Despair greets software patent bill

Talkback: The passage of the software patents directive to the next step has dismayed many in the industry - and created some new Euro-sceptics
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor on

The news that the EC has adopted the software patent directive, struck a chord with ZDNet readers. However, the note was more of despair than anger.

"I do hope this is an error, and wishful thinking from the EC," said one reader in disbelief. "If it is true then it is a very sad day for Europe and the World. The people responsible for this are criminals, the fact that it is white collar crime doesn't make it any better."

Some people fixed on Microsoft as a major beneficiary. "With one hand they fine Microsoft £500m. With the other they give them the means to make £500bn," said Steve J, describing himself as a "soon to be poor software developer".

One reader predicted that US experience in patents will give it the upper hand. "US portfolio companies have had years to pick up patents on obvious things like shopping carts, online purchases, or even decades-old open standards," said researcher Olav Petri. "Allowing software patents in Europe would basically allow the US to walk all over any European business." Chief technology officer Bill Franklin added: "OSS development is now going to be spearheaded in the third world."

Some readers explained their opposition so eloquently, it seems hard to believe the EU could ever support the directive: "Imagine a plumber not being able to use a clockwise turn with his spanner to tighten a leaky pipe due to the 'clockwise turn' being patented by a large international plumbing firm," said a systems engineer. "Or what about a carpenter not being able to hammer in a nail as 'hammering' had been patented by a large international carpentry firm. Make no mistake, when things as elementary as a progress bar can be patented, we ARE talking about this level of impact for small to medium business that are unable to afford to play the patent game. What's worse is that if this IS passed, any one piece of software may well cross over dozens of patented ideas." Despite this, there was some support for the idea — well actually, one reader: "Software patents are long overdue," said Martin Ryan, marketing director of DB Consulting. "The reason the US has such a healthy software industry is in part due to the protection that patents afford companies who invest in software production. Creating software is a labour intensive (and therefore expensive) process and it is right that companies that invest in it can protect that investment during the life of a patent, just as a company investing in any other area of industry can gain the right to fully exploit the results of their work."

This sparked angry reaction "Mr Martin Ryan, before claiming the US and Japan have a "healthy" software industry, please take a look at all the lawsuits involving software patents," said CD, pointing to a recent case. "These things pop up on a daily basis right now: do we really want this in Europe? I guess somebody does, and they do NOT understand what this is all about, because no person who REALLY understands what this is all about would even consider putting this on the agenda."

"The sheer ignorance of using US patent protection and the word 'healthy' in the same sentence is repulsive," said Marcus Widerburg, "Seriously, I dont think anyone in the software industry with any insight would think this, which is why 'DB Consulting' must be a law firm."

Strangely, it was a patent attorney, James Cross, who sounded a note of hope. "Let's not get overexcited — all this means is that the text proposed by the European Council will be passed over to the European Parliament for the next round of debate," he said. "The Directive is still very far from being adopted." If the directive is adopted, it is likely to result in increased interest — and hostility to — the European Union. "Until yesterday I was inclined to vote in favour for the European constitution in the upcoming Dutch referendum," said Jan Mulder, one among several who have turned Euro-sceptic. "Today, realising the foolishness of my naive confidence in European democracy, I am sure to vote against it and to convince as many people as possible to do likewise!"

"I've always wished for a closer Union across Europe. But I won't support an undemocratic one," said Ricardo Botelho de Sousa.

In the end, one reader summed up the mood as follows: "I think I'll quit. Maybe I'll retrain as lumberjack."

Editorial standards