What is all this European Union panic about??

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What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby ggsinclair » Thu Apr 07, 2005 7:53 am

I have read, on browsing various open source websites, that the European Union is attempting to play around with software liscencing.

None of the sites I have looked at explain, in laymans terms, what the problem is.

I wonder if someone could give me a brief overview, and their opinion on this subject.

Many thanks.

Gordon
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RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby guy » Thu Apr 07, 2005 12:25 pm

All the EU countries have different laws on what software is and is not patentable. This is a nightmare for licensing, where the legal position must be worked out country-by-country. The EU wants to harmonise all these to a single, workable legal position. Great idea and long overdue.
The problem is, the Council of Ministers and the EU Commissioners got nobbled by big business, and were persuaded to harmonise everything at the corporate monopoly end of the scale - somewhat on the Americal model. Bad for the little guy, bad for free software, and bad for innovation.
Accordingly they drew up a Software Patents Directive and have been trying to get it rubber-stamped using every low-down trick in the book, such as tacking it onto the back of an agricultural (or was it fisheries?) approvals session.
A tremendous rearguard action has been fought by the European Parliament (who, unlike the others, were actually elected to their positions), together with the support of a few "rogue" nations of which Poland is outstanding.
The next step is for the Directive to go back to the Parliament for a second vote, and no doubt lots more arguing and attempted amendments.
The core issue is over what is or is not an innovative "technical contribution". For example is the idea of hyperlinks or of pop-up menus a "technical contribution" or are these just obvious ways to use the existing technology? Where do we draw the line, and how do we make this clear?
We don't want the American system, where a patent clerk recently gained a patent on a "circular transportation device comprsing a rigid rim attached via tension members to a central bearing ...", in other words the wheel! (He did this to show up the absurdities of the American system, he is not expecting RMS to walk to work from now on).
The final deal is anything but clear - the Commissioners would probably bow to the Council of Ministers, and while some of them may be beginning to see reason, we would need a majority to change their approach, and you know how fickle and money-hungry such politicians can be ...

You should join the fight for freedom to write and distribute your own code the way you want to, and to use code (such as GNU/Linux) written by others. Please sign up with the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure.

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RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby andychannelle » Thu Apr 07, 2005 1:07 pm

A nice analogy is to think of Edgar Allan Poe. Imagine he has just completed The Raven, takes a trip to the patent office and patents the idea of the horror story - sure others came before by he got to the PO first. He then offers to allow other authors to write their own horror stories on payment of a fee or, and this is more likely, when he wants to write a detective story and discovers someone has patented that idea. He says to this other author: "I notice you've written a story which infringes on my horror patent, but I have a detective story which infringes on your patent. I won't sue you, you won't sue me; but look, there's a new author who's written a detective horror story (could take some of our audience) let's get 'em in court.

The cost of applying for and defending patents is exorbitant and militates in favour of those big corporations who can afford very expensive lawyers. Microsoft, for example, has a patent (number 525484 in New Zealand) which, if granted, will give them ownership of a process in which a word processing document stored in a "single XML file" can be altered by an application which "understands XML". On the face of it, this looks like an attempt to prevent other applications from interoperating with MS Office documents in the future, but it would also appear to be a way of stopping other applications from using a single XML file for data storage for their "word processing documents".

MS dropped this patent bomb on one of the developed world's smallest - and overworked - patent offices with the intention of getting a precedent which will, domino like, lead to patents being granted in other territories.

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RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby towy71 » Thu Apr 07, 2005 2:41 pm

below is a snippet of a letter to our MEPS from a group that I belong to, I can take no credit for it but I commend it to you as being brief and concise!
The UK at the moment does not allow patents on software but the Patent Office likes more patents cos it gives them more work to do!
Dick

As we have seen in other countries, not limited to the USA, software patents have been abused and lead to a stifling of software creation and deployment. Many successful industries in the UK rely upon the free, unencumbered and imaginative use of software, the EU's adoption of software patents will negatively impact UK's growth.

We are already seeing software projects which could save UK companies money being closed down as authors are worried about software patents. With the USA being dominant in the holding of so many broad and encompassing patents it is difficult to see how UK or the EU would benefit. Please help us stop this, stop the EU adopting software patents.

More information about the impact of software patents locally and globally can be found on the web at:

http://swpat.ffii.org/
http://www.nosoftwarepatents.com/en/m/intro/index.html
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RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby jjmac » Tue Apr 12, 2005 9:59 am

Hi,

A maybe a silly question, but ... umm

Whats the actual difference between copyright and a patent. ?

I just realised that i don't think i'm really sure !

I think i understand a patent to be basically, a right, or decree of ownership over something, that is specific. So dosen' that imply control over the usage put to that thing as well. Such as transfer rights. Which, i guess thats what copyright is basically about. As a copyright can be structerd to goven usage quite effectively, dosen't the concept of ownership, or title, imply the same. Unless Copyright and patents concern different degrees of control. ...

Wasn't copyright originally introduced as means to limit a persons exclusivity over something. Such as, ok, you have exclusive right of control for a given time, then others can start to use it as they like. How is that different to a patent. Unless patents are perpetual.

Not really sure :)


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RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby towy71 » Tue Apr 12, 2005 10:30 am

Patents must be formally granted before they are valid; copyright is effective without formality.
Getting a patent granted costs money because specialist lawyers have to be involved and you have to provide The Patent Office (a government department) with documentary evidence etc., average cost of a patent in the UK approx £10,000.
Copyright is yours to declare, cost nil!
Dick ;-)
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RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby jjmac » Tue Apr 12, 2005 11:05 am

Ok, granted. I knew a patent required granting, but if a Copyright can be legally enforcable, and control how something is to be used, Then ???.

You haven't touched on the actual functional difference between the two !

Don't they both allow someone to sue the wiskers off someone else. Or is it a price game where the high expense requirement functions to restrict the kind of people who can take out a patent. That would make life difficult for smallish firms trying to innovate, if that was the case. And a Copyrighting of their "inventions" wasn't sufficient.

Or is it that a person dosen't need to declare that something is under patent. Just lie in wait untill different companies start to use it then pounce riding on the back of a lawyer. Just adding a bit of melo-drama.

What __does__ a patent provide, in terms of legal power (over a market), that a Copyright doesn't ?


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RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby towy71 » Tue Apr 12, 2005 11:48 am

A patent usually require that there is something physical and innovative i.e. has some practical use. The EU row is that they are talking of allowing algorithms with some technical element to be patentable as they are in the US and in other countries!
Patents only last for twenty years unless they are renewed.
I think copyright last the holders lifetime plus 70 years unless it is Peter Pan(a special case for the benefit of Great Ormond Street Hospital to whom JM Barrie left the copyright).
Dick
please don't quote me on that I ain't a lawyer ;-)
oh and a definitive answer look at http://swpat.ffii.org/log/intro/index.en.html
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RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby Guest » Tue Apr 12, 2005 12:40 pm

yeh me 2

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Re: RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby Flea » Tue Apr 12, 2005 12:46 pm

jjmac wrote:You haven't touched on the actual functional difference between the two


From my understanding, I believe that with copyright you have to have something phsically that you already created whereas with a patent you just need an idea.
For example if an artist were to paint a landscape, copyright would prevent anyone from making an exact 'copy' of that painting and selling it on as if it were their own (quite reasonable). But if the artist were to patent the idea of 'putting brush to canvas to create a picture' then no one could paint anything at all, regardless of whether or not they have an original design.

This is, from what I have read, the basic difference between patents and copyright. Correct me if I am wrong.
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RE: Re: RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby towy71 » Tue Apr 12, 2005 2:07 pm

an Idea that is original and has some practical application surely, you can't patent a mathematical formula as I understand it
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RE: Re: RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby tedius » Tue Apr 12, 2005 2:21 pm

In the past you haven't been able to patent a mathematical formula/algorithm, but that is what the EU are trying to change.

This is my understanding, so don't take my word for it.
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RE: Re: RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby guy » Tue Apr 12, 2005 7:52 pm

Flea has got it about right.

If I paint a landscape, anybody can paint one as close to mine as they can get and their painting will be their copyright. But they cannot photograph my painiting, that would infringe my copyright.

If I patented the idea of a landscape painting, that would stop them painting one like mine.

In the case of software, if I write a program then nobody else can copy my source code directly. but they can re-engineer it. It is accepted that two different sets of code could compile down to identical executables. This does not infringe my copyright.

But if I patented some feature of my software, that would stop the other guy selling in the US.

Confusing bit: but he could still sell (for the moment) in the EU, which does not (yet?) recognise software patents.

Pedantic bit: you do not necessarily need to have created something physically to patent it. But you must have made a reasonably convincing case, perhaps with a model or a set of design drawings - or nowadays I guess, a piece of code.
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RE: Re: RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby jjmac » Thu Apr 14, 2005 12:48 am

Yes i think "flea" has a close scenario of why some interests would like to have software patents.

I've only come to be thinking on this lately. It dawned on me the other day that i couldn't figure what the friggin difference was. Like, a person can't hardly say boo any more with out some sought of copyright issue getting in the way. And what of the GPL, what's its legal significance with respect to patents ... But, i now get the idea that the essential difference has something to do with the idea of the origination of something. Along the lines of paternity.

I think the term possibly has some form of Latin derivation. Only because of the "pat" usage. As in, patricians owning clients etc.

When an invention is made, if it is truly an invention, it must belong to the inventor. But most of the things i see presented as inventions, look more like a unique implementation of an existing idea set, which sound very much like software. So, the definition of what consists an original invention would have to be the key here. My neighbour is on some patent commission actually, but he doesn't seem to have much to do with the EU (so he says). I did ask, but he didn't say much. But i was , somewhat intoxicated at the time (celebrating sunday morning), i don't think he was impressed. So i spent most of last sunday pissed and lost in thought on bloody patient/copyright figurings.

Does what's his name have a patient on Pinoccio, maybe, but surly not on manequines in general.

I think copyright seems to apply to a particular implementation of something that may or may not have a traceable paternity. And is itself a very powerful concept in itself.

The whole idea of software being subject to a sanctioned degree of origination is really an incredibly __sneaky__ and ___dangerous___ move. The possible results could really wipe out the whole ball-park. Another thing about it, i believe copyright, while being a powerful tool, is also designed to limit the holders right to restrict. In that after 50 0r 70 years or so, it loses its hold. Were a patient seems to suggest an unlimited period. By virtue of its' concern with the origin, or spawning of something. Not necessarily the imposition of a restriction. Once established, the owner could just let it sit there. But 200 years from now, some bugger inherits it. A patient on the sprocket .. then decides to take over the world. Guess what purpose the likes of Gates and McBride would be (sly_grin.png)

Hopefully i've been able to get all that straight. Scary stuff to be sure


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RE: Re: RE: What is all this European Union panic about??

Postby Flea » Thu Apr 14, 2005 1:09 am

Nice to see I still can't understand a bleedin' word of what jjmac says. Dude are you an English teacher or something? :wink:
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