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Thread: Anti-Software-Patent Movement and the EU

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    Default Anti-Software-Patent Movement and the EU

    Check out the article below about the "defeat" [phew] of the proposed EU software patenting directive. Might be a bit techy for some but it raises some very troubling issues about the undemocratic EU system behind the implementation of such directives.

    The author Richard Stallman proposes some interesting changes to make the system more democratic, which I've underlined.

    O and no need to worry about © copyright on this particular article



    http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/commen ... 84,00.html


    Soft sell

    The defeat of the EU software patenting directive only provides a breathing space, in which programmers and consumers should gather forces, writes Richard Stallman

    Tuesday August 2, 2005

    Last July 6, the free-software community and programmers everywhere awaited a showdown in the European parliament over software patents. The outcome was far from predictable.

    If we, the free-software proponents, had lost, it would have been a final defeat in Europe. The relevant part of the European commission works hand in glove with the Business Software Alliance (BSA), and a BSA lawyer actually wrote much of the text of the draft directive the commission proposed. (We know this because they were so foolish as to publish it as a Word file, which contained information about who wrote what.)

    Most of the national governments voted in favour of software patents at the council of ministers - some in disregard of the explicit instructions of their own parliaments. Some governments ceded to threats from mega-corporations. Danish newspapers reported in 2004 that Microsoft had threatened to move a recently acquired company out of Denmark if the government did not put its hand up for patents. Earlier this year, after we had thanked the Polish government for rejecting patents, it bowed to four European mega-corps that threatened to move a laboratory out of the country where they spent perhaps $15m (£8.5m) a year.

    Since EU directives in these areas require agreement of both the council of ministers and the European parliament, our chances of subsequently reversing a bad directive adopted would have been negligible. Defeat on July 6 would have been a disaster for software developers and software users in the EU.

    On the other hand, if the parliament had voted for amendments, the result would not have been final. The European parliament is given so little power in the EU that it can never make a decision on its own. Instead, there would have been further steps involving the parliament and the council. If the parliament had stood firm, the outcome might have been a good directive, ruling software patents out, or no directive at all. That would not have been a final victory but it would have let us aim for one.

    Lobbying and protests continued in Strasbourg until the last day, but on July 5 things took a strange turn. The pro-patent forces decided to kill their own directive and began forming a coalition to push for its outright rejection. On July 6, nearly the whole parliament voted for such an outcome. The amendments were never considered, so we do not know who would have won the showdown that did not happen.

    So, did consumers and programmers win anything? Yes - time, but not much.

    The directive on "computer-implemented inventions" is dead but software patents in Europe are not. We have not defeated the pro-patent forces, only driven them off. They decided to avoid a showdown at that time and place, but that does not mean they have given up. We do not know when or how they will be back, but we must not assume they will use the same methods or that we have years to prepare.

    This battle has implications far beyond the software field. Our years-long fight has shown how undemocratic the EU is. It is a system in which bureaucrats can make decisions that, practically speaking, the public can never reverse.

    The European commission is given to serving business interests and worse; a few years ago its entire leadership was forced to resign for corruption. Bullying a whole national government appears to be easy, but there is usually no need to go that far: it suffices to convince one minister, or the minister's representative, to vote as desired. The Hungarian representative voted for software patents even as his prime minister said Hungary was against them. The German representative voted in favour even after the German parliament voted unanimously against. The Dutch government pushed software patents through the council of ministers after its parliament ordered it to reject them.

    Europeans are fortunate that French and Dutch voters conclusively rejected the proposed EU constitution. The document explicitly prioritised the interests of business over the public. It slightly increased the power of the parliament while greatly increasing the power of the council of ministers: in other words, it would have made the union less democratic. The rejection provides an opportunity to consider something better. I have a proposal.

    The unelected European commission and the national governments that cannot stand up to business pressure should have no role in forming EU directives. Instead, every directive should start in the European parliament. If approved there, it should go for ratification by an "upper house" representing the people of Europe by means of referendums. These might be arranged in many ways; one would be for each directive to require the approval of a majority of the electorate in countries whose combined populations add up to two-thirds of the EU. Referendums would discourage the EU from adopting directives over things that could well be left to individual countries to decide.

    Europe may or may not use the opportunity of the present impasse to adopt a more democratic constitution, but software users in Europe must not fail to make use of the breathing space they have gained. This is not the time to relax and celebrate. It is the time to strengthen the anti-software-patent movement in Europe to meet the next assault.

    © 2005 Richard Stallman. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.

    · Richard Stallman launched the GNU operating system in 1984 and founded the Free Software Foundation in 1985.


    Also see,

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/story/ ... 65,00.html
    Inside IT
    Patent absurdity

    If patent law had been applied to novels in the 1880s, great books would not have been written. If, as seems likely, the EU applies it to software, every computer user will be restricted, says Richard Stallman

    Thursday June 23, 2005
    The Guardian

    Next month, the European Parliament will vote on the vital question of whether to allow patents covering software, which would restrict every computer user and tie software developers up in knots.....

  2. #2

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    This article conflates two quite distinct difficulties, first, democratic deficits within the EU (and, almost as important but not talked about quite so much, within the member states), and second, the particular problems associated with drafting complex legislation governing new, and rapidly evolving, technology. I'm not sure it's helpful to consider them together.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stringjack
    This article conflates two quite distinct difficulties, first, democratic deficits within the EU (and, almost as important but not talked about quite so much, within the member states), and second, the particular problems associated with drafting complex legislation governing new, and rapidly evolving, technology. I'm not sure it's helpful to consider them together.
    I can understand what your're saying (the whole e-voting debacle is a case of the second at a national level). But the second difficulty acts as a good case study in the first. Besides patents covering software effects everyone.

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    are they sayig that software cannot be patented? software is always licenced anyway?

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    Quote Originally Posted by markiemark1
    are they sayig that software cannot be patented? software is always licenced anyway?

    The main problem is linking patents in with copyright law as one and the same. The problem with software patents as set out in the directive is that’s it’s based on monopolising software ideas (universal ones in many cases). It’s being pushed by the big players of the global software industry (i.e. William Henry Gates III [well known fan of the consumer and up and coming competition ]) and would be damaging and is a threat not only for the free software (or open source) movement, but for the consumer and the European software industry.
    See the excerpts below from the second article in my first post,
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/story/ ... 65,00.html
    “You might think these ideas are so simple that no patent office would have issued them. We programmers are often amazed by the simplicity of the ideas that real software patents cover - for instance, the European Patent Office has issued a patent on the progress bar, and one on accepting payment via credit cards. These would be laughable if they were not so dangerous."
    .
    .
    "However, a very broad patent could have made all these issues irrelevant. Imagine patents with broad claims, like these:
    • Communication process structured with narration that continues through many pages.
    • A narration structure sometimes resembling a fugue or improvisation.
    • Intrigue articulated around the confrontation of specific characters, each in turn setting traps for the others.
    Who would the patent holders have been? They could have been other novelists, perhaps Dumas or Balzac, who had written such novels - but not necessarily.
    It isn't necessary to write a programme to patent a software idea, so if our hypothetical literary patents follow the real patent system, these patent holders would not have had to write novels, or stories, or anything - except patent applications.
    Patent parasite companies - businesses that produce nothing except threats and lawsuits - are growing larger.
    Given these broad patents, Hugo would not have reached the point of asking what patents might get him sued for using the character of Jean Valjean. He could not even have considered writing a novel of this kind.
    This analogy can help non-programmers to see what software patents do. Software patents cover features, such as defining abbreviations in a word processor or natural order recalculation in a spreadsheet"
    -----


    By the way many of us already know the value of open source software such as the OpenOffice.org office suite, Firefox web browser and the GIMP graphics editor but the Maths, Science and programming side of things is less known. This is an area were the need for open source is most obvious (apart from the cash strapped student benefiting) because copyright prevents proper peer review, the bonnet is always closed, (again remember the evoting...)



    http://www.alug.org.uk/articles/science/why.pdf

    Why The Future Of Science Must Be In Free
    Software

    Alessio Damato
    26th June 2005
    Abstract
    This essay is about free software.
    Nowadays the importance of software is increasing day after day, and more and more people are obliged to use software in their everyday life. This is why talking about software often means talking about people’s habits with all the relative consequences: economic and pseudophilosophical arguments are often mixed up.This essay is an attempt to give an objective overview about how free software can be useful for anybody, showing in particular how important it can be for the development of science; for this purpose several links plus few practical examples are provided, to allow anybody to make up their own mind.
    .
    .
    4 Why Free Software Is Necessary In Science
    All the good points making free software a possible alternative to the proprietary one become a need when talking about science. Is is known that what influences the development of science most is communication:when researchers have the possibility to share and compare ideas it is harder to make mistakes. This is why Internet is helping science so much. Another thing that is helping the development of science is the computer, with its ability to handle huge amounts of data very quickly. The algorithms to make scientific work with the computer are mainly implemented by proprietary software. The software hoses working on it conduct research to find and improve the algorithms they need. But obviously, when such programmes have to be sold, the algorithms they use can not be published to protect their copyright. Here is the lack of communication: this software is used like a “black box”, it is not possible to know how the are made, neglecting any possibility to fully understand, fix or modify them.
    .
    .

    Between all the current projects, an outstanding one is SciPy [18], a
    Python package. As known, Python [17] is a powerful, high-level and easy-to-use programming language. It is very fast, elegant, and it comes with a huge standard library for any kind of purpose: from web programming to manipulation of several (free) file formats. SciPy is a collection of several science-aided programmes. As stated in
    the FAQ [18], several programmes have been taken from www.netlib.org
    written in C and Fortran, SciPy is actually a thin layer between the interface and these programmes. That is why, even if it is quite a young project (compared to the other ones), it is actually quite mature as it is based on tested and stable sources. Its core is written in C, only the interface is in Python, so it is as fast and powerful as a compiled language, while it is as easy and portable as only a scripting language can be. It is meant to provide both an interactive programming shell (Mathlab style) and a powerful non-interactive programming: being a proper programming language its possibilities are virtually unlimited.
    -----


    Also see the the interesting article and excerpts below
    Lessons from Cyberspace: the Free Software Movement and Configuration of Ownership.
    Author: J. Martin Pedersen, Lancaster University.


    http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/research/smg/ ... dersen.pdf
    Prologue.
    Part of the inhumanity of the computer is that, once it is competently programmed and working smoothly, it is completely honest.
    Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992)
    This article is about ownership and outlines the ways in which Free Software is created. Free Software is a project and has become a movement in opposition to proprietary software, such as that produced by Microsoft. The outline shows that a configuration of ownership different from hitherto conceived configurations is not only possible, but also incorporates elements that are inherently democratic and contributes to a commons that is necessary for a culture of innovation and creativity. I take the position that Free Software can be very helpful to widen the imagination about exactly what property is and how it could be configured as a means to an end of greater equality.”
    .
    .
    “Thus, according to the wisdom of the private property advocates, Free Software is an impossibility; it is, however, thriving. In other words, Free Software provides empirical evidence that private property rights of exclusion is not the ultimate and sole proper form of social organisation. It is not the first critique, and in the words of Steven Weber “theoretical and empirical critiques of [The Tragedy of the Commons] have chipped away at the edges, but the core insight remains powerful and central to law and economics debates about intellectual property in the digital era” (Weber, 2004; pp. 243-244). Indeed there is a strong industry lobby manifested in the particularities of the World Trade Organisation's Agreement On Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs)
    pulling the social organisation of creative property towards an even stronger regime that, I believe threatens the very foundations of innovative and creative culture (cf. Lessig 1999, 2001, 2004; Drahos 2002).”

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pax
    I can understand what your're saying (the whole e-voting debacle is a case of the second at a national level). But the second difficulty acts as a good case study in the first. Besides patents covering software effects everyone.
    My concern would be that because of the difficulties people have in following the technical arguments associated with this area, the problems with the legislative process will become obscured. Similarly, it's hard enough to explain the technical issues to people without also having to explain byzantine EU law-making procedures.

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    This article conflates two quite distinct difficulties, first, democratic deficits within the EU (and, almost as important but not talked about quite so much, within the member states), and second, the particular problems associated with drafting complex legislation governing new, and rapidly evolving, technology. I'm not sure it's helpful to consider them together.
    Well, the two issues are certainly intertwined in the ongoing software patents wrangle. Whatever else happens, a lot of geeks will have got a crash course in how the EU works. I would be less confident that many eurocrats learned much about technology issues.

    If you want to look at this purely for enlightenment as to the democratic deficit within the EU, it's not necessary to understand the technical arguments around software patents. Just think of the patents issue as a mcguffin, replaceable by any issue which is not readily understood by the general public or indeed by their elected and non-elected representatives. Imagine being one of a relatively small group of people who is aware that bad law is being made, and consider how you might go about attempting to influence the process.
    Worth breaking my "no sig" rule for: http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/

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    Interesting thread to find, given how software patent battles now dominate the mobile phone industry, among others.

    I recently found the dumb patent to beat all dumb patents.

    Someone managed to patent the act of using a computer to apply for a patent.

    Patent US6049811 - Machine for drafting a patent application and process for doing same - Google Patents

    And here is a list of the top 5 daftest patents:

    Patents: What are the most ridiculous technology patents ever granted? - Quora

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