The Commission is not interested in formulaic answers, but needs to hear the voices of real people explaining their view of the problems with the current European patent system. If you don't have time to read and understand the whole questionnaire, you can take any of these key points and express yourself using them.
The biggest worry is software and business method patents
We are not affected in our business by patents on medicines, on shoes, on any material objects. But we are very concerned about patents on ideas, methods, and algorithms, the basis for computer programs as well as many other creative forms.
Any patent reform that does not address the issue of software patents will be a failure, because patents on ideas, methods, and algorithms make up the huge majority of the frivolous patents already claimed in the US and EU, and are the category of patents with the potential for doing real damage to our economy.
The Commission should not proceed on the question of patent reform without explicitly tackling the question of software patents. If it does proceed without addressing this core issue, we will feel that our core concerns have been ignored, and we will question the legitimacy and honesty of the whole process.
For us, patents on ideas, methods, and algorithms are the top priority item and we wish to make this clear to the Commission.
Are we heading for EU-wide software patents, yes or no?
We would like a clear statement of whether EU-wide patents means software patents or not. We are very unhappy with the silence on this question because it is this ambiguity that has been exploited by pro-software patent interest groups up to now.
Big software companies welcomed the Community Patent as "this will legalise software patents"
There have been comments from big software firms that the Community Patent, or the alternative EPLA, means software patents. We assume these firms (who have been pushing for software patents) are well-informed.
Patents are the wrong tool for software
Patents on ideas, methods, and algorithms, affect computer programs and are very bad for SMEs and even much larger firms that use software. We do not see how creating 20-year monopolies on ideas will help Europe compete. Rather, we see that allowing such patents will allow US firms to dominate, and will destroy all incentive to invest in SME technology firms. Copyright and trademark are good tools, they work, we use them.
The EPO is breaking its own laws and there seems no way to stop this
The EPO is the real problem: it ignores the European Patent Convention, which excludes patents on computer programs, and allows patents on computer programs. So far the EPO seems to be out of control. Is there any real way to influence it? We do not think that appealing individual software patents, while tens of thousands are granted, is possible. It also sits very far outside our democratic institutions. We think that so long as this organisation exists, it will produce bad patents.
Harmonisation of a bad patent system could be much worse than no patent system
For some domains, harmonisation is fine. For patents on ideas, methods, and algorithms, it would be a total disaster. At least today, we are a little bit protected from random litigation because its expensive. But if the Commission thinks that cheap EU-wide patents is a good idea, they have not actually seen how software patents work. Please look at current litigation involving software patents! Now imagine this times 1000 and ask, "is this good for the EU economy"? Unless you are a patent lawyer, the answer is "no!"
Software is not like other areas of business
Software is different and special. It is the raw material for the service sector and, increasingly, for industry as well. The Commission must not allow monopolists to control this raw material! In every visible case, monopolies in software are bad for the economy, and open competition is good.
The danger to open standards
One key risk area is that patents on ideas, methods, and algorithms make it impossible to define new standards. Would the Web be invented today, in the US? The answer is no, because every firm making web servers or browers, or using them, would be candidate for a lawsuit and patent ambush.
Open standards are essential to an information economy, and software patents kill open standards.
Why is patent law not under control of EU institutions?
It seems incredible to us that patent laws, which deeply affect us, are not controlled by our democratic institutions. The EPO is making and enforcing its own laws. We do not vote for EPO officials, and there is no mechanism (except litigation) to affect these laws. Litigation is not a democratic option: it takes a lot of money and a lot of time.
We want to see patent law become part of EU law and follow the same process. We trust the Commission, the Council, and the Parliament to do their job (even if it is not always transparent and free of lobbying by special interests). We do not trust the EPO to do its job (and the proof lies in the results of their own processes: 65,000 software patents already exist, to ambush and attack EU companies).
Why do we not hear about all the businesses affected by software patent litigation?
Where are the statistics on software patent litigation? We have heard about lawsuits and settlements but these statistics are not public. Surely any reform of the patent system must be based on a study of the impact of the current system, and this impact can best be seen by the cases that go to court.
We ask the Commission to collect information on software patent litigation, and to make this information public so that we can see for ourselves whether patents are really used by innovators to protect against those who would steal their work (as is claimed), or by patent trolls who ambush innocent job-creating firms (which is what we have seen, almost exclusively).
What is the Commission doing to protect EU businesses from patent ambushes?
If patent ambush becomes the main business model for patent holders, this is surely a failure of the patent system? What steps is the Commission taking to prevent this from happening? Surely it is not plausible to push for the Lisbon Agenda while seeing EU industry held to ransom by special interest groups.
Allowing patents on any methods or ideas will take us to the US-style patent system
If patents on ideas, methods, and algorithms are allowed in any way whatsoever, there is no way to stop the eventual patenting of every idea, no matter how trivial or obvious. Raising the criteria for "quality" (inventive step, prior art), without clearly excluding the ideas, methods, and algorithms that computer programs express, will just result in more obfusticated patents for ever broader concepts.
There is no dividing line between "good" and "bad" software patents. If you try to allow the "good", you will always end up with an overwhelming majority of the "bad". The EPC, in article 52, clearly understood this danger and excluded all patents on ideas, methods, and algorithms. The EPO has managed to corrupt this law, but it has opened Pandora's Box.
The Commission must close Pandora's Box, or we will join the US in a tragic hurricane of junk patents.
EU SMEs are not prepared for a patent litigation war
Europe's SMEs are not prepared for litigation. There is, for example, no insurance available to fight patent litigation. When the litigation war starts, if we get EU-wide recognition of the 65,000 software patents already granted, Europe's SMEs will simply surrender, accepting whatever terms are imposed on them. The result will be massive job loss, de-investment, and loss of competitive advantage.
Investors will abandon Europe's SMEs if software patents become reality
Although pro-software patent interest groups claim that patents will bring investment, Europe has built a large and successful SME software sector without software patents. If and when software patents become EU-wide instruments that are cheap to litigate, investors will see huge risks, not opportunities. Indeed, the only way to make money from such a system is to invest in patent ambush firms. There will be a boom in litigation, followed by a collapse of the SME IT sector.
Who is to blame for the 65,000 semi-legal software patents already granted?
It is hard to express our anger at the existence of these patents, despite assurances from all that "software could not be patented". It seems only the European Parliament has understood the nature of the problem, and stood up against it.
We hope that the Commission has started to understand and accept the danger of the current situation, and the value it can bring to solving the problem. We hope sincerely that the EU institutions can act together to build a working patent system, based on a real understanding of the pros and cons of patents in all domains, rather than the simplistic advice of special interest groups who claim, with no proof, that "more patents equals more innovation".
It is sad that we have to see the US patent system fall into disrepute, with cases such as NTP vs. RIM (Blackberry), before the problem becomes clear to all. The EU has a chance to lead, and it should seize this chance.