Page Two

By Matthew Broersma  |  Posted 2005-03-17 Print this article Print

The document includes an overview of how software patents affect the IT industry, including extracts from an October 2003 "Report on Innovation" from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The report cited participants views that software patents are "impairing follow-on incentives, increasing entry barriers, creating uncertainty that harms incentives to invest in innovation, and producing patent thickets." An open letter from 14 European economists, also included in the document, expresses a similar view. The documents list of "Ten Reasons Why Software Ideas Must Remain Free From Patentability" notes that because software is abstract, searches for software patents would be hit-and-miss, and "reliably avoiding patent infringement would be impossible." Software patents would keep Europes software industry subject to foreign industry leaders, the list says.
The European Patent Office has already granted thousands of software patents, but these are currently unenforceable because of conflicts in the EUs patent system. Part 6 of the briefing document illustrates how these already-granted patents would grant patent holders control over common e-commerce site features such as the sale of goods and services over the Internet, the use of an electronic shopping cart, and the use of a smaller image as a preview.
Supporters of the current directive, including the European Commission, the EU Council and some multinationals, argue the directive is restrictive enough to block U.S.-style software patents. The split in the EU government has been duplicated in some member states, with elected politicians opposing the directive while bureaucrats continue to support it. In February, for instance, Germanys parliament endorsed a motion in support of scrapping the current draft of the directive and starting afresh. That has never been the position of Germanys Ministry of Economics and Labour, however, and the Ministry last week reaffirmed its views in a letter sent to critics. In the letter, the Ministry argued that the directive would not allow EU software patents, and said concerns about the law are "often based on misunderstandings." The Ministry asserted that "no one has to be worried about anyones economic development, at least not because of this directive." Hartmut Pilch, executive director of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, which opposes software patents, said the German government "has always been a hardcore promoter of this directive," although the governments stance has little support in the German parliament, the Bundestag. The reason for the split is simple, according to Florian Mueller, another leading anti-software-patents campaigner. "Directly elected parliamentarians are larger in number, so you cant just influence a very few by lobbying. They get countless letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents worried about software patents," he said. "Governments also get those letters but the civil servants there just write a form letter. The unelected civil servants dont care about voters." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.


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