Big businesses boast of patent benefits, for small businesses
By Matt Whipp
Posted on 29 Nov 2006 at 15:24
A report published by an EU task force on intellectual property claims that small businesses benefit from a patent system, despite lacking almost any participation by the small business community.
Instead, the report, titled IPR (intellectual property rights) for competitiveness and innovation, was written up almost entirely by large corporations and the patent industry.
It describes small businesses as having 'an anxious attitude towards the patent system as a whole. Any reform or initiative ... is viewed as a potential backdoor for introducing software patents, a concept opposed by a large majority among this Group,' as well as having 'a relatively inadequate understanding and general knowledge of the patent system'.
That group includes representatives from major corporates such as Siemens, BT and Deutsche Telekom, patent proponents such as SAP, Philips, Alcatel and Microsoft, and parties from the patent industries including the European Patent Office.
'We find this extraordinary and unprecedented - a bureaucracy that is meant to act in the public interest spends time and money lobbying just like a big business,' said Pieter Hintjens, president of FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure). 'The EPO's role is something we intend to focus on, it is a very malign influence in Europe's innovation policy... the same people sell patents and judge on them, and then try to influence Europe's patent policy.
The report recommends there is a 'paramount necessity' to reform the patent system to improve or at least maintain the status quo of legal certainty, accessibility and speed of the EPC patent grant procedures, accelerate the adoption of the EPLA (European patent litigation agreement), while keeping the EPO in its central position as 'gatekeeper'.
It suggests 'instituting an insurance scheme for SMEs, or additional measures based on private initiative to increase awareness, to institute funds,' as a means for SMEs to operate in a market thick with patents.
The report does note objections from the likes of patentfrei.de and Sun Microsystems, which were recorded at some length in the report. But this does not appear to have impacted the conclusion of the report in any way.
The Task Force is co-ordinated by SAP representatives.
'The FFII refused to participate when we saw the kinds of tactics that SAP were employing - changing schedules to cut short discussions, ignoring comments, editing and 'fixing' comments,' said Hintjens. 'We have seen very strong support from SAP for software patents in Europe, for reasons that seem evident - they are losing ground on pure competitive grounds, so want to use "IP licensing" to hold on to their markets.'
Jean-Pierre Laisne, of ObjectWeb, an open source software community, said that he found the report useless: participants were told that all their contributions would be recorded but at the end only those of Business Software Alliance and Microsoft were used.
'We had asked the commission to take steps to ensure that the authorship of all comments was clear, but this was not done. It should have been obvious who wrote what,' said Hintjens.
Open-source company Mandriva also participated in the task force, but none of its views were represented either, Hintjens told us.
Stefan Zickgraf, Secretary of CEA-PME, an umbrella assocation of SMEs in Brussels said: 'All relevant SME-stakeholders should be heard to keep up with promises made. CEA-PME represents more than 250,000 SMEs throughout the EU 25, of which an important number are active in the ICT sector. We don't believe that the actual Task Force sufficiently represents SME interest. Indeed it looks like it is only pretending to do so by giving floor to a single SME-organisation, which cannot on its own integrally represent all SME interests in these matters.'
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