Riffed by Dr. Geek
from an idea by Vitriol


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yes Europe, you too get to join this party

It is with some sadness that I find that the Irish Presidency and the European Coucil managed to ratify recommendations to the European Union's Software Patent Directive that will allow the patenting of computer software. This means that the European Parliament will debate the measure in the Fall and likely accept it because a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 will be needed to override the changes ratified by the European Council.

Why should you care? Because soon Europe will be able to enjoy quality software patents like this:

  • U.S. Patent 6329919 - System and method for providing reservations for restroom use - Don't ask me what possessed IBM to file a patent on this, but they did.
  • U.S. Patent 5960411 - Method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network - This patents the idea of being able to buy a product from a web site using one "click" of a mouse. owns this patent and sued Barnes & Noble over this when the latter company started its own web site.
  • U.S. Patent 5051835 - Method of processing theatrical film - Evidently Paramount Pictures Corporation thought that everyone should pay them money every time someone took a frame from a piece of movie film and turned it into a digital image.
  • U.S. Patent 4600919 - Three dimensional animation - The guys at the New York Institute of Technology must not have been too busy in 1982 to go out and see the movie Tron or pay attention to the previous twenty years of innovation which allowed that movie to be produced.
  • U.S. Patent 4538056 - Card reader for time and attendance - Someone tried to patent the idea of connecting a bunch of timecard readers to a central computer.
I could go on, but you get the idea by now.

Though I suppose you could argue that the patents above were granted because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are a bunch of overworked, underpaid slobs who rubber stamp every nearly every patent application that comes through, I worry that this reflects a distressing trend in the area of information ownership. Companies and international cartels are realizing that since the Internet makes the free exchange of information possibly at nearly zero cost, a great way to make a profit in the Internet Age is to OWN all the information. So, for example, a company that collects publicly available sale prices for cosumer goods, places those prices in a database, and lets customers search the database to find the lowest price on an item is sued out of existence by the major retail chains because the chains "own" their sale price data. Or another company can collect personal information about you from public sources, organize it into a database, and then sell that data because it "owns" the database it built. It is the free flow of information that increases both innovation and consumer value. I fear that there are market forces present in the world today that want to stop the flow of information to merely preserve their market share.

I can't end this entry without first mentioning this patent though:

  • U.S. Patent 4666425 - Device for perfusing an animal head - This one patents a "device for maintaining metabolic activity in a mammalian head which has been severed from its body at its neck". I think someone spent far too much time watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I will close by noting that all the patents listed above were eventually withdrawn, declared invalid upon review, or ruled to be so narrow that they are worthless in court. So justice prevailed, after a lot of time and money was wasted.

said drgeek on 2004-05-19 at 12:56 p.m.


The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond

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