31 March 2005 -- The representative office of Volvo Motors in Brussels has sent a paper to members of the European Parliament, dated 15 March 2005, which calls them to support the Council's "Common Position". The letter reads like a copied and pasted from similar letters sent by other large Swedish companies, consisting mainly of unsubstantiated bold statements about the importance of patents and the "devastating effects" that any serious limitation of patentability would have.
The Volvo paper, published under the date of March 15 and distributed to members of the European Parliament, falsely claims that the Council position prevents the patenting of pure software whereas that of the Parliament causes damage to the whole industry. It then lists the usual patent lawyer fallacies.
In June 2003, Jean-Pierre Courniou, R&D director of Renault and president of the "Club Informatique des Grandes Entreprises Françaises" (CIGREF = Computing Club of the Large French Companies) declared software patents to be a great danger for the automobile industry and summarised: "For me and for CIGREF, the response is: no, we don't want patentability". According to FFII's research, Volvo owns far fewer software patents than Renault and is definitely on the losing end of the software patent game in every respect.
Hartmut Pilch, president of FFII, comments: "It is clear that Volvo is merely being used by a network of corporate patent lawyers for political statements that have nothing to do with the interests of Volvo. MEPs should put hard questions to Volvo and insist on a talk with their board level. As long as there is no apology from Volvo's board, the rest of us should punish Volvo for allowing abuse of its name by a kind of political activism that is harmful to the industry and consumers at large. Please read Volvo's shameless patent claims and lobbying letters and remind them next time you think of buying or renting a car."
See also our documentation about Volvo and their software-related patenting activities.
The Volvo Text with Comments
The Volvo letter claims:
- A prerequisite for maintaining our competitiveness in the global market is to protect investments in technology and product development
by patents. A major part of investments in R&D are directed to software-related technologies, systems and components for products. Patents must protect these investments in order to create the basis for a sustainable future development.
These investments are already sufficiently protected by
- product complexity
- trade secret
Patents put these investments at risk.
The FFII and its position are supported by many companies in the automotive programming field.
Software patents in this field are regularly as broad and trivial as in other fields.
- Important innovations in the automotive area with software as an enabling technology have created advanced engine control systems, brake and suspension control systems, collision warning systems, driver drowsiness warning systems, adaptive cruise control systems, airbag control systems, fuel consumption and exhaust gas control systems.
Yes, and in all these fields, software patents lead to broad and trivial claims on non-trivial developments that are already sufficiently protected by the above-mentioned means.
- However, these are only few examples of a general trend in technology development. Even traditional engineering companies are forced to use software technologies to a vastly increasing extent in order to make their products fit for the future thereby securing their competitiveness in the global market.
Yes, and thereby they are putting the patent departments out of work in the same way that previously horse-carts were put out of work. The computer is a means of simplifying the process of invention. The process has changed, and patents are no longer useful for it. If you don't like that, continue inventing the old way !
- The current patent system in Europe, in particular the European Patent Convention and the practice of the European Patent Office, is well balanced and has served the European industry very well. This is true in all branches and throughout the past 25 years where the European Patent Office has granted thousands of patents on computer implemented inventions.
The EPO practice has mostly produced broad and trivial patents in all these fields. That has served corporate patent lawyers very well, and some companies believe that this is in their interest.
- Patent protection in Europe is restricted to technical solutions while programs for computers "as such" and business methods or other non-technical methods are excluded from patent protection. This system in Europe is completely different from the patent system in the USA.
As is well known and acknowledge by patent professionals, there is no significant difference, see e.g. EubsaTechEn, and the term "computer program as such", as deceptively used by the Council, excludes nothing that anyone in the USA or elsewhere ever wanted to patent.
- In Europe both large and small companies and even Open Source companies have been and will be able to exist and to develop their businesses side by side without any major problems.
There have been problems, and the fact that they have been smaller than in the US is largely due to the fact that we have a better law which the Council text tries to demolish and that of the Parliament of September 2003 tries to reaffirm.
Impact on the Volvo Group
- Volvo - one of the worlds leading providers of commercial transport solutions - is active in the area of trucks, buses, construction equipment, aero, marine and industrial applications, and in financial services. Volvo produces transport related hard and soft products of superior quality, safety and environmental care for demanding customers.
This says nothing about the impact on Volvo.
Volvo Group's position
- Volvo welcomes the Council's common position, which enables European industry to protect its investments in software-related technologies. This will secure European competitiveness in the global market, without unreasonably limiting the existence and further development of alternative models as for instance Open Source. The Council's common position ensures that the principles of the European Patent Convention will be implemented also in the national patent laws of the Member States thereby creating a transparent system of harmonized patent laws throughout the whole European Union.
The European Patent Convention is already implemented into national laws, and the Council position undermines its principles.
- An abolishment of patent protection of computer-implemented inventions in the European Union would have a devastating effect
This unsubstantiated statement sharply contradicts the state of empirical studies in economics so far.
- on the competitiveness of the European industry in general, and for the automotive industry in particular: o Innovations will no longer be subject to patent and will be exposed targets for copying,
Software innovations can't be copied without infringing copyright. Also, the cumulated protection mechanisms are sufficient, as explained above.
- The pace of innovations in Europe in the area of software-related technologies will slow down considerably as investments in innovative technologies will no longer pay off.
Volvo, please read up on the economic literature!
- This leads to that investments outside Europe will increase. markets in Europe to their American and Asian competitors without gaining any on their markets since patent protection of computer-implemented inventions is still possible in these countries.
Software developers can still obtain patents in these countries and attack their competitors there, whereas they are safe from attack on their home market.
The talk about regional imbalances is completely arbitrary. There is no such imbalance in the patent system, no matter whether with or without a particular type of patent.