UK Patent Office under fire over software report

UK Patent Office under fire over software report

Summary: The UK Patent Office has published an article explaining the software patents directive, but it has already been fiercely criticised by many anti-patent campaigners

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The UK Patent Office (UKPO) has been criticised by anti-patent campaigners on Monday for an article it published last week on the software patent directive.

The article, entitled Patents & Software: Fact and Fiction explains the details of the software patents directive, a potential change to European law which some critics say could allow the widespread patenting of software in Europe.

The UKPO document states that the EU Council has agreed a text which is now due to be debated by the European Parliament. It claims that the directive is needed to stop the UK from moving towards a US-style liberal patenting regime and to clarify the law by only allowing software to be patented if it makes a 'technical contribution'.

The document goes on to explain why it believes that copyright is not enough and clarifies the "fact and fiction" about patent law, including a denial that the software patent directive would be harmful to SMEs.

But some anti-patent campaigners said they were concerned that the document was confusing and will actually misinform the public about the issues regarding software patents.

Alex Hudson, vice-chair of Association for Free Software, which promotes free and open-source software, told ZDNet UK he was unconvinced by the document.

"This leaflet is a very one-sided view on the directive," said Hudson."There are lots of things it doesn't mention and gets wrong."

Rufus Pollock, the UK spokesman for the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), says the FFII has a similar view.

"FFII-UK deplores the continuing misinformation presented in the recent Fact and Fiction document distributed by the UKPO," said Pollock. "The document continues to peddle old fictions, presents hardly a shred of evidence and continues to promote the patentability of software which threatens innovation both in the UK and across Europe."

Pollock claimed that the UKPO is not an objective observer as it has an interest in widening the scope of patent law.

"We are also concerned that a supposedly neutral, government-funded, administrative agency is taking such a strongly partisan role in this debate, particularly given the inherent conflict of interest in the Patent Offices' role that encompasses providing impartial advice while simultaneously having a significant stake in the resulting outcomes," said Pollock.

Florian Mueller, the founder of an anti-patent Web site, said that he did not feel that the agency had presented a balanced case to the public. "I think it’s a disgrace that a public institution would do public misinformation propaganda," said Mueller.

A spokesman for UKPO denied that the document is unbalanced or inaccurate.

"The document is not inaccurate," said the spokesman. "The Patent Office is adjacent to the debate in the software industry and this document is the aggregated view of the opinions presented to us."

One of the claims that has angered both Hudson and Mueller is that the UKPO article states that the change to the directive will limit the degree to which software can be patented.

"It [the directive] is not about making all software patentable," states the UKPO. "Inventions involving the use of computers will be patentable only if they make a 'technical contribution'."

However, Pollock said that the technical contribution clause does not limit the patentability of software, as can be shown by some of the patents which have already been granted by the European Patent Office.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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2 comments
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  • When I said,

    "Whether software has a technical contribution is a function of how well you write software," said Hudson. "It is very, very easy to find technical contribution in software."

    ... I meant to say "..is a function of how well you write your patent application" (maybe I just said 'application', which could have meant either). But, it's mostly true anyway.

    I am surprised that the UKPTO describe their "Fact & Fiction" document as an "aggregate of opinion". Firstly, it cannot be an aggregate, because it doesn't reflect our opinions at any stage: it only presents one side of the debate (the side they favour). Secondly, how can it possibly be a "Fact" leaflet if it's made up of opinions?

    This is merely a UKPTO propaganda exercise to try to get people back onto their side. They realise that they are losing the argument to broaden software patents out, and are getting called on their double-speak.
    anonymous
  • "The document is not inaccurate," said the spokesman..

    Really? In fact that document is not merely inaccurate but contains at least one outright lie and the UKPTO has disgraced itself and the Civil Service of which it is a part by it's recent record of systematic breaches of the tradition of impartiality and ethical conduct expected (and required) of that institution.
    anonymous