Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Making French Industry a Frontrunner in Innovation

Well, it looks like I failed miserably on the blog up-to-date act ;-) Never mind, at least I can still carry on putting odd articles in from time to time, that's the really cool thing about blogs, and it doesn't matter if nobody reads them.

Since my last post, we have seen the rise and fall of the CII Directive : in the end parliament finally got its way, and the Commission got one big smack in the chops. Personally, I think this is a good thing - better not to have poor law, than a fundamentally flawed one. So that chapter is closed for the time being, until the pro-patent protection lobby come back in about 5 to 10 years time...

What else is new on this front that warrants a rant from yours truly ? Oh yes, the French government has introduced a new set of fees for IP filings in France, which of course have been increased, fairly significantly in some cases. I'm just waiting to hear how much of the INPI's increased intake will be siphoned off by the government to finance other projects totally unrelated to innovation, like the huge whole in the social security system, or meeting the budget deficit ;-)

To be fair, the government have also introduced a new fee schedule for SMEs, but it is unclear at the moment whether they will apply to foreign entities, since the decree that lays out the application of the new law hasn't been passed yet and won't be until January 2006 - typical. The new fee regime allows a 25% reduction in official fees for the major fees, i.e. the filing fee, search fee, and extra claims fee. Renewal fees will also be covered by the reduction.

The reduction is available to individual inventors, public research institutes, and small business that have fewer than 500 employees, generate less than 50 Million Euros annual turnover, and are not held at more than 25% share by a company not eligible for the reduction. The reduction is available simply by filing a declaration. Financial sanctions will be imposed for those applicants who misrepresent the truth, but there appears to be no counterpart to the unenforcibility rule that exists, say in Canada or the US. Similarly, and in true French legislative fashion, it is uncertain whether an applicant must keep the French Patent Office (INPI) informed of any changes in its status. In theory for French applicants at least, the French PTO (INPI) is the guardian of the nationwide commercial register, so it should be relatively easy for them to check up on potential fraudsters that are French domiciled, but I see no way of the INPI being able to keep tabs on foreign companies not registered in France. Should be fun to watch, in any case.

How do I feel about this new incentive to get French businesses to file for IP rights ? Personally, too little, too late, and especially, completely out of touch with market reality in the world today. The reductions won't be available for French companies wanting to file European applications, even if they designate France, nor PCT applications, by the looks of it, and I really must ask myself what the point of the whole maneuver was in the first place : promotion of French SME competitivity in the French market place ? Hardly, considering that these home markets are essentially dwindling in the face of foreign imports and globalisation. What else then ? The cynic in me says political rhetoric, vote counting, and looming presidential elections in 2007. To be frank, I'm really not convinced that these measures will do anything to promote and strengthen French SMEs in the world market as it is developing today.

Well, all for now, toodle pip !!!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Computer Implemented Inventions get the Green Light in Europe

The EC Commission finally managed to drive its CII Directive through via the European Council of Minister's debate, approved as a Point A item on the agenda yesterday, and after a somewhat late protest made by the Danes to have the item changed to a point B item. The difference between point A and point B as I understand it is that point B items require discussion, whereas point A. Unfortunately for the Danes, who appear to have been left standing in the lurch by the other countries who had initially stated they were going to have second thoughts about the implications of the Directive, they didn't request withdrawal of the CII from the agenda as a point A item, rather requested that it simply be considered as a point B item. It appears then, that the Luxemburg presidency of the Council basically told them to go and learn their EC internal rules guidelines and upheld the item as a point A item. End of discussion. Or is it ?

Although once an item like this has been approved by the Council of Ministers, it still has to go back to Parliament for formal ratification. If the same MEPs that fought to get the Directive changed are still so inclined, it could in theory be possible to get the whole thing thrown out. After all, the European parliament did request that the draft negotation process be started all over again, a request that was refused by the Commission. So will there be a face down between Parliament and the Commission ? - should be interesting to watch ;-)

In the end, it all boils down to who is running the show. Is the EU run democratically ? It doesn't look like it when one sees how legislation like this gets pushed through despite the duly elected MEPs best efforts to accommodate the wishes of their electorate. On the one hand we have MEPs, who, like most politicians are interested in satisfying the largest number of potential voters, and who are elected on that basis, and on the other hand, a Commission, whose members are not publicly elected by the European Union populations, and whose responsibilities are often mingled with their own personal or professional interests despite all attempts to claim impartiality. Yet, it is these very people, and not the MEPs, that devise and create the European legislation we are seeing passed today.

The end result remains to be seen. Will small enterprises be run out of business by large marauding IPR holders ? No doubt this will occur to a certain extent when one sees how such rights are used to levvy pressure and commercial advantage. Will it stimulate patent filings on computer implemented inventions ? Undoubtedly, yes, because there will be the inevitable "me too" syndrome, much like the nuclear warhead proliferation during the 50s and 60s. Does any of this make the situation legally clearer now than it was before ? After all, this was the Commission's stated goal. In my opinion, probably not. The Directive still needs to be implemented in national legislation. This provides opportunities for national governments to bend the Directive in the direction they feel most acceptable to them, and even though they may incur the wrath of the Commission and be subject to fines, many countries take an excruciatingly long time to comply with findings of breach of the Directives they are supposed to implement.

One only has to look at another recent example, the Biotech Directive, where several countries, even though they virtually all voted for it, have refused to implement it, and are now being fined by the EU instances of authority. The French government even went so far as to modify one of the fundamental articles of the Biotech Directive, Article 5, essentially disembowelling it, because the official text didn't fit with its own vision on the subject.

The same will probably happen to the CII directive to a certain extent. What that means is yet more fear, uncertainty and doubt for everyone involved, for a good time to come. In other words, much like the present state of affairs. Swings and roundabouts, as they say...

So basically, when someone asks me now whether a computer implemented invention is patentable, what will I say ? Name me your country and we'll toss a coin ;-)

Monday, February 21, 2005

P2P Downloads of Music and Films in France - "are you feeling lucky" ?

The famous quote from one of the Dirty Harry films "Are you feeling lucky ?", might well apply to all of those French residents that are into P2P file sharing and downloading of music and films, if a recent decision by a court in France is anything to go by.

The accused infringer was a primary school teacher, sued by the European equivalent of the MPIAA, for having used P2P networks to download and distribute copyrighted material without the authorization of the rights holders.

The defendant pleaded exception to the law under the right to the "copie privée", claiming that he had downloaded material for his own personal use and for that of his close family and friends, and that no exchange of funds had ever intervened in any of his actions.

Although the court didn't follow the arguments brought forward by the defendant, it did come out with a particularly remarkable sentence, in which the Court stated that the accused had been "unlucky", considering the ever increasing amount of participants active in P2P file sharing in France. Other courts have been less inclined to proffer such clement remarks, limiting themselves to the strict requirements of the law, more or less equivalent to "Thou shalt not steal".

The defendant was sentenced to a very heavy fine, in fact, the largest fine ever pronounced thus far in a P2P file sharing case. It is understood that the defendant will file an appeal, but it remains to be seen whether his defense lawyers will be following the line opened up by the Court as to the "lucklessness" of his acts. Such lines of argument are often used in criminal cases for first offenders, as a justification for someone who has erred and then seen the light and repents. If so, then the Appeal Court won't have to deal with the prickly issue of whether French citizens really do have a right to the "copie privée", something which the majors of the film and music industry are increasingly eager to stamp out.

In the meantime, if you live in France, and are like many thousands of others involved in dowloading music and films from P2P networks, then maybe you should ask youself the question :

"Are you feeling lucky, punk ?"

Friday, February 18, 2005

Introductory Blog Contribution

Well, this is it then. I've finally followed the "me-too" road to blogdom. This is a trial, I'll see if I can hack it over time. If I feel it gets too much, I'll throw in the towel, I know how to accept defeat gracefully ;-)

The point of my blog is to discuss anything that springs to me my mind about IP. For those not in the know, IP means intellectual property. Let us start with the way I express myself on this blog, that could give rise to copyright, if I could prove that it is an original form of expression. Indeed, did I not choose my vocabulary in a way that reflects my current creativeness ?

OK, cut the crap. I'm not going to philosophize about whether there is anything worthy of protection in what I write here, so :

Rule Number 1 : all matter published on this blog is made under the Creative Commons Licence. Look it up in a search engine, if you don't know what that means. Any comments you might wish to post will also fall under that licence, else you can forego commenting.

Rule Number 2 : it is my blog, and in typical dictatorial manner, I shall decide whether to publish comments or suggestions made. Besides, I don't want to be held responsible for some idiot ranting on about how to kill so and so, how to make various dangerous devices without being rustled, etc, etc. I'm the king, you can like it or lump it.

Rule Number 3 : I haven't thought of this one yet ;-)

I shall try and make my contributions as informative as possible, but I'm not averse to the occasional rant ;-)) Trolls, please stay away, and go and feed yourselves somewhere else.

Oh, yes, and I shall from time to time write in French and possibly German, so I shall also accept comments in those languages too.

Ho, hum, next topic, methinks ?