November 20, 2000

European software patents: More trivial than in the U.S.

Author: JT Smith

EuroLinux publishes European software patent horror gallery

Munich, 2000-11-20 - The Association for the Promotion of a Free
Informational Infrastructure (FFII), member of the EuroLinux
Alliance
of software publishers and non profit associations, has published a
database of software patents granted by the EPO, together with
some impressive examples, statistics and articles. This database
shows
that software patents granted by the European Patent Office are even
more trivial than software patents granted in the United States.
This
"European Software Patent Horror Gallery" will be introduced on
November 21 11-12:30 in Munich, Germany, with special guest Richard
Stallman, founder of the League for Programming Freedom.
Currently, pure software patents granted by the European Patent
Office
are considered as illegal or abusive by national courts in Europe.
However, this situation may change by the end of the week if the
exception on computer programs is removed from the European Patent
Convention. It would then be no longer legal to conduct automated
medical diagnoses in Europe. The same applies to numerous economic
or
social activities such as conducting of examinations in schools,
bringing traders together at the stock exchange, generating
purchasing
lists from cooking recipes, setting prices dynamically, learning
languages by comparing one's pronunciation with that of a teacher.

All
these activities would infringe on European patents, as soon as they
are implemented through software. Other EPO patents encumber network
standards such as MIME and CGI and squatter the operating system
level
by occupying thousands of basic methods of memory arithmetics,
making
programming in these fields a hazardous endeavour.

FFII's patent data specialist, Arnim Rupp, recommends that anybody
discussing about software patents should first take a look at that
database: "By browsing through the EPO's patents you will quickly
find out that this has nothing to do with protecting software, let
alone protecting innovative solutions. What this is really about is
occupying complete problems. Fortunately for us, these hilariously
trivial and gruesomely broad EPO patent claims are so far not
necessarily enforceable before European courts. The American mega
corporations, to whom most of these illegally granted patents
belong,
are still waiting for a change in the European Patent Convention. If
the Diplomatic Conference sets the wrong signal in Munich next week,
Germany will hopefully abide by the words of the Ministry of Justice
and refuse to ratify the new European Patent Convention. The
situation
is serious enough to justify this. The European patent system will
work one way or another. The issue at stake now is how to keep 30000
mines from detonating and how to give back basic legal security to
European IT enterprises and citizens."

For Daniel Rödding, CEO of a software enterprise in Paderborn, the
situation is very serious: "By browsing the FFII's patent data base
you can quickly grasp what software patents mean for most European
IT
companies today. On such a minefield small software companies hardly
have any chance anymore. For my company I have already drawn the
consequences: Starting from mid of next year we will conduct large
parts of our software development in a country which does not yet
have
such a highly developed patent law system and in which a change of
the
legal situation cannot be expected for the near future. In certain
fields the development of software is becoming too dangerous in
Germany. Given the long-term legal risks, continuing with this
activity in Germany would be irresponsible from a small
entrepreneur's
point of view." Same applies to the rest of Europe.

So far already 200 software companies and 55000 signatories of the
Eurolinux Petition have expressed themselves in a similar way.
Economists worldwide have confirmed that the introduction of patents
in the software economy tends to harm innovation.

Meanwhile at the "Diplomatic Conference" patent representatives of
20
European countries will be negotiating about a "Base Proposal for
the
Revision of the European Patent Convention" drafted by EPO president
Dr. Ingo Kober. Therein the EPO proposes among others to stipulate
universal patentability (Art 52) and to confer special legislative
rights on the administrative council of the EPO (Art 33). The rules
or
procedure have been determined by the EPO in such a way that
national
patent delegations can overrule individual items only by a 2/3
majority. Otherwise the will of the EPO will become legally binding
in
all European countries whose parliaments do not opt out of the
European Patent Convention (EPC).

The "European Software Patent Horror Gallery" will be introduced on
November 21 11-12:30 by near the EPO in Forum der Technik, Helios
conference room. FFII members will respond to questions from
journalists regarding this database and the EuroLinux petition to
protect software innovation in Europe. Special guest Richard
Stallman,
founder of League for Programming Freedom, will introduce the
situation related to software patents in the United States.

References
European Software Patents: Database and Examples -
http://petition.eurolinux.org/examples/

Eurolinux Petition for a software patent Free Europe -
http://petition.eurolinux.org/index.en.html

Dr. Swen Kiesewetter-Köbinger: Ãber die Patentprüfung von
Programmen für Datenverarbeitungsanlagen -- Probleme und
Ungereimtheiten der Softwarepatentierung aus der Sicht eines Prüfers
am Deutschen Patent- und Markenamt -
http://swpat.ffii.org/vreji/prina/patpruef.pdf

Comparative report about the examination practice for software
patents at the US, European and Japanese patent offices -
http://www.jpo-miti.go.jp/saikine/repo242.htm

German Ministry of Justice demands that the computer program
exception not be removed at the coming conference and threatens to
opt
out of the EPC otherwise -
http://www.spiegel.de/druckversion/0,1588,100120,00.html

Protecting Informational Innovation against the Abuse of the
Patent System -
http://swpat.ffii.org/

A simplistic but true introduction to the problem (German only) - http://www.save-our-software.de/

GNU Project - http://www.gnu.org

Software Patents - League for Programming Freedom -
http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/Patents/

Diplomatic Conference to revise the European Patent Convention -
http://www.european-patent-office.org/epo/dipl_conf/documents.htm

The EuroLinux Petition for a Software Patent Free Europe -
http://petition.eurolinux.org

EuroLinux Sponsors - http://petition.eurolinux.org/sponsors

Statements for Software Patent Free Europe -
http://petition.eurolinux.org/statements

The EuroLinux Public Consultation -
http://petition.eurolinux.org/consultation

Softwarepatente - SPIEGEL ONLINE - 27. Oktober 2000
http://www.spiegel.de/druckversion/0,1588,100120,00.html

The EuroLinux File on Software Patents -
http://petition.eurolinux.org/reference

About EuroLinux - www.eurolinux.org
The EuroLinux Alliance for a Free Information Infrastructure is an
open coalition of commercial companies and non-profit associations
united to promote and protect a vigorous European Software Culture
based on Open Standards, Open Competition, Linux and Open Source
Software. Companies members or supporters of EuroLinux develop or
sell
software under free, semi-free and non-free licenses for operating
systems such as Linux, MacOS or Windows.

The EuroLinux Alliance launched on 2000-06-15 an electronic petition
to protect software innovation in Europe. The EuroLinux petition has
received so far massive support from more than 50.000 European
citizens, 2000 corporate managers and 200 companies.

The EuroLinux Alliance has co-organized in 1999, together with the
French Embassy in Japan, the first Europe-Japan conference on Linux
and Free Software. The EuroLinux Alliance is at the initiative of
the
www.freepatents.org web site to promote and protect innovation and
competition in the European IT industry.

About FFII - www.ffii.org
FFII is a non-profit association which promotes the development of
open interfaces, open source software and freely available public
information. FFII coordinates a workgroup on software patents
which is sponsored by successful German software publishers. FFII
is member of the EuroLinux Alliance.

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