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NewsNow says software patents will damage the European economy
29th August 2003
The future of thousands of innovative IT companies is under threat. Even NewsNow may not be entirely immune.
A proposed amendment to EU patent legislation will get its first reading by the European Parliament on 1st Sept. While claiming to clarify patent legislation, it will in fact open the door for wholesale patenting of software in Europe.
Why should you be worried about this? Patents are designed to protect companies' and individuals' investment in innovation, right? Wrong. Software patents will favour large corporations with the financial and legal might to register and enforce their own patents and fight off competing claims for patents.
Experience in the US, where software has been patentable since the 80s, shows that software patents stifle innovation, rather than supporting it.
The courts there have been willing to enforce patents on algorithms which are simple, and fundamental to much software which is in wide use. For example, Microsoft was recently forced to pay out $520m to a company with a single employee which claimed a patent on the concept of browser plug-ins. Now other browser manufacturers may worry that they too are infringing this patent. But Microsoft can afford $520m; smaller companies would be unable to afford such sums, and might be put out of business. It's worth noting that the draft of the EU legislation originated with the US-based Business Software Alliance, which represents the interests mainly of large corporations.
More worryingly, experts say that EU legislation will enable the patenting of 'business methods'. Amazon has a patent on file at the EU patent office similar to one it was granted in the US, which relates to its 'one click' method of purchasing a product online. How innovative is such an idea, and how much investment did it take to come up with it?
One of the key things about software development, as opposed to other forms of scientific research and development, is that it doesn't require a significant investment in expensive equipment or licenses. Buy a PC, install Linux, and you can write software, and try to make money out of it. NewsNow itself started out in 1997 with one box-shifter PC running Linux.
This low startup cost makes for a highly competitive environment, where a large player can easily be challenged by a small startup. This competition is good for business: it creates opportunities for entrepreneurship; and it's good for consumers: it creates choice and drives down costs.
If software patents become widespread, however, such competition will cease. Large corporations will own patents which prevent others from competing with them (and as they exploit their monopolies for profit, they will be able to acquire more patents, reinforcing their monopoly).
Software patents are bad for business, bad for consumers, and bad for the Internet. Stop them now:
29th August 2003, NewsNow Publishing Limited, London England
NewsNow is Europe's pioneering Internet news monitoring agency and supplier of tailored, aggregated newsfeeds.
NewsNow's customers hail from the world's PR, marketing, communications and web design departments of SME, national and multinational businesses and charitable organisations.
These organisations use NewsNow to gather and monitor news relevant to their company, clients, competitors, market industry and sector. Their news feeds may be delivered to their inbox, to their intranet or extranet or alternatively to NewsNow's secure web archive interface.
NewsNow is one of only a few companies able to offer this kind of online monitoring. Its customers include Exxon, Rolls-Royce, AMD and Sony Computer Entertainment.
NewsNow Key Points
NewsNow was founded in 1997. It began as a news aggregation website (www.NewsNow.co.uk) that fast became the UK's leading news portal. Today the portal features over 3300 topics and attracts 136 million page impressions monthly.
In 1998 NewsNow began delivering tailored news feeds to customers' websites.
In 2001, the addition of a sophisticated custom search engine capable of full-text search enabled NewsNow to deliver high-quality but cost-effective tailored Internet news monitoring solutions to PR, marketing and communications professionals of SME, national and multinational businesses and charitable organisations.