|| ||James Heald <email@example.com>|
|| ||French ex-PM condemns Software Patents|
|| ||Mon, 30 Jun 2003 21:46:23 +0100|
Michel Rocard MEP, former prime minister of France, today condemned
software patents in an interview with French newspaper Liberation.
"After careful reading and reflection, I have aligned myself with the
supporters of free software. Software patents should be permitted only
if something uses the forces of nature or acts on matter. [Otherwise]
the patentability of software is likely to create a terrifying financial
and legal threat, weighing down on software creators. It would slow down
the growth of human knowledge and of economic activity. One will no
longer be able to create a piece of software in one's own corner without
being threatened to pay exorbitant royalties".
Rocard is one of the most senior and influential figures in the EU
parliament's Social Democrat group, PSE, and wrote the official opinion
on swpat of the parliament's Culture committee. But Rocard's position
is diametrically opposed to that of another member of the PSE, the UK
Labour party's Arlene
McCarthy. The group's MEPs will be making up their minds this week
in Strasbourg which of the two to follow.
Below is a full translation of the interview:
(also at http://www.aful.org/wws/arc/patents/2003-06/msg00221.html)
Michel Rocard opposes the patentability of software
"Everyone copies, and this is a good thing"
By Florent LATRIVE and Laurent MAURIAC
Liberation, Monday June 30, 2003
"A civilization should be preserved where the place of the world
outside the market and of the human intellect is respected."
One does not find a computer on the Parisian desk of Michel Rocard.
He admits it freely: he is not "one of the generation which has an easy
facility with the computer". However, as president of the Committee for
Culture in the European Parliament, he has had to plunge himself, with
an "evil madness", into software patentability, "words which even a year
ago were unknown to me". Today, if he speaks about it in such an
animated way, it is because hiding behind the technical aspects there is
a real issue about civilization. For the ex prime minister, the
introduction of patents on software in Europe would be "very serious".
It would call into question the freedom of movement of human knowledge.
Until now, software has been officially excluded from patentable
subject-matter in Europe, just like mathematical equations or cooking
recipes. But for several months, a very polemical draft Directive has
been before the institutions of the European Union which aims to modify
this regime. It will be put to the vote in the European Parliament at
the beginning of September.
Q.: Why do you consider that Europe should not authorize patents
Since the cave of Lascaux, it is not clear that humanity has
progressed in its aesthetic capacities. As for its ethical capacities
and morals, one is even more doubtful. On the other hand, in the field
of technical knowledge and the control of nature, the progress is
astounding. The dizzying growth of knowledge is the key to this
history. Knowledge was spread by copying, everyone recopied everyone,
and that was good. With the patentability of software, one is re-writing
the statutes on human knowledge. All of the intellectual exchange in the
creations of the human spirit, the means of bringing knowledge together,
will be achieved more and more by software. If patentability is
introduced, i.e. a cost, a prohibition, one sets up a new rule. It is
Q.: It does not however appear abnormal to remunerate creators and
Two things should be distinguished: works, protected by the rights of
the author, and inventions, protected by the patent. In the 19th
century, one was initially concerned with the former. It was regarded as
normal to remunerate the creators and to guarantee the safeguarding of
the integrity of their works. So the droit d'auteur [ie copyright +
moral rights] was created. Later, the patent was established, that is to
say, a prohibition on anybody using an invention without paying a
royalty. During the 20th century, we had no problem in differentiating
the two. In contrast to works [oeuvres], protected by the rights of the
author, invention is defined by the bringing into play of matter or the
forces of nature. The conviction that human knowledge must circulate
implied that there should be no patents on the products of this
knowledge. A mathematical equation is not patented. In 1972, the
European patent convention contained a simple sentence in good taste:
"software is not patentable."
Q.: What do you recommend for software?
I am not against all patentability of software but there is a border
to respect. The campaigners for free software, with whom I aligned
myself after careful reading and reflection, consider that one is
dealing with an invention (which one can thus patent) if something uses
the forces of nature or acts on matter. The ABS brake on cars, for
example, is controlled by software, but it is founded on the use of the
forces of nature and it acts on matter. On the other hand, any software
which describes or facilitates the circulation of the products of the
mind [les produits de l'esprit] (nb text processing, for example) should
not be patentable. However, the European Patent Office has gone beyond
the initial conception and granted about thirty thousand patents
concerning software, which poses a problem. There is an urgent need to
get away from the current legal uncertainty. On their side, the United
States have developed a considerable field of patentability of the
software. It extends for example to teaching methods or surgical methods
(applied on software and computers, note). These are codifications of
human know-how, nothing more, and there is no reason to patent them.
Q.: Which would be the consequences of a European directive
opening the way to a multitude of software patents?
There is a difference between software invention and any other body
of invention. In this sector, design is essentially sequential: one
builds on thirty pieces of software to invent a thirty-first. The
patentability of software is likely to create a terrifying financial and
legal threat, weighing down on software creators. It would slow down the
growth of human knowledge and of economic activity. One will no longer
be able to create a piece of software in one's own corner without being
threatened to pay exorbitant royalties. Thousands of SMEs, often friends
working together, work on ideas in this way.
Q.: You are in the same political group in the Parliament as the
rapporteur of the directive, Arlene McCarthy, of the English Labour
party. And you don't agree...
We are not prioritising the same dangers. The possibility that human
understanding may be made patentable is a thing to be feared. A
civilization should be preserved where the place of the world outside
the market and of the human intellect is respected. That is a
conviction I have as a social democrat.
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