Software patents make a mockery of European ideals

Software patents make a mockery of European ideals

Summary: The software patents directive shows Europe at its worst. Whose rules shall we play by now?


Whole countries opposed it, its proponents couldn't explain it, and its own parliament called for it to be completely reconsidered. Twice.Therefore, the European Council decided to approve it. Barring an exceptional parliamentary earthquake, the Computer Implemented Inventions Directive will be rubber-stamped by the European Parliament and will in time become law across the Union. It seems Bill Gates got more than a regal tap on the shoulder when he was visiting last week: if these are the punishments for heading a company convicted in Europe and America for anti-trade monopoly abuse, let us hope he is never rewarded.

This is a triumph of bureaucracy over democracy. It's said of newspapers that you only know how bad they are when you read what they say about something you know; this affair has highlighted the mandarin mechanisms of Europe at their baleful worst. The killer argument that won the day for software patents? "We are adopting the position for institutional reasons so as not to create a precedent which might have a consequence of creating future delays in other processes." Lay down your keyboards, ye knights of open source; you have lost your freedom in a noble cause.

Nobody who actually writes or cares about software supported this directive, but nobody in a position to stop it cared about software except as a cash cow, or cared about its producers except as ever-ready battery hens to be intensively farmed. The patents organisations want more patents, regardless of quality. The bureaucrats want more centralised control. The elected representatives either don't understand the issues or have been bought by big business.

For those of us who believe in freedom to innovate, this is a sad day. It is even sadder for those who stand by the ideals which gave birth to the modern Europe, and believe that our institutions act on our behalf against powerful self-interests.

But the battle's not over quite yet. Those who do fight for us need our active support, now more than ever. We must try, Europe-wide, to get the majority vote in Parliament that can overturn the directive. UK readers can contact their MEPs via Make that effort now, before software patents become enmeshed in national law and then in untouchable international treaties.

If all that fails it may be time to ask ourselves what, as IT workers, a revolution would look like.

Topic: Legal

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  • Henceforth, I have no faith in Europe. At every vote where we are offered closer integration with Europe I will vote a definite NO! Europe has become just another means of riding a bureaucratic steam roller over the wishes of the people.
  • The UK has always been an island in more than one regard. The EU is an opportunity to participate in the strongest socio- economic power in the world. Europe is not all bad, there`s also lot`s of good stuff.
    As a Belgian, I understand that Brit`s have an adversy of everything that would endanger than independence they`ve built their Common Wealth with, and that brough them great wealth and power. But the times have changed. I think it`s wrong to shoot down integration based on the fact that legislation is due for improvement: reality check: it always will be! Instead of simply voting no, vote yes and be constructive in your pressure for changes.

    My 2 eurocents.
  • Chris,

    you should note that the only ones who cared about software enough to try and fight this were Europeans - the ONLY country to vote against this in May were the Spanish - and more recently the Polish, Dutch, and many others have stepped up - but that the British contingent never lifted a finger to help. We in the UK would never even have had a chance to stop the UK Patent Office in its tracks without Europe. *Even now* there is probably more of a chance of winning against the European Patent Office legislation than there is against the UK mandarins.

    So my advice is: if you want a fair system in the future, let Europe have more power. They are by definition more varied, & it's almost certain you can trust them more than you can the UK politicians (who *will* you vote for in May?!) I'm afraid.

    I *am* depressed by Europe right now, especially by certain Irish and Luxembourgois politicians.

    Others are beginning to wake up - Spain's Industry Minister has already come out against today's action in their widest-circulation national newspaper this afternoon. Can you see Blair or any other politician in Government or Opposition making any public comment on this side of the channel?
  • Yes, all British should vote for MORE EuropeanUnion - I know I will as the Danish parliament was way too long in figuring out that the current _IRISH_ proposal is crap - and even today then it is a danish minister that is to blame.
    The EU-parliament are the heroes of this story - more power to them.
    The national parliaments - especially those of GB and Ireland are the villains.
  • While I appreciate that the UK government under Tony Blair is a complete dead loss as far as software patents is concerned, embarrassing political defeat appears to be the only language that he understands. So *that* is where my political voice will be directed from now on.

    Hopefully, other European governments will have more of a backbone against certain large US corporations than ours has shown.
  • "It's said of newspapers that you only know how bad they are when you read what they say about something you know..."

    Ay - and when just one or two of the smaller dogs of the fourth estate can be bothered to bark at the gang of intruders now engaged in a wholesale theft of the economic and intellectual freedoms and rights of UK citizens, one wonders what could possibly be wrong with all the other silent and apparently dozing mutts.

    It is not as though the thieves have been particularly proficient at their work: the clanking sounds made by their clumsy attempts to pick the locks of the gates of the legal system roused the occupants of the FFII henhouse. The thuds of their heavy boots as they trampled over the concerns of millions of individuals, developers and SMEs were audible in the village beyond the pond.

    Now they are violently kicking down the doors of democracy and justice, and still all the that can be heard from the estate's canine population is the fierce yapping of the hounds of ZDNet; a racket sadly not loud enough to raise the household from it's innocent slumber.

    In the morning, when the occupants rise and are confronted with the appalling consequences of the night's events, I hope they realise the significance of the pieces of trouser material hanging from the jaws of little Ingrid and Leader but I hope they also realise that Guardian, Times, Indy, Beeb and the other great beasts either need urgent veterinary treatment, or should be shot.
  • Where do I register to vote for who sits on the Council of Ministers? Oh wait, that's right, I can't. And the Council has the power to completely disregard the voice of the only body I can be represented in, namely the European Parliament.

    Does anyone remember how the Parliament voted for some heavy ammendments to this bill at its first reading, and how all those ammendments were thrown away? Does September 24th 2003 ring any bells?

    So by all means someone, enlighten me as to how being part of the EU means that we are NOT all at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats. I am deeply and morbidly curious.
  • Software patents do not benefit the world of technology, in any way. The copyright laws provide ample protection for software. There is simply no need for patents in software. This is wrong on so many levels.
  • I just did it, sent my thoughts to as many elected representatives that were available.

    I must say is an excellent site, I hope that democracy in the UK can prevail, as well as a little common sense.
  • > Where do I register to vote for who sits on the Council of Ministers? Oh wait, that's right, I can't.

    YES, you can - I believe the parliamentary election is in may, no? The counsil of ministers consists of NATIONAL ministers.

    And if anyone has any sense Lord Sainsbury should not be represendting GB in the counsil of ministers any more - he is a software patent fanatic if there ever was one - and he is one of the people who have been pushing the EU to adopt this horrible directive...

  • If the EP won't sweep this from the table then the EU will have given birth to a new economic world power:

    Japan, China, Korea, India, etc.

    Because in case someone hasn't figured it out yet. We live in an information age. And information needs need innovative software. With software patents in the hands of the powerfull few however only their economic business rules will govern how innovative EU software is allowed to be.

    Simply put: as long as we can be made to pay for crappy software that is exactly what we'll be allowed to do. Over and over again.

    As for the EU citizens, they can watch their (tax) money, ideas, innovations, top talent, etc ship out either to the West or the East.

    The "Lisbon Agenda" is clearly without practical vision. Quote: "the EU will become the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy by 2010". Yeah right, how do you compete against thousands and thousands of software patents that last decades? Waive with your enormously expensive software patent (that somehow can't be dragged through court for years by laywers that try to dispute it) of your own?

    Hey you, bully across the street with fourty experienced armed free cage fighters at your side. Look, I've got a tooth pick, you better watch out for me. I'm sure the bully will allow the tooth pick man to become something he will be worried about given the good sport he's been all his life. Not.
  • Hmm, maybe I'm confusing the Council with the Commissioners (i.e. Peter Mandelson, a Tony Blair appointee.). In which case, voting Tony Blair OUT of office can't possibly do any more harm than keeping him in.
  • It was good while it lasted.
    May you rest in peace, Open Source.
    May you rest in peace, innovation.
    You will be sorely missed.

    Fcuk you, EU!
  • I actually bumped into my local MP on the street yesterday and asked him to use what influence he has to try and communicate better with the MEPs. I think the MEPs would listen better to someone who speaks their language.
  • Well... we should all write our MEPs, asking why this directive was adopted and what it means for democracy in Europe. Then we get their responses and put them on a website which will be devoted to exposing corruption in Europe.

    Just an idea I have.
  • For a more balanced opinion...

    Try reading the BBC's write-up on this
  • We (EEC) give Bill Gates et al grief - then fall like a puppy into their laps. Whats going on parliament? Are WE supposed to approve 'Tony Blairs' EEC constitution soon - I DONT THINK SO!

    THe Far East will eat us for breakfast in software development- They will be unfettered by democratic bungling. We will be left standing at the bus stop - paying for ideas that could have earned us money and global position

    But then I am just a small business owner and insignificant to the EEC and our democratically elected representitives!
  • Andrew, the BBC piece you point to is a news story, not 'balanced opinion'. This article you are reading here is a leader expressing the opinion of the editors at ZDNet UK, which is that this is a very bad law that has gone through a very bad process. If you want balanced news, our own article breaking the story is here:,39020651,39190497,00.htm
  • Matt - that link is broken (somehow apt!).
    I've always advocated fighting from within, but in this case I'm not sure I see how one does fight from within? If elected to the EC parliament, you are ignored. If appointed a commissioner you have the freedom to interpret the rules as you see fit. So, unless the whole structure of the EC changes and the commission becomes subservient to the elected body, there is no real within to fight from.
    The whole episode is a display of power sruggle and the mandarin mentality. And sickening.
  • What a sham this democracy of EU has become...

    Here in Norway we are still undeciede whether to join the EU, and I voted yes to Norway joining the EU last time.

    Not anymore, it's no to EU from me from now on. EU is nothing but a more modern corrupt banana republic, with slightly better infrastructure... but the same scumbags you'll find here as in any old corrupt state.

    Fuck you, EU!