British Computer Society Recommends Pro-Patent Campaigners
28 January 2005 -- In a recent bulletin, the British Computer Society endorses the UK Patent Office line on software patents and recommends pro-patent campaign groups and sites.
The bulletin, titled "Views Sought", at first glance appears to be a consultation call, but it gives its conclusions in advance and recommends only websites that represent one side of the argument.
It reads as follows:
- BCS e-Bulletin Archive
- Issue 91: January 26th 2005
- VIEWS ON IT PATENTS SOUGHT BCS members that have views, for or against, on the proposed European Union legislation on patents for `computer-implemented inventions' are being urged to contact the UK IT trade association, Intellect. The UK Department of Trade and Industry says patents give stronger protection than copyright, which protects program code but does not stop others from developing their own software to achieve the same effect. The proposed European Union directive will not make all software patentable. Inventions using computers will be patentable only if they make a `technical contribution'. This includes inventions solving a technical problem, such as software that improves control of a robot arm, but excludes inventions for solving a business problem, such as accounting software. UK government information is at
http://www.patent.gov.uk/about/ippd/issues/softpat.pdf (This link opens in a new window).
Intellect is at http://www.intellectuk.org (This link opens in a new window). Intellect is supporting an international campaign: details are at
http://www.patents4innovation.org (This link opens in a new window).
Hartmut Pilch comments:
In 1998 former BCS president Ron McQuaker strongly criticised the pro-software-patent policy of the UK Patent Office (UKPO), which it was then pushing onto Europe through the European Commission. At that conference the UKPO was explicitely rallying for patentability of software as such. Since then the contents have stayed the same, only the packaging has changed. The UKPO and allies such as Intellect and EICTA are trying to disguise their own agenda and to frame the discussion in terminology that makes it impossible to reach understanding. These efforts seem to have fooled the British Computer Society to such an extent that BCS now appears to have bought into the pro-patent propaganda.
The current BCS call sorely confirms what BCS immediate past president Ron McQuaker said at a meeting in the UKPO in 1998:
- The European Commission Green Paper "Promoting innovation through patents" addresses the question of the grant of patents for computer programs "as such", and seeks reactions to some specific questions. I greatly welcome this event, because in much of the software community at least, the vital importance of the topic has not been matched by awareness and debate of the issues.
BCS should at least help raise awareness among its own members, rather than forward these members to lobby groups which represent very special interests and do not have a record of entertaining informed discussions on the subject.
Background: Headaches of Other National Computer Societies
Pilch explains further:
In Germany the Society for Informatics has for years been abused by a few people who pushed the patent lobby agenda, while polls among the members showed that 2/3 were against this agenda. Recently the board was reelected to better reflect the member interests, and it was decided that currently the Society does not have a position on software patents.
Other European societies of computer professionals (e.g. in France, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia) are known to be strong critics of software patentability, taking viewpoints similar to those which Ron McQuaker defended in 1998. In 2003 moreover 30 of the most famous computer scientists (some of whose books most BCS members are bound to have on their bookshelf) signed a strongly worded petition against software patentability and against the line taken by the European Commission, the UKPO, EICTA and Intellect. It would have been appropriate for BCS to at least point to these positions. We hope their failure to do so was due to negligence and will be compensated in the near future.