posted Nov 09, 2001

Cybercrime and Patents in Europe General IP Issues, Patents Slashdot - '"The Council of Europe has been working on a Cyber Crime Treaty for some time. The final version is now available, and makes interesting reading." The submitter points out that treaty signers will be obligated to create legislation, as the UK already has, to force people to disclose passwords and encryption keys to the authorities. The U.S. may well sign this treaty - we've participated in the drafting process. On a slightly different note, people are up in arms because the European Patent Office has decided, apparently on its own, that software programs are patentable.'

One baby step forward, two giant steps back.

Also note that the EU Patent Office's extension also extends to mathematics: The EuroLinux article links to a French version of the text; an English version [epo.co.at] can be obtained by changing the "f" to an "e" (or following my link). Here's the part on Mathematics:

These are a particular example of the principle that purely abstract or intellectual methods are not patentable. For example, a shortcut method of division would not be patentable but a calculating machine constructed to operate accordingly may well be patentable. A mathematical method for designing electrical filters is not patentable; nevertheless filters designed according to this method would not be excluded from patentability by Art. 52(2) and (3).
First, note that the Patent office, evidently not being staffed by mathematicians, believe that they have not rendered mathematics patentable. After all, "These are a particular example of the principle that purely abstract or intellectual methods are not patentable." I see three problems with this:
  1. "Purely abstract or intellectual methods" often are algorithms. For example, we tend to express the mathematical concept of "graph reachability" as the algorithm that tells us whether a given node is reachable from another. It can be defined other ways (including second order existential logic), but we tend to think of it algorithmically first, moreso for complicated properties. Therefore, despite protests from the Patent Office that mathematics are not patentable, damn near every discrete mathematics definition and algorithm is patentable, or close enough that a the prospect of fighting a patent would scare anybody.
  2. The Patent Guidelines say: "A mathematical method for designing electrical filters is not patentable; nevertheless filters designed according to this method would not be excluded from patentability by Art. 52(2) and (3)."

Functions are only relevent in terms of the results. (Merely specifying a domain is rarely useful.) If one can create a mathematical concept, then proceed to creatively patent the (useful, for the Patent Office's amazingly low standard of "useful") results that can come from concept and associated functions (which are almost always an integral part of the concept), then the only useful part of the concept is effectively patented. Combine this with the next problem ->

  • An increasing amount of math is taking place on computers. For instance, the famous and importent 4-Color problem was proven by a computer. This trend will only increase over time. Therefore, there may be no difference between the abstract math and the concrete implementation, which means there is no difference between patenting math and patenting an algorithm.
  • The EU Patent Office doesn't know mathematics. (Evidence: These directives.) They honestly think that they have not rendered mathematics patentable. Unfortunately, the less you know on a topic, the more you think you know, so the authors of these guidelines are probably going to be impossible to convince otherwise.

     

     

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