On an Official blog website blogfraktion.de of the parliamentary group of the Christian Democratic Union / Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) in the German Bundestag I recently stumbled upon a green paper concerning copyright in the digital society (Diskussionspapier der CDU/CSU-Bundestagsfraktion zum Urheberrecht in der digitalen Gesellschaft) presented by Deputy Party Whips Mr Michael Kretschmer and Mr Günter Krings. While the main topic of this text, of course, is directed to copyright issues, we also can find a single paragraph devoted to so-called software patents or, more technically, patents on computer-implemented (respectively implementable) inventions as follows (I did some plain copy/paste operation and refrain from correcting spelling errors in the German original):
8. Urheberrecht statt Softwarepatenten
Computerprogramme werden richtigerweise durch das Urheberrecht geschützt. „Softwarepatente“ auf Quell-Codes laufen dem urheberrechtlichen Schutzzweck zuwider. Der urheberrechtliche Schutz ist flexibler und innovationsfördernder, weil dazu kein aufwendiges und teures Patentierungsverfahren notwendig ist. Die Anwendbarkeit des Urhebervertragsrechts stärkt außerdem die Programmierer (Urheber) gegenüber den Softwarefirmen (Verwertern).
Ein Richtlinienvorschlag der EU-Kommission, eine EU-einheitliche Patentierungspraxis für Software zu schaffen, ist 2002 gescheitert. Die CDU/CSU-Bundestagsfraktion lehnt auch weiterhin jede Ausweitung der Patentierungspraxis im Softwarebereich ab.
I would like to offer my own translation as set out below:
8. Copyright instead of software patents
Computer programs are rightly protected by copyright. “Software patents” on source code run contrary to the purpose of protection by copyright. Protection by copyright is more flexible and encourages innovation more because it does not require intricate and expensive patenting proceedings. Moreover, the applicability of the [German] law of contracts on copyrights strengthens the coders (creators) compared to software companies (exploiters).
A Draft proposal of the EU Commission for creating a unitary practice of patenting of software has failed in 2002. The parliamentary group of the CDU/CSU in the Bundestag maintain their rejection of any broadening of the practice of patenting in the field of software.
The first sentence of this statement asserting that computer programs are rightly protected by copyright is one of the few snippets of information from the text as quoted above which is by and large correct insofar historically the Council Directive 91/250/EEC of 14 May 1991 on the legal protection of computer programs had stipulated in its Article 1 that Member States shall protect computer programs, by copyright, as literary works within the meaning of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. However, the term “rightly” (“richtigerweise” in German) might, at least for German ears, be construed like suggesting that software protection by copyright is the only (proper and legitimate) way to define software-related Intellectual Property. This is not true. Article 9 paragraph 1 of the Directive says (emphasis added):
The provisions of this Directive shall be without prejudice to any other legal provisions such as those concerning patent rights, trade-marks, unfair competition, trade secrets, protection of semi-conductor products or the law of contract. [...]
In the next sentence: “Software patents” on source code run contrary to the purpose of protection by copyright, a stark theory is proclaimed deepening this initial stub of mis-understanding the law by setting forth in more detail there is sort of a contradiction between copyright and patent law. In fact, copyright law and patent law are mapped to different aspects of computer software, respectively:
- From a copyright-centred point of view, a computer program is seen as a text (source code).
- From a patent-centred point of view, a computer program is seen as an expression of functionality or of dynamic semantics described by operational and/or denotational semantics, i.e. it is viewed as an expression of run-time behaviour.
Copyright and patent rights can emerge from one and the same set of facts of a case. This phenomenon is not confined to copyright and patent law concerning software. Take, for example, a mud wing of a car:
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This is a follow-up to Volker ‘Falk’ Metzler’s previous posting titled In Defense of Articles 6 to 9 of the Unitary Patent Regulation and, in particular, to the discussion induced by it.
As can be learnt from the public discussion of the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the context of the planned Proposal for a Regulation of the Council and the European Parliament implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection as well as with regard to the still unfinished Draft agreement on a Unified Patent Court there appears to exist – at least in some quarters – a sort of general discontent with the work of those judges presiding in Luxembourg over the entire body of EU law.
For example, our reader Derek Clapton (maybe a pseudonymous author identification?) puts his view on the CJEU in this brief summarising sentence:
To say that the ECJ “is the best functioning institution of the Union” is like saying that Amsterdam is the highest place in the Netherlands – possibly true, but an unimpressive boast nonetheless.
Well, I think it might be interesting to have some deeper insight into the factual basis of this damnation. Mr Clapton gives us a clue when he writes:
If, in answering questions such as how to determine the scope of protection of a patent claim, the ECJ introduces the same degree of uncertainty in patent law as it has in the case of trade mark law, the EU patent system will fail its users, which may lead to manufacturers deciding to locate new factories outside of the court’s jurisdiction. In such case, Spain may be well advised to remain outside of the proposed EU patent arrangements.
And another commenter Peter Lustig (maybe another pseudonymous identification?) argues:
Usually, one would expect renowned senior practitioners of his kind to join him and support his argumentation – there appear to be none so far. Also, the Article 6 to 9-issue is only one in a row of objections, some going to the very core of the project (e. g. the compatibility with the AETR case law of the CJEU) and still remaining unaddressed. With all due respect, but Professor Tilmann’s outstanding reputation should not be allowed to replace founded answers to legitimate questions.
And, even Dr. Jochen Pagenberg himself joins the line of comments by arguing, inter alia, as follows:
If one wants a really unattractive, inefficient, unpredictable and probably extremely expensive patent court system, then we will get it; one must only give the ECJ a chance to receive as many referrals in patent law as possible.
If one wants to see substantive patent law in Europe to be decided by judges without any solid knowledge and experience in this field, then one must involve the ECJ whenever possible.
Well, is this real? It is fair to say that as a humble patent and trade mark attorney I never shall deal with those EU judges in Luxembourg myself. But I have to carefully read important decisions, in particular in the field of trade mark law. And, yes, there are decisions of the Court which I find questionable but that also holds for me when studying decisions from German Courts. A well-known and a bit semi-ironic German proverb says that in court and on the high seas we all are in the hands of the Lord, indicating that awaiting a decision of a Court always bears a momentum of unpredictability. Are the high seas of the CJEU / ECJ excessive in this respect?
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During the past 15 years the Boards of Appeal of the EPO have developed a consistent case law as to the pragmatic problem/solution approach for assessing patentability pursuent Art 52 -57 EPC. In our earlier overview on
to which this posting is meant as a more practical continuation, we briefly characterised the EPO’s main examination approach:
[M]odern case law [of the EPO Boards of Appeal on software inventions], especially the suggestion in T 1173/97 that the “technical contribution” is an inventive step consideration and the observation in some early cases (e.g. T 38/86 and T 65/86) that the “inventive contribution” must lie in a “field of technology”, almost naturally lead to the problem-solution approach as developed in T 641/00 (COMVIK) and T 258/03 (Hitachi) and theoretically justified in T 154/04 (Duns).
This approach nowadays is the crucial test to differentiate between a technical contribution implementing a non-technical concept (e.g. a business method) and an inventive contribution in a technical field (e.g. an embedded control software). Its general idea is that only the technical features of a claim may be taken into account for assessing inventive step, while the non-technical features form a basis for formulating the underlying problem, with the effect that the non-technical features may render the technical solution obvious.
This approach is widely accepted among practitioners as enhancing legal security for applicants since it represents a comprehensible benchmark against which EPO decisions are subject to verifiction.
As something like a pre-Christmas present, the European Patent Office startet off into the bright future of online communication and interaction last week.
On 13 December 2011 a President’s Decision and a related Notice introduced the notification of communication in selected EPO proceedings via online mailboxes (entered into force on 15 December 2011), while a Notice dated 15 December 2011 informed on the newly launched web-based consultation platform for proposed changes to European patent law and practice.
The k/s/n/h::law blog
Some of the patent attorneys of the KSNH law firm have joined their efforts to research what is going on in the various branches of IP law and practice in order to keep themselves, their clients as well as interested circles of the public up to date. This blog is intended to present results of such efforts to a wider public.
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