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[Fsfe-france] [Fwd: [APRIL] Article du Gardian]

From: Laurent GUERBY
Subject: [Fsfe-france] [Fwd: [APRIL] Article du Gardian]
Date: Sun, 13 Mar 2005 15:43:52 +0100

-------- Forwarded Message --------
From: Patrick Sinz <address@hidden>
To: address@hidden
Subject: [APRIL] Article du Gardian
Date: Sun, 13 Mar 2005 15:30:36 +0100
Excelent exemple d'article "Grand Public" sur le sujet des brevets
Malheureusement en Angleterre et pas en France.

C'est dans "the Gardian" qui est un journal grand public UK (plutot "de
Et il positionne bien le probleme sur le "qui decide quoi" en europe,
avant de se plonger dans la problematique technique.



The networker 

It's patently absurd to let the bureaucrats take over 

John Naughton
Sunday March 13, 2005
The Observer 

Do you know who your MEP is? If not, can I respectfully suggest that you
click on www.europarl.org.uk and find out, pronto? There are 12 European
constituencies in the UK, and each has between three and 10 MEPs. They
need to hear from you, because they hold your future in their hands. And
the irony is that many of them probably don't know that yet.  

At stake is a simple but overarching question: who runs Europe: the
elected European Parliament or the unelected European Commission? This
may seem a rather grand question for a technology column, but bear with

It just so happens that the issue which has brought the power struggle
between the parliament and the commission to a head concerns the future
of software, and especially the future of open source software, the
stuff that makes the internet (and a great deal more besides, including
your broadband modem) work. What's happening is that the commission has
been nobbled by a small number of large software companies (among them a
noted US monopolist), and is trying to railroad through a directive that
would enable them to control the evolution of software. 

Here's the story so far. In 2002, the commission proposed that
'computer-implemented inventions' should be patentable in Europe. In
2003, the European Parliament amended the proposal to exclude computer
programs and 'business methods'. Last May, these amendments were
discarded by the commission and the original draft directive was

In December, the commis sion tried to push the directive through by
making it an 'A-list' item at the (wait for it) European Fisheries
meeting. (An A-list item is one that is approved without either a
discussion or a vote.) This wheeze was initially foiled by Poland. The
parliament then considered the whole affair and demanded that the
commission think again about software patents. 

The commission refused and tabled the directive as an A-list item at
last Monday's council of ministers meeting. This time, Denmark requested
a postponement but Luxembourg (currently holding the presidency) refused
the request - on 'institutional' grounds. The directive now goes back to
the parliament, where it can be stopped - but only by a majority vote of

Why are software patents bad news? Simply because patents (unlike
copyright) allow someone to control access to an idea. Ideas are not
copyrightable - only tangible expressions of them are. Thus James
Joyce's idea of stream-of-consciousness narrative could not be
copyrighted, but the text of Ulysses (in which the idea was given
expression) could be. And that's fine. 

But a patent gives the patentee monopoly control of an idea - not of a
tangible implementation of it - for 20 years. There is a valid US patent
for a method of exercising one's cat by using a laser pointer to create
a moving spot of light. (I'm not making this up - it's US patent no.
5,443,036). So if you decide to exercise your moggie by using a small
mirror to deflect sunlight onto the floor you may be infringing
someone's intellectual property. 

In most areas of life, we can live with that. But the trouble with
software is that it is pure 'thought-stuff'. A computer program is a set
of ideas turned into instructions that a computer can execute. Software
is thus the expression of an idea, and is rightly covered by copyright.
And again, that's fine. If I have the talent and dedication to write a
great program, it's reasonable that my creation should be protected. 

But extending patent law to cover software would have a chilling effect
on creativity and competition. Take for example the idea of using a
computer to organise the composition of documents - ie what we now call
word-processing. There are innumerable programs on the market that do
this - all protected by copyright. But imagine if someone had been able
to patent the original idea. That would have meant that nobody could
have developed a word-processing program without the permission of the
patentee and paying a royalty for the privilege. 

The fact that software hasn't been patentable has led to an explosion in
creativity because the barriers to entry to the market are very low. To
create a great program, all you need is an idea, programming talent,
dedication and a computer. But in the world desired by the European
Commission, the first thing you will need is a patent lawyer - to check
that the ideas embodied in your embryonic program are not owned by
someone else. 

And if your program turns out to be popular, it will only be a matter of
time before a patent lawyer acting for a big company claims that you may
have infringed one of his client's patents. So you stop selling and
spend months checking whether this is true. Even if you're sure you're
not infringing, there is the risk that he will raise the ante by
threatening to take you to court anyway. And he's got a colossal budget
for litigation, whereas you don't. So perhaps the best thing is to cave
into the blackmail and pay the royalty. After all, you're a programmer,
not a poker player. 

The only people who can play this kind of poker are big companies with
huge patent portfolios which they trade with one another - thereby
keeping troublesome outsiders out. These are precisely the outfits that
have nobbled the commission and led it to cock a snook at the
parliament. They must not be allowed to get away with it. 

Which brings us back to your MEPs. They may not be aware of the
technical issues involved, but they will understand that there is a big
political issue here. The European Parliament is the only democratically
accountable institution in the EU. So far it has displayed a good
understanding of the patent issue. 

It is being treated with contempt by the commission's unelected
bureaucrats. Sanity can be restored - but only if politicians turn up
and vote on the issue. So email your MEPs now. And if you need a basic
text to work from, follow the Footnotes link below.

Recent columns
05.10.2003: Microsoft's might makes us insecure
14.09.2003: Breaking through with the Baghdad blogger
07.09.2003: Hutton website shows where the betrayal lay
08.06.2003: Web's lack of bell curve is alarming
01.06.2003: If you really want to know, ask a blogger
18.05.2003: How will Gates fight Linux? It's a dead giveaway
25.05.2003: 3G fiasco - only the porn barons win
27.01.2002: Why Google just leaves everybody goggling
06.01.2002: Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, horrible spam, disastrous
30.09.2001: Jack Straw blames me for bin Laden

John Naughton: The Networker
Observer Comment
Observer Business

Email the author
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More from John Naughton (external link)
Observer column footnotes (www.briefhistory.com/footnotes)
Brief history of the future (www.briefhistory.com)

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