Software Patents: The Limits of IP
Software patents have a dubious legal basis, are unworkable, and hamper industrial growth“, says Arun Mehta, Indian IT consultant and media activist in an article soon to be published."
The message contained in Mehta’s statement is clear and echoes the reservations against the patenting of software not only among the Open Source community, but of large segments of societies all over the world, including small and medium-sized businesses. “Any reasonably sized computer program contains literally thousands of algorithms and techniques, each considered patentable by the standards of the patent office”, according to Mehta. As a result, it is quite impossible to know for any programmer exactly which of them could possible be patented and which not, for the sheer size of information that would have to be processed.
For the very same reasons, software patenting is good for those large companies that already possess many patents and have the capacity to acquire even more. Large software companies have long developed a practice of licensing software to each other, making it exceedingly difficult for smaller companies to enter the market, even if they have the better idea.
But when 78% of the total value of American S&P 500 companies are intellectual assets, it seems clear that software patenting could just be another step towards a perverted kind of knowledge society, where culture as property leads to technologically shielded monopolies of truth. Barbara Borsook has likened this development to the emergence of a new “Dark Age”.
In addition to these systemic limitations to software patenting, there are also political ones. “Computer-implemented inventions” are the object of a EU Directive originally designed to introduce US-style IP laws for software, but substantially modified by the EU Parliament last week following its proposal by the Commission. The Directive mobilized considerable protests everywhere, including street protests in big European cities. The Directive cannot be passed without the consent of the Parliament, and consequently the Commission will have to review its stance vis-à-vis the US on this issue. What is acclaimed by some as a great political achievement is considered as insufficient for others. The Greens in the EU Parliament have voted against the proposal, “The Commission has used this proposal as a Trojan horse to smuggle software patents into the EU. The EU is under incredible pressure from the US on this issue”, said one representative of the Greens.
World Summit on the Information Society
Paulina Borsook on the new Dark Age
Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) press release on EU directive
Protests against software patenting
Greens/Efa on software patents