22 September 2010

Richard Stallmann interrupted EPO session at World Computer Congress in Brisbane

Following reports on the Australian itNews channel and The Register, a session of EPO patent officer Ralf Abbing relating to the 'big' issues in IP in relation to computing technology on this year's World Computer Congress (WCC) in Brisbane was interrupted by GNU founder and famous anti-patent activist Richard Stallman, advocating against, as Stallmann put it, the EPO's "campaign in favour of software patents in Australia" by carrying a placard saying "don't get caught in software patent thickets" and distributing copies of his article about IP being a seductive mirage.

While Abbings explained that the requirements for software patent applications under the EPC follow a "very narrow interpretation" (see also posting on the EPO's G3/08 decision) which especially involves a "technical character" (e.g. processing physical data, controlling an industrial process, etc.) and excludes business methods (or "abstract ideas") form patentability, Stallman rather followed a political mission. He later told it that
(Richard Stallman)
We're here at the World Computer Congress and what I've discovered is that the European Patent Office is here to campaign in favour of software patents in Australia. [...] You can be sure that if Australia allows software patents, almost all the patents will belong to foreigners and will give them the opportunity to sue Australians. [...] There's no problem that requires a solution with anything like software patents. Without software patents [...] neither of us would get sued by the various patent troll companies whose sole business is collecting patents so that they could go threaten people.
The discussion on patent-eligibility of software in Australia was fired by New Zealand's approach to only allow patents on "embedded software" (see earlier posting). Currently, the the Australian IP Advisory Council prepares a review on patentable subject matter, while an open petition asking the Australian government to end software patents attracted 1083 signatures - mainly from free-software developers (see reports on OStatic an itNews).

Referring to the itNews article, Australian Patent Attorney Mark Summerfield expressed his fear that "Australia may have a bigger problem with ill-informed foreigners showing up here, and telling us how to run our country" and further commented in a blog posting:
Of course, Australia already grants patents for inventions implemented wholly or partially in computer software, and has done so for over 20 years.  To date this has not resulted in an opening of the metaphorical (and largely mythical) floodgates to "foreigners" suing Australians for infringement of software patents.