The story as I read it has two components. The first is to unify the patenting process across the EU. To a certain extent this is probably a good thing, it's the same sort of rationalization/unification behind the EU as a whole. The analog would be if the US patent system were set up on a state-by-state basis and someone said "Golly gee, why don't we federalize the patent system!".
The undertone is, though, that the Eurpean patent system is slowing down registration of patents. I'll assume this is independent of the rate of invention in Europe. This is troubling, because it implies that what Europe would like to do is to get on a fast track, registering patents more quickly.
While this doesn't directly affect citizens of the US (patents are national, not international, in scope), it does impact free software to the extent that much of it is developed in Europe, and there will be fewer safe-havens for development unencumbered by patent.
I've been kicking around ideas regarding patents and free software for quite a while. While it's clear that there are problems, it's interesting that they're not larger (there hasn't yet been a major case involving free software patent infringement claims), but the solution(s) aren't clear, and everyone's pretty testy about the situation.
And an interesting teaser tidbit: WRT patent royalty revenues -- IBM is known to take in over $1 billion annually (I've heard $1.5 cited). But very, very little of that comes from software patents, according to a senior researcher at their RTP center.
Karsten M. Self
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