UK Patent Office: Software Patents Pose No Threat to Open Source, But Should Be Limited
Mar 16, 2001, 14:28 (5 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Michael Hall)
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By Michael Hall,
While appearing to dismiss the concerns of advocates who have
characterized software patents as a threat to Open Source software,
a consultation from the UK Patent Office and a related statement
from UK "e-minister" Patricia Hewitt argue that copyright
protection ought to be adequate for most "non-technological
innovation" in software.
The consultation, entitled 'Should
Patents be Granted for Computer Software or Ways of Doing
Business?', addressed the concerns of Open Source advocates
"The Government does not ... accept the view -- asserted by some
respondents -- that Open Source software is threatened by the
existing extent of patentability. This seems to fly in the face of
the facts, notably that during the last decade Open Source software
Despite this, the consultation concluded that patents should
apply primarily to software that provides "technological
innovations" (such as machine manufacture) and not patents for
strictly software-related innovations, such as grammar checkers in
a word processors. It also slammed business method patents, such as
Amazon's 'One Click Shopping', as unsupportable, arguing that
there's been nol lack of innovation in on-line business methods nor
proof from advocates that patents would increase this.
The press release, included below, promised fast action on
establishing the boundaries of software patentability in
conjunction with other members of the Eurpean Community.
The complete statement from Hewitt:
Patents for Internet Trading and Computer Software -
E-Minister Patricia Hewitt today announced the Government's
decision on patents to protect computer programs and internet
Today's announcement follows the recent consultation "Should
Patents Be Granted for Computer Software or Ways of Doing
Business?". The key conclusions include:
- there should be no significant change to the patentability of
- the law is not clear enough. Urgent European action to clarify
- business methods should remain unpatentable.
Ms Hewitt said:
"Some people who responded to our consultation favour making it
easier to patent software and others see patents as a threat to
development of new software.
"Our key principle is that patents should be for technological
innovations. So a program for a new machine tool should be
patentable but a non-technological innovation, such as
grammar-checking software for a word-processor, should not be.
"The majority of those who responded agree with the Government
and oppose patents for ways of doing business on the internet."
Consumer Affairs Minister Dr Kim Howells said:
"The patent system is there to stimulate innovation and benefit
the consumer. This is the test we have applied to determine what
should, and should not, be patentable in the fields of computer
software and ways of doing business.
"Patent law is harmonized under the European Patent Convention,
and we shall be recommending the conclusions we have reached to our
European partners. The European Commission is currently evaluating
its own consultation on software patents, and we shall be pressing
them for an early Directive which embodies our conclusions, and
with which the Convention can then be aligned.
"In particular we shall press for clarification of European
patent law to put an end to uncertainty about what software can and
cannot be patented. The consultation showed that at present there
is confusion, and that that is damaging."