Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Update from the Conservatives' Charles Tannock.

Not so good on this one. Looks like the Tories think software patents are ok in general and the legislation for Europe is better than the US anyway. I'll show a few quotes (with permission):

Starts off not too bad:

The objective of this Directive is to clarify existing EU Patent Law and provide patent inspectors with a common framework within which to examine and if appropriate, grant patents for genuine innovations involving digital technology. An explicit objective of the proposal is to ensure that computer software or business methods that do not involve new innovative concepts, making a technical contribution are excluded from patents. This will give the EU a distinctive and different position from the US and Japan.

However, it's been shown that the barrier to qualify is already much lower than the current UK system. Now, reading his bio, Charles is a bright spark, but it also shows a distinct lack of software development knowledge (funnily enough, being a doctor and all...). From here the response goes into freefall..

We need to consider the potential effect of the Directive on software development. I think that the problems here can often be exaggerated. There is little evidence from the USA that software development has been slowed down by the US patent regime. If the EU Directive is passed, it will be more restrictive than the current US patent environment. There is little sign from the USA, of large companies pursuing small companies for patent enforcement -evidence suggests that the opposite is the case. Also, patent specialists consider that the passing of the EU Directive will exclude the attempted enforcement of existing US patents across the EU. We may need to tighten up the proposal to ensure that this happens.

Yep, no evidence of the growing mexican standoff in the US between largely large companies. For a system that is alledgedly there to protect the little guys, it's not a very good showing.

We are also especially concerned to protect innovative companies, especially small firms, using digital technology to produce genuinely original technical solutions. We have been contacted by many of them and they are very concerned that they may be excluded form the patent regime by inappropriate amendments to the EU proposal. Patent royalty income is very important to these companies and is a major incentive to innovative research.

Lastly it is important to consider the impact of the Directive for the European Union to remain competitive in global markets. If Europe's capacity to protect innovation in the field of technology is reduced, compared to other regions of the world, we may in the long run no longer be able to sustain our standard of living by innovation.

For example, European car manufacturers will increasingly compete with low cost Chinese car makers. It would clearly be a disadvantage for European manufacturers, if Chinese producers have access to innovations without incurring research and development expense, because there is insufficient patent protection. We must have a fair and balanced internationally competitive framework.

Between mixing software and non software and throwing in a little scare mongering I think this position is pretty awful. I replied to Charles with a number of points to try to explain my concerns. I have to say, for a party that is looking to help small business this doesn't appear to be a good first move. Charles does mention that various amendments may be necessary, but then fails to specify when -- presumably well after the new rules are in place and damage may wel be done. I suspect, not knowing the procedures that well, that once in place (ie 'agreed'), getting changes will be like pulling teeth.

Overall, Labour 1, Conservatives 0 -- 5 more MEPs still to respond...

I did a quick search for more background, finding this is very scary:

As a final observation, it should be noted that the trend in favor of patentability, started in the U.S. in part via of the instantiation of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, appears to continue. European Judge Steinbrener, who wrote that "it is legitimate to have a mix of technical and ‘non-technical’ features (i.e. features relating to non-inventions within the meaning of [§] 52(2) E.P.C.) appearing in a claim, even if the non-technical features should form a dominating part," and his American colleague Judge Clevenger, stating that "[t]oday . . . virtually anything is patentable," seem to agree.
[my emphasis, see orignal for some extra citations etc.]

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