Friday, July 08, 2005

Software Patents: The giant fled at a mouse's roar, - or did he?

The defeat of the despicable Computer Implemented Inventions Directive (better known as the Software Patents bill) in the European parliament is undoubtedly cause for celebration. Initially, I was overjoyed to see the margin of the defeat: 648-to-14! I couldn't believe that in this era of venal politicians, hundreds of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) stood up to enormous pressure from corporate interests and did the right thing by the little guy.

Then I read this news item that appeared before the vote. In case the link evaporates, let me repeat the important points it made. It said that "European high-tech leaders [...] would prefer the European Parliament to scrap a controversial software patent law rather than confuse it with dozens of amendments when it votes later this week." The CEO of Alcatel said that "any departure from the Common Position would put at risk our future prosperity and significant numbers of jobs across Europe." Not to be outdone, a spokeswoman for Philips said the bill was best withdrawn before it was cluttered with amendments, otherwise "it will become legally confusing. We should either have a good bill, or no bill." The CEOs of Nokia, Siemens and Ericsson agreed. The Philips spokeswoman said that without a new bill, tech firms could continue to use the laws of individual European countries to protect their intellectual property.

American megacorporations Microsoft and IBM, among the strongest pro-patent lobbyists, were not asked for their opinion, and they remained discreetly silent.

So there you have it.

We really shouldn't be amazed about the 648-14 margin.

There were probably two types of MEPs out there who voted against the bill:

1. Those who opposed the bill because it would have stifled innovation in software, raised prices for consumers and given too much power to large corporations. (How many fingers do you think it will take to count these noble folk?)

2. Those who opposed the bill because the proposed amendments to it would have diluted its ability to stifle innovation in software, raise prices for consumers and give too much power to large corporations.

So when the good guys and the bad guys voted together to kill a bill, any wonder the result turned out to be a landslide?

I'm just intrigued by the 14 fellows who voted for the proposal. Who are these guys? Probably the back-bench dozers who didn't read the latest instructions from their corporate masters.

The bottom line is this: We didn't chase the bad guys away; they chose to withdraw, for now. But you can bet they'll be back. The potential profits from software patents are simply too high for them to abandon.

I propose a counter-attack: Apparently, the European Patent Office (EPO) has been granting software patents since the '80s and has to date granted 30,000 software patents! We should take the battle into the other camp by demanding that these patents be invalidated. Force the corporations to fight to hold onto what they plundered earlier, so they can't concentrate on fresh plunder.

All things considered, I guess the glass is half-full, after all. The efforts of thousands of people did stop the corporate campaign. It made their original goal unachievable, and forced them to abandon their current legislative assault on our freedom. But as Jefferson said, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance...

1 comment:

Subbu said...

Interesting (and I think a very valid) take on the subject. There would be very good legal grounds for the approach you suggest but the big question is whether the MEPs will have the stomach for further battle. The MEPs have a reputation for being on "good wickets". Still, if there is a ground swell of public opinion ...