I was first made aware of the ‘software patent’ issue when Tobias Oetiker changed the front page of his MRTG site to protest against it. It now seems the European Parliament did the wise thing and kept its hands of the issue.
The European Parliament on Wednesday rejected a proposed law to create a single way of patenting software across the European Union, a blow to big companies who had pushed hard for its adoption.
The so-called software patent directive, rejected by a 648-14 vote with 18 abstentions, would have given companies EU-wide patent protection for computerized inventions (…).
But lawmakers said the measure would stifle enterprise and did not promote innovation, and that human knowledge can’t be patented. The move kills the legislation since the EU head office, which had drafted it, does not plan to set forth a new version. (…)
Companies such as Nokia and Siemens fought hard for adoption of the bill, saying patent protection would give them incentives to invest in research and development. Open-source advocates campaigned against it, saying that individuals and small businesses could be bankrupted by expensive legal battles with software giants over fuzzy patent law.
from European Patent Law rejected(Wired)
What kind of laws would give a fictional HugeCorp Inc even more ‘incentives to invest in research and development’:
- every thought an employee has at HugeCorp Inc, belongs to the company. Practically this means that, if ever an employee wants to claim an idea as his, he has to be able to prove it was conceived of in his free time.
- if an employee, certainly someone from the R&D department, leaves the company, he should sign a non-disclosure/non-competition contract. If HugeCorp Inc has doubts about the person’s willingness to shut up and do absolutely nothing with the knowledge that was gathered while working at their premises, the former employee’s memory can be erased, either chemically or with a hammer.
- whenever a new product or technology is developed at HugeCorp Inc, consumers can be forced to buy it. The normal process of customer adoption allows for inventions to be unprofitable because of such silly reasons as: too expensive, too user-unfriendly, no demand, better substitute available. This makes R&D riskful and should be eliminated.
- it is forbidden to reverse engineer anything that was developed at HugeCorp Inc. This includes decompiling software code, performing input/output analysis or disassembling electronic or mechanical devices. Replacing batteries in a watch, changing a tire on a car and decoding an imperfect DVD-encryption are therefor forbidden, except by persons explicitly accredited by the manufacturer.
- whatever inventions are developed at universities or other academic institutions may never be commercialised or released on a free basis to the outside world. They should be handed over to HugeCorp Inc for a symbolical sum (let’s say, a 19″ flat screen for the supervising professor, and free drinks for anyone involved in the development), where it will be prepared for commercial purposes (i.e. DRM and licensing mechanisms will be built in). If the product sells really well, a new wing will be donated for the department that inspired the development, and it will get a name like “HugeCorp Research Institute“.
- the “open source” movement is too large to be killed silently, but it should be possible for HugeCorp Inc to have some of its employees interfere incognito in the development process and introduce bugs, annoyance and controversy. Traditional practices like defamation, bribery, blackmail … can also be used to discredit open source personalities.
- any invention that has, could have, could be thought to have or eventually maybe might slightly have, a negative effect on the balance sheet of HugeCorp Inc, and that was not developed by HugeCorp itself, cannot be commercialized or released publicly. The person(s) responsible for its conception can be sued for that act, or under some other pretence, can be rendered life very difficult. Unless, of course, they work for EvenHugerComp Inc, in which case HugeCorp just keeps quiet in the hope not being sued themselves.
- The company cannot be held responsible for any personal damage its employees would suffer while researching and developing. If the employee does not like that, he can always resign and go work somewhere else. (In which case rule #2 is still valid)
- The company cannot be held responsible for the detrimental effects of its inventions on the environment, the market or its customers. If any damage is done, some other company can step in and sell the service of fixing it.
- The company cannot be held responsible for the actions of its employees, except if these actions would have a positive impact on the balance sheet.