Last Friday, as a student software engineering, I had to attend a lecture given by the EPO (European Patent Office). This is a short summary of what the presentation was about.
He entered the second biggest auditorium of our campus and as the buzz, caused by all engineering students, faded, Raphaël de Roeck commenced, as befits any good speaker, his captatio benevolentiae. Out of his pocket the EPO administrator popped a Blackberry and told a simplified version of the NTP-lawsuits (Since wikipedia is more neutral telling this story, I’m not going to repeat it here, please click the link for more information).
I was already satisfied. He was narrating a typical example of an American software patent troll. At the end, I assumed, he would proclaim that this is impossible in Europe because software is not patentable, nor do we support trolling. But no. My expectations shattered when he spoke these words: «So, engineers, apply for as much patents as you can, because you can earn huge money with them!»
After this captatio malevolentiae he went on about technical aspects of patents in general: how can we apply for a patent, what is an European patent (simply: a collection of patents accepted in different European countries), which ideas are patentable, and so forth. The latter was pretty interesting though. His slide was showing a Dutch summary of this page. Since he requested to retain questions until the end of the presentation, I decided to hold my breath.
The first question came from up front: «Isn’t the EPO influenced a lot by lobbyists?». «Good question!» the man responded. He answered this question by saying that he is an official and cannot be influenced by lobbyist. But how close is that to reality?
My question was about article 52 of the European Patent Convention: «Can you give an example of what “as such” means according to 52.3 and can you apply that to FAT?». He answered my question only partially: He had no idea what the FAT-patent was and could not answer to that one. The first part of my question he answered as I expected: he tried to explain the impossible with too much “but”s and “or”‘s, even when not applied to software patents. The part of the audience that was still paying attention got the message: there’s something not right with the current patent system as such. *
Afterwards, when we were leaving the auditorium, I was accosted by the speaker, who told me he looked forward processing my patent applications. I could not help myself informing him, for the second time that day (so he knew), I was a software engineer and I would not be able to apply for a patent in the future. We had a discussion regarding software patents and in the end I think they (as a second spokesman joined him) realized the trouble with 52.3, as anyone can interpret «as such» in his own way, and with software patents in general. The second person concluded with: we are law-enforcers, the only thing we do is we interpret the law and we make money with it. It’s not our call to change the law, even if it is absurd.
The hassle continues…
-Pieter — follow me on identi.ca
* As Jan Wildeboer explained to me afterwards, the 52.3 issue has this background:
Before the European Patent Convention was in place, there already were some UK software patents. To make sure these patents would not become invalid, they added the «as such» article to the law, with the intention new patents would not get through the application. That however didn’t work out, because some software patents did get validated. So in 2000 they tried to delete the 52 article entirely, which got a lot of protest**.
Nowadays Japan and the US still want Europe to delete the 52 article. They don’t have it and to unify the world of patents, the EU should just adapt itself to them.
** Software is
- like maths. Luckily Pythagoras didn’t patent a²+b²=c² huh…
- like a book. It is already subjected to copyrights. No need for patents.