Software patents

At present in Europe, unlike in America, Japan and some other countries, patents on computer programs are not permitted, under Article 52(2) of the European Patent Convention. However, over a period of years, the European Patent Office has been quietly violating this Convention and allowing patents on programs. There are many reasons why this is a bad thing, though it requires some understanding of the differing roles of copyright and patenting (for some background please read ‘Patent Jurisprudence on a Slippery Slope – The Price for Dismantling the Concept of Technical Invention‘). However, in summary, software patents can:

  • Allow large software companies to exert a stranglehold over smaller ones
  • Prevent software developers from using the tools of their trade
  • Hamper the development of open-source software
  • Impose a huge burden on businesses of all sizes in terms of patent applications, challenges and litigation
  • etc.

I was involved in campaigning in 2003 against a proposed EU directive which would widen the scope of patentability for software.