.m. The participants will be carrying banners with slogans such as "software patents kill efficient software development" and, more catchily, "innovation not litigation".

They are expected to be joined by a group of interested mimes, which also participated in a May demonstration that attracted 200 participants. The protest will be followed by briefings in the parliament building.

Ongoing controversy
A June vote on the controversial proposal was put back amid criticism by MEPs that the legislation would institute a US-style patent regime that would be detrimental to European small businesses and open-source software developers.

The proposed software-patenting legislation is the result of a European Commission effort to clarify patenting rules as they apply to "computer-implemented inventions", a term that can be taken to include software. The patent offices of different EU member states currently have different criteria for accepting the validity of software-related patents, a situation which the Commission's proposal aims to remedy.

However, opponents of the suggested legislation charge that the ambiguity of the current draft would effectively allow most software to be patented, a situation which currently exists in the US, and which critics have compared to allowing a monopoly on the ideas in novels.

Writing in The Guardian in June, Arlene McCarthy, the British Labour MEP who is guiding the software patents proposal through Parliament, argued that the legislation would "provide legal certainty for European software inventors" and protect the investments of small European software companies.

"It is time some of the 'computer rights campaigners' got real," she wrote. "Patents for software inventions will not go away. It is infinitely better for the EU to harmonise laws across the EU with a view to limiting patentability, than to continue with the mess of national courts and European Patent Office (EPO) systems, and the drift towards US patent models."

For more information about this issue, click here for the ZDNet UK Insight feature, "Patent Impending".

Topic: Government UK

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  • As far as I am aware the US has one of the most successful and vibrant software industries in the World. I fail to see how the US system of patents has limited the countries ability to innovate and make money in the area of software. Why is a "drift" towards a US patent system such a bad thing when it is an intrinsic part of the software capital of the world. Surely we should be aiming to replecate this not avoid it?
  • Patents are becoming the domain name land grab in large companies such as the one I currently work for.

    If it's patentable, they patent it. Why? It's not as if they are going to do anything whatsoever with most of the patents they take out.

    At the very least, if the patent does nothing but sit on the shelf for 5 years then it should be rescinded and moved into the public domain.
  • I have my doubts about patents, especially in software. A patent is essentially a monopoly granted by the government for a certain amount of time ( I believe it's 17 years or something in Europe ).

    This means you have the power to forbid somebody to do something, or at least let him pay for it.

    For instance,
    - Microsoft has a pantent on Cascading Stylesheets (CCS).
    - Amazon has a patent on one-click shopping
    - Also Amazon: giving a gift to somebody on the internet
    - IBM used to had a patent on showing thick lines on a computer screen
    - Adobe has one on a progress bar
    - Apple has one on the garbage bin
    - Some guy: has a patent on browser plug-ins

    These are perfect examples of patents that should not have been. Big companies that have patents do "cross licensing", which means they can use each others patents free of charge.

    Small companies, well, they can forget it, as can FOSS developers. Imagine you have a company that makes firewalls. Then your product would need to be able to understand the network protocols. Well you can forbid the implementation of such a system, if it is patented.

    Granted, patents can be usefull, if big effort went into doing something with them. But in IT, they are used as weapons in the competion, and they mostly do nothing for progress.

    So sign the petition !!
    take care
  • This in conjunction with the proposed IP enforcement law could open the way to solving the Pension problem in the UK. Just break copyright and you too can go to jail. Full expenses paid, 3 meals a day. Educational opportunities, when you can get out of your cell. Oh it'll also act as a job creation scheme.... even more prison officers will be required ( hang on we don't have enough at the moment ).
    Oh well just have to ignore it! The law means nothing if people don't believe in it!
  • Patents are a difficult and dangerous practice in the information age. We deal with software, software methods and information management. These are direct conceptualisations of ideas - the result of thinking. Unlike patents involving traditional tangible items, there is a fuzziness, an indistinction between the idea and the implementation. And since anyone with the basic capacity for thought can develop software concepts, it is always possible to have parallel and independent development. Given the same starting conditions of environment and stage of technical development, there is a high degree of likelihood that there will be similar yet independent innovations.

    Liebniz and Newton both conceived of calculus and developed notations for calculus. Had patents existed for this we might well be using the cumbersome Newtonian notations. I point this out because the languages of the courts, for all the attempts to shape and contain the scope of a patent definition, allows for interpretation. The question of whether the method of calculus or the method for representing calculus is patentable may be an issue in the modern courts.

    It would be preferable for software patents to be restricted to implementations - more tangible and operational facets of software. The analogy would be that Newton and Liebniz could patent their notations but not the concept of calculus. However, even this brings problems. Cases revolving around the patenting of the hyperlink, the one-click purchasing method and the process of e-Commerce are modern day examples of restrictive practices on ideas and implementations and the fuzzy boundary between the two.

    Beyond that, the impact on society as a whole has to be considered. The basis for modern science is that there is a collective knowledge that is shared and developed and built upon. Through patent legislature that may be applied to ideas and concepts, we can diminish the richness and diversity for approaches to solutions. We impact the universities and intellectual capacity for nations. By assigning purely monetary values to ideas, we create an economic trade in ideas.

    Beyond the social and intellectual ramifications, there are economic concerns. There is the cost to defend a patent, the cost of insurance for patent infringement and the cost for developing an alternative, should one exist. These costs will ultimately be borne by the user.

    The ramifications of the legislation has a complexity and unpredictability that worries me. Can the legislators see further than me?
  • "More than 600 websites took part in the blackout to protest software patents in Europe..."

    More than 600? Try "nearly 3000"