Reid Hoffman came to talk to us yesterday about LinkedIn (he's the CEO). LinkedIn is a site that enables people to find contacts, jobs, and network with others in the same field. He also said that he has a patent for the idea to send an email to someone to ask whether they are your friend and you reply by clicking on a link in the email to confirm. That's patented?! How do you start a business in this place?!
Reid said that he had patented the idea in Europe. I said that I thought that there were no software patents in Europe. He disagreed. So I did my homework on FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure) and found this, 'The European Parliament voted on September 24th for a directive proposal which confirms the existing European law, makes software explicitely unpatentable and codifies additional safeguards, such as freedom of publication and interoperation. The amended directive proposal thereby achieves the claimed aims of the European Commission, especially "harmonisation and clarification of the status quo" and "prevention of a drift toward US-style patentability of pure software and business methods".'
Apparently, 'For the last few years the European Patent Office (EPO) has, contrary to the letter and spirit of the existing law, granted more than 30000 patents on rules of organisation and calculation claimed in terms of general-purpose computing equipment, called "programs for computers" in the law of 1973 and "computer-implemented inventions" in EPO Newspeak since 2000. Europe's patent movement is pressing to legitimate this practise by writing a new law. Although the patent movement has lost major battles in November 2000 and September 2003, Europe's programmers and citizens are still facing considerable risks.'
The latest, however, is that 'The Council of the Ministers of the European Union, currently presided by Ireland, is circulating a Working Paper with counter-proposals to the European Parliaments Amendment. In contrast to the European Parliament's version, the Council version allows unlimited patentability and patent enforcability. Under the Council version, Amazon One Click shopping is without a iota of doubt a patentable invention, publication of programs on a server already constitutes an infringment, and use of patented file formats for the purpose of interoperation is not allowed. Since the decision process of the Council is secretive, it is not known who is backing this proposal in the name of which government, but it is well known that the responsible workgroup consists of officials from national patent offices and people close to this group who also, in personal union, sit on the administrative council of the European Patent Office.'
Will keep you updated as I start to understand some of these issues in the global intellectual property law class that I'm taking at the Law School here at Stanford.