Thursday, 7 July 2005

EU Patent Law Defeated

The European Parliament tossed out the proposed law that would have enshrined software patents. This is a huge victory that I did not expect.

Some argue that this is not actually a victory for those opposed to software patents:
Dr John Collins, a partner at patent attorney Marks & Clerk said the decision was not a victory for opoonents of software patents.

"Today's outcome is a continuation of inconsistency and uncertainty with regard to software patenting across the EU," he said.

"Software will continue to be patented in Europe as it has been for the last 30 years," said Dr Collins.

He's right in some ways. The Parliament was likely to add new amendments restricting the scope of software patents --- amendments that could not have been deleted again by the EU Council --- and the law's corporate sponsors decided that they prefer the status quo to the amended law. But if you look at those sponsors who supported the law and effectively wrote the original text, and the anti-democratic manner in which amendments to restrict patent scope were removed by the Council, I think it's very clear that overall, no law is better than their law, and their defeat is an important victory.

I don't know who writes Blooomberg's copy but it's quite sinister:
The European Parliament rejected a law on patents for software, ending a three-year effort by companies including Nokia Oyj and Siemens AG to counter U.S. domination of Europe's $60 billion market.

This is someone's spin repeated as fact. Software patents would never have helped anyone counter US domination of the software industry. Software patents protect incumbents and therefore the status quo. A nascent competitor who tried to assert patent claims against an incumbent would be buried in countersuits, and the deepest pockets and the largest patent portfolios would win.

As I've written before, the only way for non-incumbents to use the patent system to their advantage is to abandon the software business and become a pure patent company whose business is suing others. This might bring revenue into the EU, but it wouldn't alter US domination of the software industry (except perhaps by driving the entire industry into the ground). And it doesn't even require software patents in the EU; a European company could just as easily obtain US patents and pursue lawsuits there.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what happens next. Unexpected turnarounds like this make me suspect God is interested in this stuff after all :-).


  1. Woo-hoo! Indeed, this was very unexpected, but I'm very pleased.

  2. "Unexpected turnarounds like this make me suspect God is interested in this stuff after all :-)."
    Perhaps :-) I was so busy last week, that I realised I didn't have time to write yet another personal letter on the subject. So I figured I should pray about it instead, and put it in His hands. At first this seemed like an odd thing to do, but after all, God wants to hear about all our concerns and worries.