Public meeting on patents excludes anti-patent campaigners

A public meeting on software patents is to be held next week, but various high-profile anti-patent campaigners seem to have fallen off the guest list
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor
A meeting on the proposed Computer Implemented Inventions Directive is due to be held next Tuesday at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), but many anti-patent campaigners are angry because they have not been invited.

The meeting, which has been organised by the UK Patent Office (UKPO), will include speeches from DTI Minister Lord David Sainsbury of Turville, UKPO executives and a question and answer session. The invitation states that everyone who has written to their MP about software patents is invited.

"Given the levels of interest in this issue, I have decided to invite all the correspondents and their MP’s who have written to me, to a meeting," said the invitation. "This will give me the opportunity to explain the Government’s view of the Directive, and give you the opportunity to have your questions answered."

But, James Heald of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), said it has found out that about one third of people who have written to their MP's to express their views against patents have not been invited.

"From the latest figures we have, we've been contacted by 81 people who have written to their MPs on software patents," said Heald. "76 have had an answer back about swpat [software patents], 50 have had invitations from the DTI. So about 1/3 appear not to have had an invitation, if those responses are reflective."

Some of those who have not been invited are high-profile anti-patent campaigners, said Heald. "That third does appear to include a number of people who have taken a more visible role -- eg with websites, or an article in the Guardian with Richard Stallman -- but this could as easily be coincidence," said Heald.

Alex Hudson, the vice-chair of Association for Free Software, an organisation which promotes free and open-source software, said he has not been invited despite writing to his MP.

James Heald and Rufus Pollock of the FFII have not received an invitation. Pollock said that he would be disappointed if they are not invited as feels it is important for him to express his views.

"We think it would be extremely unfortunate if we and other people who have views on patents are not able to go -- it will undermine the value of the meeting," said Pollock.

Richard Allan, a Liberal Democrat MP who is sympathetic to the concerns of patent campaigners, said that he thinks it is important that Pollock and Heald are allowed to attend the meeting, so he has written to the UKPO to ask if they can be invited.

"I've written to the UKPO to say could they make sure that Rufus [Pollock] and James [Heald] get invited," said Allan. "UKPO have said they will tell me mid-week whether they will be invited. If they don't [get invited] I will ring up the Minister on Thursday."

UKPO is now checking to see whether any mistakes have been made. Late on Tuesday a UKPO spokesman said that UKPO is currently chasing up Heald's list of people who claim to have written to their MP, but who have not received an invitation. "We need to be able to contact the MP's office to verify the paper trail and get the constituent's home address," said the spokesman. And UKPO says that given both Pollock and Heald may both be available to attend if space permits.

Allan said he does not agree with the UKPO's decision to only invite to the debate people who have written to their MP.

"The way that people now politically campaign doesn't depend on geographical constituency," said Allan. "It seems to me quite an old-fashioned way of doing it. What they should be doing is speaking to the people who are interested in the issue. "

Allan said that through appearing to exclude certain anti-patent campaigners, the UKPO is risking damaging the debate. "It's all very defensive and silly," said Allan. "It's in everyone's interest to have an open debate."

Already, the FFII has organised meetings before and after the DTI meeting to further discuss the issues involved.

The UKPO spokesman said that it is strictly sticking to its criteria and anyone who has not written to their MP will not be invited. "We're not allowing Nokia and Intellect, even though they're pro the directive," said the spokesman.

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