Prague, patents and Amsterdam

My week began with a trip to Prague for Patinnova, the annual conference about patents organised by the European Patent Office. Sounds dull? Well it could have been, but it was a great opportunity to learn about the fast-changing world of intellectual property, which is in ferment right now. I was chairing a couple of days of the conference, so had to bone up about issues such as patent trolls, patent thickets and CII – computer implemented inventions, one of the most controversial subjects in this area. Among the questions which we had to address – should Amazon be able to patent its one-click shopping system? Is it right that most European consumers pay a levy to buy an iPod or a blank CD? And did the patent on James Watt’s steam engine hasten or slow its development?

Just about everyone who attends conferences like this is of a particular mindset – they are wedded to the current system of IP protection and, if anythng, they want it strengthened. Dissident voices are thin on the ground but I found one. Dave Birch of Consult Hyperion has strong views on all sorts of technology issues – instinctively, he is an open-source web libertarian, and he was not afraid to voice his opinions to the patent lawyers and artists’ rights organisations gathered in Prague, You get a bit of a flavour of that in this video.

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I made it back to London on Thursday, and chipped in with this blog post about the events in Prague.
With swine flu raging (at least through every newsroom in the world) it was a quiet couple of days, but on Friday I managed another blog post – about the meaning of memes – sparked by a rather wonderful interactive chart showing a timeline of internet memes.

A steamboat in Amsterdam

A steamboat in Amsterdam


Then at the weekend we headed to Amsterdam for a very special party – a friend’s 50th birthday – aboard a boat powered by steam. The boat, the SS Wolk, dates back to around 1890, and has been lovingly restored for use as a a party/floating conference venue. Ah – but here’s a question – just what impact did the patent system have on the development of steam-powered transport in Amsterdam? Actually, I don’t remember discussing that once as we chugged down the canals for three hours eating, drinking, and generally having a good time.

2 responses to “Prague, patents and Amsterdam

  1. Pingback: Patents Roundup: Updates from Europe, Many More Patent Trolls, and Backlash | Boycott Novell

  2. Rory,

    I’m one of those who believes that the current Patent system is totally broken, and needs to be closed down. Really. I did a study of a bunch of hardware patents issued by the US Patent Office. Over 90% of them were not legal by the USPTO rules. The remainder I was unable to judge, as I was not familiar with the technology in question.

    I did not find one patent that should have been issued. Now it could be argued that I am not a Patent Office examiner. While this is true, I do understand certain areas of science. Under US Patent Law, an invention has to “work”. Scientifically several inventions studied could not work.

    Another issue was obvousness. Is computerizing an existing operation obvious? I think so. If a technology was used in automobiles, is use of that technology in motorcycles obvious?

    And last, but not least, inventions that didn’t mention prior art. It’s possible that the inventors were not aware of it, however since I was, and I work in that industry too, I would think that they had to have been.

    Now the study I carried our was limited. And maybe I was a bit harder on these patents than someone else would have been. But I should have found at least ONE invention that passed the USPTO’s rules. That I didn’t is an indication to me, that the problems with the current patent system in the United States have become so pervasive, that the system needs to be shut down.

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