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The Department of Trade and Industry and an American law professor have jumped into the European software patent punch-up.

Patricia Hewitt (e-minister) and Kim Howells (consumer minister) aren't actually daft enough to say what they think but they have started a consultation exercise and invite any and all input on the issue of whether Europe should adopt a US-style software patent system.

The UK's computer market is worth £21 billion and with Tony Blair e-vangelising about the Net and e-commerce, it is clear that the government needs to get this very right. The question is: does the UK stand to gain or lose more from bringing the laws in?

This is what Hewitt had to say: "We all know about patents for machines, chemicals and electronics. I believe they have served us well in bringing forward the technologies we all use, and which we often take for granted. With the e-commerce sector becoming increasingly significant to the UK economy, it is vital that we initiate a debate... blah blah blah... these issues could profoundly affect the environment in which we do business... blah blah blah... we want to promote innovation and enterprise in UK industry... blah blah blah... it is vital to strike the right balance between allowing exclusive patent rights without reducing competition and exploitation of ideas in this exciting and rapidly developing field."

Basically what this all comes down is pure naked greed. The UK does pump out a lot of good software and if the patent laws were brought in, we could be looking at a nice chunk of money. So what, you say?
This is how business works, get real. And, yes, there is a definite case that people's innovative work ought to be rewarded (otherwise curtails innovation and all that).

However, a certain US law professor feels quite strongly the other way and has made his opinions clear in a book about the Internet patent problem (presumably with copyright on it ;-) ), called Caught in a Web.

Professor Richard Stern of George Washington University Law School reckons that even if Europe decides not to go with software patenting, the effect of it in the US will damage European Web business. If it does go with it, all hell will break lose. He uses the Napster, One-Click and MP3 cases as examples of how the Internet will clash head-on with existing patent laws.

The logic behind this depressing scenario is fairly clear: smaller companies will be unable to compete under prohibitive licenses, multi-nationals will waste billions of pounds fighting pointless legal battles. According to Stern, the Internet could falter and fall over as a result. ®

Related Links

You can find details off the book and a short extract here
UK government's patent site
Caught in a Web book details

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Software patents stay banned in Europe - for now
The Euro Software Patent Chamber of Horrors

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