Fortunately, it’s been a while since I felt the need to rant about software patents, the EU not yet having tried to resurrect that dead duck of a piece of legislation over the patentability of computer implemented inventions that it ended up having to drop last year.
I’d presumed that this was just a temporary setback to the thundering IP juggernaut, but perhaps the tide is beginning to turn. As well as Microsoft and IBM – possibly the two most active patent-ers in the IT industy – standing up to demand reform of the US patent system, an appeals court judge back on this side of the Atlantic has this week openly questioned the need for the patenting of computer programs in a seminar for the Society for Computers and Law in London.
The interesting irony in this story is that ZDNet’s article on this has a link to an MP3 of Jacob’s talk on the topic. For anyone not in the know, MP3 is that offshoot of the work carried out by the Motion Pictures Expert Group back in the nineties and a format so encumbered by patents that you need a licence to distribute any codecs that allow you to play a file encoded in the format. Fine perhaps for firms like Microsoft and Apple who can easily afford the licences, but not so good for Linux distros like Fedora and Ubuntu which can’t currently include these in their operating systems (although some clever people over at Fluendo – who are also doing some interesting work with the BBC on their new royalty-free Dirac codec – seem to have now come up with a solution to this problem).
Wikipedia’s article on the MP3 format has a bit more on the licencing and patent issues around it.
Thomson Consumer Electronics controls licensing of the MPEG-1/2 Layer 3 patents in countries that recognize software patents, including the United States and Japan, but not EU countries. Thomson has been actively enforcing these patents. Thomson has been granted software patents in EU countries, but it is unclear whether or not they would be enforced by courts there. See Software patents under the European Patent Convention.
I don’t think the connection occurred to the author of the article, but this seems like a great example of how software patents harm technological innovation by creating legal uncertainties and other such evil means. Let’s just hope we never have to worry about it too much at least in Europe, anyway. Say no to software patents!