EU Software Patent tricks — very fishy antics

Patents: This is really absurd — according to this ZDNet UK article, it now looks like the EU Council is considering railroading the EU software patent directive through, by hiding it as an ‘A-item’ in a Fisheries Council Meeting the week before xmas:

Laura Creighton, the vice-president of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), is concerned that the EU Council could be contemplating passing the directive without discussion in an unrelated meeting.

‘Before today it was possible for generous people to look charitably at this text (the proposed patent directive) as an example of a tragic mistake, not malice,’ said Creighton in a statement on the FFII Web site. ‘But not with this last-minute manoeuvring.’

‘Only the most committed opponent to the democratic process would believe that the proper response to the widespread consensus that there is something profoundly wrong with the Council’s text is to race it through with an A-item approval the week before Christmas in a Fisheries Council Meeting. The bad smell coming from Brussels has nothing to do with the fish.’

Reportedly, A-items are dealt with by asking the assembled councillors if they have any objections to any of the outstanding items. They’re not listed in detail at the meeting, so this way the directive can be passed in what is effectively a submarine (boom boom!) manner.

Related: Alan Cox has not been invited to the UK Patents office’s public meeting on software patents tomorrow.

In a Talkback to ZDNet UK’s earlier story highlighting the issue, Cox wrote: ‘I too was mysteriously overlooked despite having written to my MP and received an answer.’ …. Cox, who has previously been invited to speak on software patents at the EU, said the Patent Office apparently fears ‘every word I have to say about their plans’. He went on to add: ‘Unfortunately with all the underhand game playing both in the EU council of ministers and in UK government and patent circles it isn’t the slightest surprise.’

Also related: Jason Schultz (EFF) on the Commerce One web-services patent auction last week:

Here, the patents at issue were less valuable to companies that actually produce Web services products than they were to firms that produce nothing but lawsuits and licensing threats. In other words, patents like these have become worth more as weapons than as protections for companies competing in the marketplace.

Many have compared these new patent licensing firms to terrorists, and in some ways, the analogy is apt. When the Soviet Union collapsed, one of the biggest worries was that rogue military personnel might sell off one or more of the USSR’s nuclear missiles to a terrorist group. Securing those weapons became a top priority. The reason was fear — fear that the terrorists, who had little to nothing at stake in terms of world peace and national stability, would use the missiles to extort or manipulate the world political climate. Unlike the United States or China, which could be retaliated against and which had a stake in stability, terrorists were essentially immune from attack, and thrived on instability.

With the patents of bankrupt dot-coms, the dynamics are similar. Rogue licensing firms buy up these patents and then threaten legitimate innovators and producers. They have no products on which a countersuit can be based and no interest in stable marketplaces, competition or consumer benefit. Their only interest is in the bottom line.

While profit itself is often a worthy objective, it is not always synonymous with innovation. Every dollar a tech company pays to patent lawyers or licensing firms is one less dollar available for R&D or new hires. Thus, many companies that offer new products end up paying a ‘tax’ on innovation instead of receiving a reward. When this happens, it’s a signal that the patent system is broken. Forcing companies to pay lawyers instead of creating jobs and new products is the wrong direction for our economy to be headed and not the result our patent system should be promoting.

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