UK firms vent anger at software patents

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure is gathering testimony from British businesses and coders opposed to software patents
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
A campaign to raise awareness about software patents has found strong opposition to their introduction in the UK.

The Protect Innovation project is being run by the UK arm of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), which hopes to gather testimony showing that software patents threaten innovation and would harm the UK economy.

In May the European Union council voted in favour of changes to the EU Software Patents Directive that would allow the widespread patenting of software in Europe. The council was due to adopt an official position on this issue on 24 September, but this has now been delayed till the end of November.

Over 20 small firms and individuals involved in the software industry have already used Protect Innovation to voice their concerns. Many fear that their businesses would be seriously affected if software was made patentable.

Alex Bowden, chief executive of FTLS, a Cambridge-based software development firm, spoke for many contributors when he warned that software patents would allow large companies with banks of patent lawyers to launch a stream of patent applications.

"I believe that the proposed European legislation on software patents will be a disaster. It will destroy the UK software industry except perhaps for the very largest companies," said Bowden in his submission to Protect Innovation.

"Software innovation is spontaneous and comes because the right person is trying to solve the right problem on a specific day. We need copyright to protect the result of our work from direct copying but we do not need patents. The software industry has been vastly creative in the last 25 years without patents. It will not be more creative with them," Bowden added.

According to Jeffrey Lake of Tertio Telecoms, a London-based supplier of software to network operators, America's decision to allow software patents means his company doesn't operate in the US.

"The reason is that most of us are actually involved in providing solutions - we don’t employ a huge legal department. We cannot afford to," said Lake in his testimony.

"Patents make it far more difficult and far more expensive and far far slower to develop software especially in our field which involves bringing products from many different companies together to form a solution."

Andrew Katz, a lawyer at Moorcrofts Corporate Law, is concerned that software patents won't provide sufficient protection for those who generate creative work.

"The introduction of software patents would benefit only big corporations with large patent portfolios for whom the system has the effect of raising a huge barrier to entry for SMEs and individuals," wrote Katz.

"It would be immensely damaging for the economy as a whole for their scope to be increased," he added.

Click "target="_new"" class="c-regularLink" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">here to register your views at Protect Innovation.

Opposition to software patents is growing across Europe. Yesterday the four main German political parties were united in opposing their introduction.

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