The normally boring world of international standards has turned into a bloody fist fight between the most brutal monopolist of modern times, and the Community. Just the name, “Office Open XML” makes my head spin, and when I start to read Microsoft’s so-sincere explanations that “users demand multiple standards”, my blood begins to boil. But before I turn green and rip off my shirt, let me take a deep breath and look calmly at how Microsoft is trying to do to ISO what Borat wanted to do to Pamela.
In early 2006, the European Commission began talking about a "final attempt" to fix the European patent system.
We heard the standard concerns about Europe's innovation gap. "How can we catch up with the Americans?" "How can we prevent the Chinese invasion?" "We need a better system of intellectual property rights." "We need stronger protection for rights holders." These noises came out of the Commission, in meetings, and speeches; we heard echoes from large software companies and the industry clubs they sponsor. SAP, in particular, began calling very loudly for a cheaper, stronger patent system.
And the focus of all these noises has been "EPLA" (the European Patent Litigation Agreement), a new system designed to make it easier to enforce patents. EPLA is not, superficially, about software patents at all. But dig deeper, and it's exactly that: a third major attempt to introduce software patents, by removing all remaining regulation of the patent industry.
A couple of weeks ago, at a very large event in Brussels, I sat and watched several government officials, from the US and EU, debate innovation policy. This sounds very grand, but what they actually said, to paraphrase, was “we want to stimulate innovation by spending money and protecting intellectual property”.
Driving innovation—but which way?
I know that many people come to the FFII—as I did—because they feel a deep sense of injustice at how the smaller players in IT are consistently squashed by special interests and monopolists. But I’m going to look at our core concern—software patents—from a different angle, one based more on economics and less on emotions.