Software Patents and EU

The European Community is currently considering changing its public policy on software: namely adding software patents to trademarks and copyright used so far. This has already happened in the US, and has started to cause problems there ([5][7]).

The big trouble with software patents is that it is not very clear what it is reasonable to patent.

Following the analogy in [1], a piece of software is pretty much like a novel, like say, Arthur Conan Doyle's, "The hound of the Baskerville". Many different pieces of software can implement the same "idea", pretty much like many novelists have written detective stories after Sherlock Holmes' first appearance. However, no-one would think reasonable to patent the characters of a novel, or a kind of plot, such as detective stories. This would have prevented many masterpieces to have been ever written! And what if a bad writer with many good starting ideas patents them all? He can sue, blackmail, or even reduce to silence many potential future Nobel Prizes...for having used ideas similar to the ones patented.

That makes no sense at all, doesn't it?

Nevertheless it is what happens with software patents. In the US, companies have patented thousands fairly trivial ideas [8] (such as the scrolling bar!), and can prevent others to implement them, bringing them to court.

Even worse, patents can be sold and used to get money from companies that have started a successful business using ideas more or less related to what has been patented [7] or, to "kill" possible competitors.

To sum up, there are many people in Europe that think that software patents are a dangerous nonsense. In case you start to consider that there might be a problem if EU imports patents (see [2], [5], [6] for some studies and opinions) it is important to act now, maybe joining [3] and [4], or writing directly to your representatives in the European Parliament to make them aware of your opinion.

In any case, take some minutes to have a look at the material below, and make up your mind NOW. Software patents are being debated and can become a reality very quickly without any serious discussion about their effect.

A deeper insight: A selection of starting links on SP

[1] A short, extremely clear introduction to the problem (appeared on UPGRADE) PDF
[2] The Official Site FFII
[3] A petition to block software patents in Europe
[4] Una protesta Italiana che prevede invii di valanghe di lettere ai nostri parlamentari EU qui
Some official stands/motions against software patents
  • A letter signed by researchers of ISTI/CNR Pisa and Dipartimento di Informatica di Pisa here
  • motion of Dipartimento di Informatica Bologna : Posizione Ufficiale del Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Informazione dell'Universita' di Bologna sulla Brevettabilita' delle "Computer Implemented Inventions" (From Renzo Davoli)
  • Scientists' petition: here
  • [5] Some studies on the impact of software patents ... (From Roberto Di Cosmo)
  • an EU study ...
  • The USPTO 1994 hearings:
  • The Federate Trade Commission hearings from 2002 ( here ), with the conclusions
  • UKPTO consultation: here (and the conclusions )
  • The EU Commission public consultation from 2000: here (whose conclusions were tried to dismiss the majority of the feedback, because it was submitted via the EuroLinux Alliance; see here )
  • Overview of other studies here
  • [6] The opinion of Professor Ullman based on the 2000 Knuth-Prize Lecture and the opinion of Professor Knuth .

    [7] On the effect of patents ...

  • (From Beppe Attardi) Kodak Wins Java Lawsuit Against Sun link1 and link2
  • (From Andrea Esuli) Sony, Samsung to share patents on how to use patents to increase power
  • [8] What do people patent?
  • gzip, patents and perpetual motion machines here
  • The anatomy of a trivial patent (by Richard Stallman)
  • Some interesting personal homes:

  • Hartmut Pilch
  • Richard Stallman
  • Roberto Di Cosmo
  • Comments and suggestions to Susanna Pelegatti
    susanna /antispam/ di.unipi.it (replace /antispam/ with @)