Software patents in Europe
For the last few years the European Patent Office (EPO) has, contrary to the letter and spirit of the existing law, granted more than 30.000 patents on computer-implemented rules of organisation and calculation. Now Europe's patent movement is pressing to consolidate this practise by writing a new law. Europe's programmers and citizens are facing considerable risks.
[EuroLinux Alliance Petition]
[No software patents!]
The dangers of applying patents (and not copyrights) on software are multiple:
  • kill the innovation by patenting ideas for 20 years,
  • force the developer to verify that his idea is not patented before to write each 10 lines of code,
  • play the game to patent ideas without any reference implementation,
  • basically, describe a particular use of common technologies as an 'invention'.
My selection of surrealistic patents from the FFII's European Software Patent Horror Gallery :
  • the CORBA object inheritance (Alstom/Alcatel),
  • present the comment lines containing the keyword TODO in a task list (Microsoft),
  • 'add items in a list and buy all of them at the end' (Sun Microsystems),
  • 'send a preliminary message back to the screen, if due to a slow network connection the program in the background can't send the final message quickly enough' (Prolink AG),
  • display information in a window (IBM),
  • transform a Win95 filename in a Win32 filename (Sun Microsystems),
  • the 'process for digitally signing a message by sending it to a signing device via the telco network' (Brokat),
  • 'all remote procedure call systems where variables are stored in the protocol rather than transmitted separately for each procedure' (Wang Laboratories).
Some related links:
DG Market The documents from the European Commission.
Directive The current proposal of directive.
No software patents! A new campaign against software patents started by MySQL, RedHat and other partners.
AEL The 'Association Electronique Libre'.
WIPO The 'World Intellectual Property Organization'.
FFII The 'Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure'.
Stallman's opinion 'The Anatomy of a Trivial Patent' on LinuxToday (2000).
Microsoft perhaps invests in SCO ? Famous for his claim against IBM and the Linux users, SCO may be backed by Microsoft by an investment allowing its lawyers expenses for the case.
EuroLinux Alliance The petition for a 'Software Patent Free Europe'.
League for Programming Freedom The League for Programming Freedom is an organization that opposes software patents and user interface copyrights.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act
The DMCA (1998), basically, is a tentative to control the copyrights on the digital information.
To ensure this, it makes it a crime to "manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in" devices which can be used to circumvent copyright protection technology.
The most frightening in the law is its use to threaten scientists against talks about Cryptography or Mathematics. Freely speaking about DVD s or eBooks may be dangerous.
Some related links:
DMCA The official text of the DMCA.
DRM A talk of Cory Doctorow about DRM given to Microsoft's Research Group.
Dmitry Sklyarov A Russian citizen, Ph.D. student, cryptographer arrested after giving a talk "eBook Security: Theory and practice".
Anti-DMCA One of the groups of interest against DMCA.
Interview The opinion of Alex Halderman, a security researcher threatened to be sued for publishing this paper about a new CD copy protection (disabled by just pressing on Shift ).
EFF The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a donor-supported membership organization working to protect fundamental rights regardless of technology.
Trusted Computing Platform Alliance
TCPA is a model of qualified hardware and software based on the existence of a TPM in every computer.
[Against TCPA]
This model should concentrate the market in the hands of major actors who have the resources to pass the expensive qualification programs. As a consequence this will end the open-source or freeware because they will get no TCPA certification.
Another concerns exist not only about monopolistic situations but also about protection of privacy, possible censorship, unexpected economic consequences.
The founders in 1999 are Compaq, HP, IBM, Intel and Microsoft. But in the meantime around 200 companies joined them eg Adobe, AMD, Atmel, Fujitsu-Siemens, Gateway, Motorola, Samsung, Toshiba and many other well known companies. IBM already sells desktops and notebooks with integrated TPM since 2002.
Companies concerned by the DRM also back TCPA.
Some related links:
TCPA.org The official TCPA website.
Against TCPA The lobby against TCPA, providing news, forum, FAQ s and documentation.
MIT Sloan School of Management A paper about the relation between open-source and innovation.