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the ISA has a new chair

Patents: It seems the Irish Software Association has a new chairperson, namely Bernadette Cullinane. Whether this has anything to do with Cathal Friel’s ‘out of line’ statements, who knows…

John McCormac passed on some interesting quotes from an Irish Times interview, which were also syndicated here:

‘The incoming chairwoman of the Irish Software Association (ISA), Bernie Cullinane, has pledged to support the introduction of a proposed European Union directive on software patents.

She also warned members of the European parliament against blocking the controversial new directive or weakening it by proposing a host of amendments. …

Ms. Cullinane, a former chief operating officer of the Irish company Performix said European firms needed to protect their intellectual property in a similar manner to the way US firms can.

‘We don’t want any further dilution of the current situation on patents,’ she said in an interview with The Irish Times following her ratification as chairwoman of the ISA last night.’

My emphasis — given that the current situation is that they are unenforceable in Europe, that’s good, because we on the other side don’t want a dilution either!

‘We do need to look at how the US is developing its software industry and a removal of the patent (sic) could weaken venture capitalists’ appetites for investing in new innovative companies.’

The whole ‘venture capital requires patents’ line is easily debunked. I’m sure the VC companies are telling Ms. Cullinane that they want patents, of course; it’s just that they’re wrong. ;) Laura Creighton, a European investor, gave a fantastic speech in Brussels in 2003 about investment and patents:

Software Patents (in the US in the 1990s) encouraged venture capitalists to make foolish investments, because they believed the patents were worth something. Venture capitalists often do not mind if the companies where they have invested go bankrupt — as long as they hold title to the patents. They can start over again with a different team.

Sadly, when the bubble burst, the venture capitalists discovered that their patents were only good for a trip to court — or at least some legal wrangling with a bunch of lawyers. A software patent is not like a hardware patent, where typically one, or at most a few covers the whole invention. Dozens, sometimes hundreds of patents, are relevant to any piece of software. So an investor, who now owns the assets of a defunct company — cannot take its patents and hand them to a new development team and say ‘build this’. It is impossible to develop software today without infringing somebody’s American patent.

The venture capitalists, having lost fortunes backing companies which had no real product, are now uninterested in investing in any software companies whatsoever. Right now the American economy could benefit from more investment — but the capital is not going into software companies. Again, part of the problem is software patents. The venture capitalists have learned that all software is in violation of somebody’s patent. So they do not want to touch the stuff. Thus on the up side, and the down side, the existence of software patents have contributed to creating the stock bubble, and making the recovery slower and harder than it needed to be. So #4 is right out — the existence of software patents are inhibiting investment right now, and for very good reason.

In other words, the presence of software patents has ‘weakened venture capitalists’ appetites for investing in new innovative companies’, as Ms. Cullinane put it.

Anyway — to keep the VCs happy, small companies can still obtain software patents in the US, and spend the tens of thousands of dollars required to register and enforce them in court, if they so desire. They can bring the US software industry to a legal standstill if they like, as they seem to have done, as long as European software developers can quietly carry on developing software for use outside the US ;)

But at least things aren’t as bad as the situation with my neighbours — I live a few miles from the offices of Acacia Research, the notorious patent trolls, who’ve just initiated a new lawsuit against Intel and TI.

Reportedly however, they’re planning to open a European office this quarter…