Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Software patents stymied again

It looks as though Polish undersecretary of science and information technology, Wlodzimierz Marcinski, has scuppered the EU Council's attempts to sneak the software patents directive through on the nod at an agriculture meeting.

The tactics were not particularly subtle but it still requires someone to stand up and be counted and congratulations for Mr Marcinski for being that person. If this thing is to go through then for some remote semblance of basic respectability at least let it be subject to appropriate scrutiny and debate.

There is an argument to be made that patents should possibly be allowed on something that could previously only have been created as a peice of hardware but can now be effected purely in software, such as a particularly cleverly architected media player, which is novel and includes the requisite inventive step. There is also an argument that someone who creates a novel invention should not be precluded from obtaining a patent, just because that invention happens to include a software component. But to allow blanket patenting of software, essentially because it is software and yet if the particular item was created in any other way would be obvious, is stupid policy.

Wrapping something in the cloak of apparently clever technology is does not make it new, inventive or necessarily better but it might. And the generally poor level of undertanding of technology and its architecture often and inevitably leads to poor decision making in the choice, regulation and deployment of that technology. This rule applies whether the context of the decision under consideration is the compulsory use of computers in all courses or the blind allowance of software patents.

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